Originally published in Laugh-Makers Magazine

Be a Strolling Puppeteer



By Carol Greene

        One of the most enjoyable ways that I have found to share my
puppets with others is to do a walkaround as a strolling puppeteer.  It is
a low stress booking for me since I have several puppets that I have worked
with extensively.  Since I know their characters, I can guess which ones
will work well in the situation where I will be.  I have done these
walkarounds for years for banquets, parades, county fairs, shopping
centers, camps, picnics, and Girl Scout council events.

        It is easy to begin.  Just put a puppet on your hand, and go sit on
a park bench, walk down the sidewalk in a shopping area, or even walk up to
people during a coffee hour at your church.  Approach a child or adult and
have your puppet say something like, "Hi, my name is (puppet's name).
What's your name?"  When the person answers, just ask simple questions such
as, "What's your favorite food, music, color, etc."  Your puppet can also
talk about things (s)he likes to do or comment on an article of clothing
that the person is wearing.  If you are alert, that will lead to an
exchange where you will find out a lot about the other person's interests
and talents.  After a short talk with that person or small group of people,
have your puppet say (s)he wants to go meet some more people or check out
the food on a serving table, so you say, "good-bye" to them then stroll to
the next person.

        The object of the walkaround is to make others feel good about
themselves and to bring smiles to many faces.  Organizations find that a
walkaround puppeteer can add that "extra special touch" to their event.
There are a few things that I never do during a walkaround.  I don't touch
anyone with my puppet.  Small children will be in awe of the puppet, and
will shrink back or cry if the puppet gets too close.  If a child tries to
stick a hand into my puppet's mouth, I just have my puppet turn around and
face me.  If the child persists, I gently ask the child how (s)he would
feel if I stuck my hand in her/his mouth.  Most children will then
understand and respect the puppet's feelings.
        Perhaps when I tell you about some of my puppets, it will spark an
new idea for you.  One of my puppets, Reginald the Rabbit, thinks that he
should be able to kiss every girl he sees and we are constantly arguing.  I
won't let him touch or kiss any of them, but some will kiss him.  Grown
women and teen-agers will often kiss Reginald.  He is always commenting
about the beauty of every female he meets, because he LOVES ALL girls.
Therefore, most girls like Reginald.  My 5 1/2 foot bird, Ludwig van
Birdoven V loves to dance.  He shows off his kicks, twirls, splits, and
flips.  He is great for walkarounds that are outdoors.  Most adults and
boys are fascinated when I am carrying King Hisss, my twelve foot snake,
wrapped around my neck and body.  Many females seem to have a strong fear
of snakes, so I am always very careful to approach people from the front
with King Hisss.  I also enjoy walking around with Valerie--the rag doll,
Ruthie the dog with a wagging tail, Thomas J. Bear--a chocolate lover, and
Alexander Alligator.

        I purchased my rabbit and the dog from Maher Studios, P.O. Box 420,
Littleton, Colorado, 80160.   My giant bird comes from Puppets From One Way
Street, P.O. Box 2398, Littleton, Colorado 80161.   My large alligator came
from Bobbie's Creations, 247 W. Buckingham, Fresno, California 93705.  The
very realistic Folkmanis, Inc. puppets can be found in many toy stores and
gift shops.  For the ultimate in a polyfoam mouth puppet, have Verna Finly
make you one.

        If you know how to sew, it is not too difficult to make your own
stuffed puppets.  To make a puppet, it usually takes me about 24 hours of
working time after I get the materials together.  I converted a commercial
pattern book rag doll pattern into a puppet by making a moveable mouth on
the face and a hole in the back for my hand.  I also converted a stuffed
bear into a puppet.    I made my twelve foot snake from one yard of very
exotic material.  There are also books on making polyfoam puppets which can
be purchased by mail from The Puppetry Store, 1525  -24th S.E., Auburn, WA
98002-7837.  Verna Finly, 2750 Jamaica Way #113, Punta Gorda, FL 33950,
also sells an instructional puppet-making video tape.  It took me years to
find these sources, so I hope they are helpful to you.

        After you have perfected your skills informally and your puppets
feel like family, then you are ready to be hired.  When I am booking, I
explain that  I generally walk around for two to three hours.  (To get
started as a beginner, your fee would be fairly low; but as a professional,
you should be able to get double the birthday party rate for a walkaround.)
I keep my puppets in the trunk of my car.  I start with one puppet, and
walk around for 45 minutes to an hour.  Then I return to the trunk to get
another puppet and begin again with the next puppet.

        I have had rewarding experiences strolling with puppets.  One
afternoon as I started to enter a patients room at a veteran's hospital,
the nurse told me that I would get no response from the man in that room.
I walked in anyway, and Reginald the Rabbit began talking to him.  The man
suddenly got out of his bed, walked to Reginald, and hugged him.  After we
had talked for a short time with the gentleman, we excused ourselves and
went to the next room.  A few weeks later, I found out that there had been
a sudden breakthrough with that patient after Reginald and I had gone.  He
was communicating with people and his health was improving.

        I sometimes feel like the Pied Piper during a walkaround.  Children
follow me around, and parents bring their children to me.  I get funny
comments even from adults; such as, "I can't believe I'm talking to a
puppet!"  from a gentlemen that Reginald and I were talking to at a Moffett
Field Naval air show.

        Walkarounds are loads of fun, so dress flamboyantly and have fun
strolling with your puppets!  Won't you share your walkaround experiences
by writing to me?