Puppets part 4. Puppetry versus Costume Characters.

What is a puppet? What is a costume character?

What are the definitions and differences between puppets and costumed characters? Are there any differences and if so what are they? Is it possible to combine the two or are they the same? I reveal that Festive Factory even from its earliest work, does blur the lines by combining elements of two separate genres of performance.

People often ask us if they can rent a costume of one of our costume characters. But when they want to rent costumes they do not understand the very nature of what Festive Factory actually uses to create its work. Which leads to another fundamental question. What is a puppet? What is a costume character?

Focusing first on tv character costumes, childrens television is usually ones first experience of the like such as Humphrey Bear (otherwise known as Humphrey B Bear), Dora the Explorer or Dorothy Dinosaur. (Of course there are myriads of such examples with the oldest and perhaps most famous that started the 3 dimensional experience being in Mickey Mouse from Walt Disney ).

Typically a human female ‘translator’ will accompany these tv characters. Their role is as ‘go-between’ interpreting the desires of the mute character and manipulating audience participation. This is vital when shifting the commodity from the screen to a public engagement say in a festival, shopping centre or theme park. Of course they are also ‘minders’, ‘dressers’ and generally, can be anybody, with theatre skills (acting, dancing, singing), which is also usually true for the person who wears the tv character costume. Also once trained in the specific requirements of that characters’ movements and ‘choreographic script’ or ‘blocking’, any person can step into the role.

Wikipedia states, “A costumed character wears a costume that covers the performer’s face. These range from theme park “walk-around” or “meetable” characters, the mascots of corporations, schools, or sports teams, some novelty act performers, to personal fur suits. Some costumes cover the performer’s face; others, especially those in theme parks, may leave the performer’s face visible.”
Wikipedia also gives a comprehensive explanation of the vast array of puppetry genres. The following is an extract.
‘Puppet types
….Puppetry by its nature is a flexible and inventive medium, and many puppet companies work with combinations of puppet forms…..
Carnival or body puppet – usually designed to be part of a large spectacle. These are often used in parades … and demonstrations, and are at least the size of a human and often much larger. One or more performers are required to move the body and limbs. In parades, the appearance and personality of the person inside is not relevant to the spectator. These puppets are particularly associated with large-scale entertainment, such as the nightly parades at various Disney complexes around the world. Similar puppets were designed by Julie Taymor for The Lion King, derived in part from the parade tradition…..’

According to both definitions found in Wikipedia, it is fair to surmise that Festive Factory further breaks accepted boundaries by merging the distinction between puppet and costume character.

Many years ago, Festive Factory created two of popular ‘body puppets’ called ‘Tuesday and Wednesday’.

‘Tuesday and Wednesday’ blurred the line between costume characters and puppets.

  • Their faces and heads were giant-sized and situated well above the face of the operators.
  • Rods controlled their arms and hands.
  • ‘Wednesday’ was performed on stilts.
  • Both wore full-length dresses
  • Both had giant colored latex feet with four toes on each foot.
  • They had their own language and vocalizations.
  • Each performer acted as minder and dresser for the other and as they could vocalize, no ‘human’ interpreter was required.
'Tuesday and Wednesday' Costumed Body Puppets

'Tuesday and Wednesday' Costumed Body Puppets

Although these much loved roving characters have now been retired, they can be seen on our show reel video through the video link on this site.
Festive Factory is often asked if our characters can be hired, bought or taught. But unless one is skilled in performing arts, works with at least 1 other person who might be a minder, dresser, or second character, and has experience in performing often with limited vision under trying circumstances, there is more to performing than meets the eye and creates the smiles.

Festive Factory custom builds to the performers dimensions, the puppets and costumes that make up its stock cannot be hired out to an unskilled person. Especially where the desire is to take it into the public sphere. There are more issues than simply standing around in a costume. The art of roving when performed well makes it look far more accessible and easy than might be the case.
Most costumed characters can be performed by any performer that is largely unskilled, adhering to the movements or choreographic ‘script’ as dictated by that specific character; Humphrey Bear etc. Even less skill is generally required by mascots who simply must be fit and have loads of energy. The size and dimensions are fairly generic and performers are interchangable.

I am not aware of  descriptions or names where there is  a merge of the two forms of performance. But it can be said that Festive Factory does blur the lines and softens the distinction between the costumed character and traditional puppetry.

While the two performance genres are not the same, there is no doubt that they can be combined into a unified whole and this is best illustrated in the work of the characters of ‘Tuesday and Wednesday’.