The Power of Puppets ; They Can Speak Any Language, Tell Any Story - Even Fly! They Captivate Audiences around the World

By M. S. Mason | The Christian Science Monitor, January 9, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Power of Puppets ; They Can Speak Any Language, Tell Any Story - Even Fly! They Captivate Audiences around the World


M. S. Mason, The Christian Science Monitor


Isn't it wonderful how puppets seem to come to life? Finger puppets, hand puppets, puppets on rods, puppets on strings. We know they're not real, and yet there they are, dancing, singing, even flying before our eyes. We watch them and also watch for the artists - the puppeteers - who give them life. Puppets can be as tall as a giraffe, or as small as a thimble. And they come in all colors and many forms, depending on where they were made. Every country has its own puppets.

A terrific museum in Atlanta, Ga., is the Center for Puppetry Arts. (Well, the museum is just part of what the center does.) It has a huge collection of puppets from around the world.

You can see bunraku puppets from Japan, shadow puppets from Indonesia, marionettes from Europe, hand puppets like those on "Sesame Street" from the United States, and African puppets that are used in religious services. The center has many ancient puppets, too. Puppets are one of the oldest forms of theater.

The center's education director, Alan Louis, invites children and adults to "learn about the traditions of other cultures by visiting our museum." Visitors can attend workshops and make their own puppets modeled after those from Africa, Indonesia, Japan, and many other countries.

Puppets from other countries can teach us a little about those countries and the customs and beliefs of other people. Puppets are used to teach lessons in some societies - how we should treat one another, how we should live. Puppets sometimes represent characters from myths (like gods and dragons) or fairy tales. Puppets can also represent universal characters, called "types." A princess puppet may stand for all princesses, for example, or a farmer puppet for all farmers, and so on.

"Throughout history," Mr. Louis says, "puppetry has served as both cheap entertainment for peasants and a theatrical delicacy reserved only for kings.

"Puppets appear in so many cultures," Louis continues, "because they are such good tools for communicating. They tell stories, reveal emotions, and illustrate ideas in a very direct way." They're also "fascinating to watch, fun to make, and challenging to perform."

One of the most important reasons the center exists is to offer performances for children and adults. …

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