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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Someone just did a Google search on ‘where to buy puppets in Melbourne’ and naturally, my site got included in the results. It made me think that it would also make a good post if I gave a list of some places I know of that have puppets for sale.
The following is split up into sections: STATE-BY-STATE LISTINGS OF STORES; buying puppets online; hiring puppets; ‘Australian’ or ‘Australiana’ puppets; buying animatronics; and more info about puppet makers and commissions. Additionally, there are separate articles on cost of puppets, commissions, repairers, ventriloquist dummies, Folkmanis puppets, Avenue Q puppets, Audreys (from the musical Little Shop of Horrors), buying bunraku puppets, puppet supplies and antron fleece. [links to be added]
This is not a complete list. I update it as much as possible, but I’m aware I have left a few people out. I’ll add them to the list as soon as I can. In fact, puppets are hard to find in general, so it takes me a while to find the missing links. I am aware that WA is not represented, despite the fact that they are one of the biggest hubs for puppetry in Australia; I do hope to add more in that area specifically.
Most puppet ’stores’ (ie. physical buildings) aren’t actually puppet shops, but rather toy shops, and therefore cater to the children’s toy market, rather than puppets for performance (which is the only thing I discuss here; I don’t have any interest in kid’s playthings). Many of them sell online as well. Additionally, they usually offer an abysmally small range, limited to generic factory made items from US companies (interesting to see pretty much all of the Aussie puppet ’shops’ are really just importers of the same factory-made American ‘puppet’ toys that are sold to kids. Love to see more Aussie-made puppets for performance being sold, and not just stuff for children’s play…). If you want something for professional performance, you’re best bet is to commission a puppet maker rather than try and find something at a shop. Very few independent Aussie puppet makers sell in stores or online. See the below info on puppet makers for more on how to find them.
Being a Melbournite, my experience is mostly in the Victoria area; I can say that the absolute largest and best place to find puppets is at Geppetto’s Workshop, listed below.
I’ve written a longer article [link to be added] on why buying online may be preferable to purchasing puppets in a store. However, summarising here: many of the Australian puppet/toy stores listed above have online shopping capabilities. However, if you’re keen on buying something a little different, a little less like what you can find from generic factory puppets, then you can try eBay or Etsy. Especially Etsy, it’s growing in use by puppet makers from all over the world.
Be careful though: many online sellers on eBay are usually selling for decorative purposes only, or generic factory items. eBay and other auction sites are often flooded with cheap puppets (usually glove puppets or Asian shadow and rod puppets), but there is no guarantee that what you buy will be quality workmanship. However, there are a number of freelance puppet makers who do sell on eBay, as well as Etsy and their own sites (like my own); and those people/sales are worth checking out.
Don’t feel as though you have to be limited by what’s available from Australian sellers: although shipping can be high on larger items (muppet-types), trying other forums means you can often discover items which you’d prefer; puppet makers to commission; and unknown but smaller Australian freelancers.
Hiring puppets is really not something that I can easily tell you about. Frankly, puppeteers and puppetry companies are the only people who ever have professional items for professional use. But they don’t advertise about hires. It’s most likely because 99% of their puppets will be specifically made for their shows, and thus either: completely useless for your purposes; or extremely expensive to hire out. Below in the ‘more’ section, there’s info on how to contact local companies for hire enquiries. However, if you’re looking for something for a short film - ie. a one-use puppet - then you are probably best at buying something rather than hiring something. I don’t know hire costs, but it’s likely hire will amount to the same as a generic item picked up at a store listed above. For everything else, a commission is probably also a better use of your time, since it will be better suited to your needs.
It should also be noted that most of the above sellers are offering products not made in Australia; Australian-made puppets are usually sold by independent puppet makers or small sellers and not in brick-and-mortar shops. ‘Australiana’ (that is, puppets of Australian animals or other Aussie icons) puppets are usually glove puppets sold in most tourist shops, and while there are some Australiana puppets sold elsewhere, they are in limited supply in comparison with other, more popular, designs.
Animatronics are highly specialised puppets, requiring knowledge and use of robotics and engineering. As such, these types of puppets are not going to be sold at your average puppet store. In fact, most people have no need for these, and as people generally make money from kids’ puppets/toys, it’s also not likely to be found via your average puppet maker. There are people who do specialise in this area [link suggestions to be added], however they cater more for the film/TV market and will therefore be highly expensive to commission. Axtell.com, one of the leading animtronics sellers (US-based), often sells their products for thousands of dollars. So you can imagine what the cost might be like for Australian sellers of animatronics.
To be honest, these are the only stores I know about that carry puppets. If you really need something, then try finding a freelance puppet maker (some are listed above). UNIMA Australia has a list of local puppet makers. You can also try doing a search on the net for puppet makers; but I’ve found that most Australian puppeteers - of any area of the craft - simply don’t advertise on the net.
Puppet makers in Australia, are I believe, a hidden industry. For the general public, they are very hard to find. But they are out there. One of the ways you can find them is by seeing some puppet shows; many performers also build their own puppets, and if you see a puppet you like at a show, you can always easily find out who made it. Puppet makers are always interested in commissions [link to be added], so don’t feel shy about asking one of the cast/crew for some info, a website to visit, or a business card.
Additionally, contacting a puppetry company local to you will help, as many of them either have items to hire or will have puppet makers on call. (Again, UNIMA Australia is your best friend in this regard) Be warned: puppets can be expensive [link to be added]. Additionally, local prop companies and theatre venues/companies often have a range of items that might be suitable. They will have a very limited selection of puppets, but if you are looking for something as a one-off hire, you should also try them.
But hey, if you are looking for something specific and have the time and interest - why not just skip all of the above, and make your own! This is what most puppeteers do; they can’t find what they need, so they make something themselves. And if you’re looking for puppets for kids, it’s a good idea too. It’s not just a great creative activity for a rainy day, but is something your children will treasure for years to come. Remember, a puppet can be anything, and on the web are some fantastic free and pay-per-download tutorials on how to make a range of puppets. There are heaps of books, even for the professional, and I have no doubt you will come across a range of lessons for every skill level. There are also helpful tutorials here on this site for making puppets, as well as a wide range of links to other sites which offer patterns and instructions.
If you know of any other places to buy puppets in the Australian area, please let me know and I’ll add it to the list. Check out these articles if you want to learn to make puppets, or find a group to join near you.
Australians may want to buy locally. Where? I explain here.