I'm a puppet maker with a degree in theatre. A former lighting techie, stage manager and producer. And I like to think that with puppetry, the only limit is your imagination. More...
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Parade puppets are really an umbrella term for puppets used outside (er, not literally ‘umbrella’, as you’ll see in a moment). Technically any puppet type can be used outdoors if made with weather-durable materials, but typically when we refer to parade puppets, we mean objects that can be used by multiple people, can be seen from large distances, are easy (very lightweight) to carry, and can be used with minimal knowledge of puppeteering. Because they are used outside, it’s important to make them visually distinct, so they stand out from the background.
There are a couple of methodologies that are typically used when making a parade puppet. One is the ‘lantern’ puppet, a bamboo skeleton, which is covered in canvas or a light material, and attached to a large bamboo pole (or more). Bamboo is very strong, but flexible, making it ideal for large puppets of different characters. The pole/s can be held by one or more people, often with a special lanyard around their necks for housing the pole - this takes the weight off the person’s arms and is better for ergonomics. If performed at night, these puppets may also house a lantern of some sort (hence the term ‘lantern’ puppet), which lights the puppet up from the inside, making a fantastic spectacle for large or distant audiences. An excellent example of the puppets used at night is Nana Project’s halloween parades.
|Parade puppet, click on image for larger view. Image by Mulad.|
Another method is to create a costume puppet; although not typical of the costume puppet’s design, which is usually a fur or similar mascot-style costume. Instead, similar to lantern puppets, a skeletal structure is created, with fabric to cover it, and it is then worn by a person inside. It may come in a variety of forms, such as the costume to the left, or in the shape of a ‘backpack harness’, whereby the puppet is attached to a backpack that the puppeteer wears (the backpack is visible to the right of the TV in this photo). Again, the backpack is for ergonomics, and can allow the puppet to be raised quite high, without it being difficult to carry. Another design is to have the performer wear large papier mache or foam heads.
Parade puppets are also often large cable-control and/or rod puppets, such as Polyglot Puppet Theatre’s ‘Takashi the crane’, ‘Pirummura the goanna’, or ‘Juanita the butterfly’, which can be seen from up high, or rolling along the ground to greet audiences. (On a personal note, I wish Polyglot showcased their giraffe in totality; it is probably the size of a baby giraffe and very impressive. I was lucky enough to see these puppets up-close and touchable, and I can tell you they are very beautiful creatures indeed) Smaller ‘body’ puppets [link to be added], can also be used, whereby the puppeteer is attached to the puppet much like the cheetah in The Lion King musical. Stilt walkers can also be used to great effect, such as the Landstriders in The Dark Crystal. Even animatronics can be used, and has indeed become a very popular form of parade puppetry, such as the Sultan’s Elephant.
Amazingly enough, parade puppets can be extremely easy to make, even if you’ve never done it before. Even kids can help make one, and as such, they become extremely popular for use in community events or work with schools. They also don’t require much skill and is a fun way to participate in parades; especially for those who are normally shy, since giving a puppet to someone allows them to focus on what they’re doing, rather than interacting too much with an audience. Still, it’s more fun if you interact anyway!
Make one of your own using these free patterns.
Title image: Parade puppet on show at the UNIMA 2008 festival (Carnivale day). Taken by School of Puppetry.send feedback / have a question?
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.