Join the Spectacle by Making a BIG Puppet

At Festifools, huge imaginary creatures flood Main Street with color and spectacle. These giant creations charm eager spectators with their bizarre forms and fantastic movements. From whence do these fantastic creations come?

They are hand made and animated by heroic people. Perhaps, heroic people like you.

We’ll level with you right off the bat: making a Festifools puppet is quite a bit more work than making a luminary or costume. Students in Mark Tucker’s U of M class spend the school year crafting large scale paper-mache creatures. Individuals and families may spend weeks or months building something big in their garage. It takes some DIY skill and a certain level of foolishness.

BUT, if you want to make a big splash, there’s no bigger stage than this. Each year, many thousands of people line the streets at Festifools eagerly awaiting what new birds and beasts will emerge. Your puppet could be what draws the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs.’

If this sounds like you, read on, foolish friend!

(If it doesn’t sound like you, but you still want to march through the street with us in costume or while performing a talent or playing music, then see our Festifools event page here. We also need volunteers to bring our puppets to life during the event so they don’t sit on the truck while their puppet friends frolic on the street.)

HOW TO MAKE A BIG PUPPET:

‘Puppet’ is a loose term for any sort of marvelous creature/object that you can animate and move down the street. By ‘big’ we mean something probably 8’ – 12’ in height or length. It could be something that fits over your body, or something you (or multiple people) hold up.

There are only a few hard-and-fast requirements (see specifications below), but there are some established methods and materials. We’ve also provided an inspiration gallery below — feel free to borrow from the past, or push the boundaries in an entirely new direction. Bonus points if your puppet somehow performs or engages with the crowd vs. simply being carried down the street.

Here are some established puppet construction methods:

The Cardboard + Paper-Mache Method: the old standby method is to make a rough form by stapling together strips and loops of cardboard, paper-macheing over them to get the final form, and then painting it. These puppets are usually held up on sticks/poles, and have disjointed limbs that move independently, requiring several people to carry and control them.

The Head-on-a-Stick Method: make a big head (human, animal, or something in between) out of cardboard and finish with paper mache, or fabric, or foam, or feathers, or whatever. Put the head on a tall stick, add a horizontal cross-beam under the head, and drape a big piece of fabric over it to represent the body. Kind of like a big lollipop wearing a gown. This could be carried by a single person, or by 3 people if there are separately-moving arms with their own support poles.

The Extension-of-Your-Body Method: build a big head and wear it as a mask. Or, build some sort of tall creature whose body rests on your shoulders and extends high above your head while you see out of the belly. Or perhaps build giant wings, or a really really tall neck + head to go over your own neck and head. This method allows a single person to wear and control the puppet.

The Flexible Tubing Method: at least one artist has pioneered a method of using ½” PEX plumbing tubing (kind of like hula-hoop material) to build a skeleton, and then stretching canvas or fabric over the frame as skin.

The Cardboard Box Method: accumulate a bunch of cardboard boxes or varying sizes, and stack/attach them to build a figure. This might be most appropriate for robot-type puppets or anything that’s naturally square.

We’re quite sure there are other materials and techniques yet to be discovered. Maybe you’ll be the one to figure them out!

PUPPET SPECIFICATIONS & REQUIREMENTS:

  • Must be under 14ft tall (to clear electric lines!) and no wider than 6 feet.
  • Be cautious of wind and weather when scaling your puppet.
  • Must be handmade. Commercially-made pieces may be acceptable as components of your larger puppet, but please <connect with us first to discuss>.
  • Must be human powered, with no wheels (exceptions may be granted for brilliant ideas; contact us)
  • Must have its own crew of operators for setup, performance, and take-down.
  • No advertising, no solicitations, no logos.
  • You will need to arrive by 3 pm on Sunday April 8, 2018 to unload your piece and organize your puppet-carrying team (the event begins at 4 pm and lasts for only 1 hour). There is a staging area on LIberty just east of the Main/Liberty intersection (across from Kilwin’s) where you can drop off your puppet and get set up.
  • Please train and prepare to carry your puppet for 1 hr straight in inclement weather. Holding a puppet-support pole is quite strenuous, so we suggest making a simple support harness by slipping a PVC t-fitting through the front of your belt. The pole will go vertically into the t-fitting and your belt will carry the weight of the puppet instead of your arms. Remember, carrying your puppet for an hour straight is a lot harder than the 5 min test run you did in your driveway, and there may be wind and weather to deal with. Please plan ahead for all contingencies — this is one area where you do not want to be foolish!