This post is for the participants of summer Acting and Puppetry Workshops. Nice to meet you! My name is Jacek (pronounced: yAAt-zehk). I will be your teacher and as we say in theater your director.
By now you have received the activity kit, which is a paper bag with materials to build a tabletop puppet of your character. Please check to make sure you have everything on the attached list (also here) and as shown in the picture. Some of you may have a few extra things like shells or wooden beads to add to the puppet. Also, different characters use different materials – raffia, yarn, various kinds of rope, or strips of fabric – to make the hair. A few characters (the Guards) do not have hair. Instead, they will have painted helmets.
In this first session, I will show you how to cover the head of the puppet with papier-mâché and how to make the hands.
The nose is made of a separate piece of foam and glued to the head. Before you start putting on the papier-mâché you may want to reinforce this connection. This cold be especially useful if the nose is long. Check if the base of the nose gives it enough support, and if necessary make the connection stronger using the toothpicks supplied in the small envelope. Smear the toothpick with the white glue and stick it deep into the nose and into the head. Break off the protruding end at the surface or cut off using pliers so that the toothpick ends up being flush with the nose, as shown in the photo below. You don’t have to do this! It’s your choice.
The piece of sandpaper you found in the bag can, if you like, be used to smooth down the sharp edges of the foam, where you may notice the trace of a carving knife. This also is optional. The marks were created when I carved the heads and you may like this unevenness as a feature of the character’s face, and find it adds to the style of your creation. Remember, we do not always aspire to create completely realistic depictions of human characters when making puppets. They are often stylized representations of the characters.
You can put papier-mâché all over the entire head to reinforce the surface if you like, but you don’t need to. The most important parts of the head to cover with papier-mâché are the parts where you will be gluing on the hair using a hot glue gun. Hot glue would melt a hole in the foam. The papier-mâché will stop that from happening.
Whether you decide to cover the whole head or just parts of it, use painter’s paper tape (also called masking tape) to create the first patchy layer of papier-mâché. This will speed up the process and will make it simpler. Notice that I have left some small patches on the surface of the foam not covered by paper tape. This will ensure that the second layer will adhere to the surface better.
For the second layer, you will use packing paper and white glue. You can use the paper from your bag or find something less stiff and slightly thinner. Please ask your parents to provide the white glue. A small (4 fluid oz) bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All from somewhere like Stop and Shop will be perfect. If you have school glue at home you can try using that instead, but keep in mind that school glue is not as strong as white glue.
You will need to find a piece of cardboard to protect your work surface while you are spreading glue over the pieces of paper. Do not use the cardboard provided in the bag! That is for the hands. You will also need a flat brush with stiff bristles, about half an inch wide, to spread the glue on the paper, and, lastly, two small cups or plastic containers, like the small ones in the picture that some hummus came in.
Squeeze a few spoonfuls of glue into the first container, and fill the second one with water.
Rip off a piece of paper. Crumple it up so it loses its stiffness. For curved surfaces, you will need smaller pieces, and for flat areas you could use bigger ones. Put a small piece of paper on the cardboard protecting your work surface and spread the glue over it with the brush. It does not need to be a thick layer of glue, but it should cover the entire piece. Then spread some glue over the part of the head where you will be placing the paper. Stick the paper to the head. Pressing the paper against the foam with your fingers, squeeze out the excess glue from underneath the paper. You want it to stick tightly to the foam. To prevent getting the paper stuck to you, keep your fingers wet and slippery by dipping them in the water.
After you finish covering the chosen part of the head (or the entire head, if that is what you are doing) leave it to dry. When it is dry repeat the whole process adding one more layer of paper tape and one more layer of papier-mâché. Again, let it dry. Drying time will vary, but you will probably have to wait about two to three hours each time.
Now it is time to use the supplied cardboard, rope and more of the paper tape to make the arms and hands. First, put your hand over your face, with your wrist on your chin. Do you notice that the tips of your fingers are reaching the middle of your forehead? We will use the same proportions to draw the hand of your puppet on the cardboard. But before you do that, cut the cardboard in half and then in half again, making four pieces of equal size. Take the first of the four pieces and draw the outline of a hand on it. Do not draw fingers. Make it like the shape of a mitten. It could be rounder or more like a rectangle, thinner or thicker, whatever you like, but stick with the shape of a mitten. Using strong, sharp scissors cut it out carefully.
Next, using the pointed tip of the scissors, make a small hole in the middle of the cardboard mitten. Cut the piece of rope in half. Thread the end of the cord through the hole and tape it to the cardboard on both sides so the cord will be well attached to the hand. This rope forms the arm.
Trace around the shape of the hand on the second piece of cardboard. Cut it out. Using more paper tape, tape the two cardboard hand shapes together. You could add more cardboard or stick crumpled paper in between, if you wanted to make it a little thicker. Tape it all over. You can finish it by adding a layer of papier-mâché same as you did with the head, if you like, but this is not necessary. Make the next hand and the arm the same way.
This program is supported in part by grants from the Falmouth, Mansfield, Mattapoisett, Mid-Cape, Carver, and Middleborough Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency