About three years ago, I was thinking maybe I should delve into marionette manipulation. I asked a friend, marionette expert Dave Herzog, how to get started. He said to get a quality puppet and just begin practicing.
That’s always the case, isn’t it? You want to learn how to do something, practice. Then practice more. Practice every day.
I have some lovely Pelham marionettes that my dad brought home from England on a business trip when I was a kid, and those have been sitting in boxes for decades. I thought, let me dig those out, maybe figure out how to operate marionettes. That would be a cool addition to my shows, I thought.
But they are pretty complicated with a whole lot of freakin’ strings to pull, and I did not have a great motivation to keep practicing. I didn’t even really start practicing. It was too intimidating. Then my cats chewed through all the strings on multiple marionettes. Cats can be jerks sometimes.
Then I spent a little time working with a very simple marionette I picked up at a puppeteers’ market. But again, I couldn’t make it move very well, and the daily practice thing didn’t stick. The marionette just looked creepy, all flailing around.
I mean, in all honesty, I didn’t really give it much of an effort. I didn’t have a reason in any of my shows to suddenly bust out a marionette, and I figured maybe it just wasn’t to be.
Then, I decided to start taking accordion lessons last summer, and I absolutely resigned myself to the notion that marionetting is not in my future. I figured I should probably limit the number of odd, old timey skills I devote myself to mastering.
But, as often happens with ideas I initially reject but then end up devoting a huge amount of time to, I kept thinking how cool it would be to include marionette puppetry in a show.
And then I started planning my Circus show, and, as I wondered how I was going to give a nod to the animal acts of olde, I thought a dog act fit well with the theme of a “tiny circus”.
So… okay. Maybe I’ll try it. If I can learn to operate them well, marionettes definitely fit within the general style/vibe of my shows.
I inquired with a local puppet builder, but he’s too busy to take on any jobs right now. Betcha never imagined a marionette builder would be too busy to refuse work, huh? Well here in Chicago, we have some of the best performers and puppet builders around.
Then I started looking at dog marionettes for sale online, and there is a lovely professional Czech puppet that would be about $500 delivered. And as I’m not 100% convinced this is going to become a permanent part of my show, I balked at spending $500 on a puppet.
But then, on etsy, I found a simpler dog marionette, a chihuahua in a bowler hat and vest that fits well with the theme of my show, and he was only $150. Still a decent chunk of change, but considerably less than $500. (Also, it turns out, made in Chicago… Chi-town representing!)
I feel like for $150 I can practice, see if it sticks, see if I’m enjoying it, and if so, THEN invest in more complex marionettes. This will be a good test.
I don’t always end up putting the things I buy into shows. There are many puppets and magic tricks stored in trunks in my basement that have never been used in performance. I should really consider liquidating some of that unused stuff.
So we’ll see. The question is, what does the dog do? He’s built like a person and wears clothes, but he’s a dog. So what is his act? Does he talk? What will he do? I don’t know. We’ll see. But I’ll need to make space in my day to practice with this guy when he arrives in approximately two weeks.