Be a Strolling Puppeteer

By Carol A. 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 a 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, and Thomas J. Bear--a chocolate lover.

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 patient's 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 gentleman 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!