It's Tom Crowl again, and today we are going to discuss scary puppets as I start "Talking 4 2!" ...
Somebody gets upset and starts crying. It happens. Some kids, some people for that matter are afraid of puppets. It is a phobia, and no matter how irrational, it is very real. As a ventriloquist or puppeteer, you need to be aware of the potential problem.
If the puppet, ventriloquist figure or "dummy" is too realistic, it can definitely scare small children. Most professional ventriloquist figures range from 36" to 42" in height. That is bigger than some kids. So to them you have a life-like wooden child and it can be kind of creepy. Think back to the first time you saw someone who passed away. Probably wasn't a comfortable feeling. And that is the same reaction some kids get around realistic life sized puppets.
I recommend you avoid realistic puppets for kid audiences. If you want a traditional hard figure ventriloquist puppet, there are some "cartoony" ones available.
I find the most success with soft puppets. These are the fabric or fur "muppet-style" puppets. There are plenty of suppliers, MAT Puppets & The Dummy Shoppe are in the U.S.A., The Puppet hut in the U.K., Pavlov's in Europe and many more. Axtell Expressions makes incredible latex puppets that are also kid friendly.
You'll also want to keep in mind some people have other fears. For example, if you pull out a dog puppet and junior is afraid of dogs, that can cause issues too.
Here are several suggestions that can help solve puppet-phobia problems:
1. Make sure the adults know you will be using puppets. Advise them if someone gets upset, to remove them from the room quickly so they can calm down. This keeps you from stopping the show to deal with a problem.
2. Keep a safe "puppet distance". Don't stick the puppet in anyone's face. Don't let the kids touch the puppet. Don't let them personally interact with the puppet. Remember that Barney the Dinosaur looks friendly on TV, but in real-life he is a 6' monster. Distance will help kids feel safe.
3. Make the puppet timid. Brash or outgoing puppets can jar an audience. So start with a puppet that is shy or scared of the audience. This does two things. First, it helps the kids become used to the idea of these strange "living" creatures. Second, you can get their help to encourage the puppet, which adds to the illusion of life.
4. Give the puppet a pleasant voice. The voice of a puppet will set a tone. A cute little frog puppet can be adorable, but if it opens its mouth and Satan's voice emerges, some one is going to be scared. Possibly me.
Follow these tips with a friendly looking puppet and you'll be keeping the kids laughing in no time! See you on the next "Talking-4-2!"