In my designs for the tabletop-puppets of Hansel and Gretel, made to guide master puppet-maker Jan Zalud in the complex task of building our wooden actors, I sketched unclothed versions so that the proportions of the characters could be seen.
Items of clothing were of the stick-over variety used for old-fashioned paper dolls, offered more by way of a starting point for puppet wardrobe supervisor, Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths.
Costuming puppets is a rather hard to define and alchemical skill. It’s the final, transformative stage that comes before entrusting the wooden actors to the puppeteers who will give them life. Flesh and blood performers can take ownership of what’s worn on stage to the point where the warmth and shape of bodies moulds garments so that they stop being ‘costumes’ and become clothes.
But for the inert, wooden actor, the wardrobe supervisor has to take things several stages further in order for the illusion of the character’s history to be present. It requires a forensic approach to detail, because all the clues of subtle ownership and everyday wear and tear have to be crafted into garments worn by actors unable to add any history of their own. Care must be taken so that miniaturisation doesn’t become a distraction. Meticulously crafting a miniature zip, while impressive at a technical level, has the potential to be a distraction from the puppet’s performance. So there needs to be a careful shorthand, paring away extraneous detail while leaving just enough to be convincing. It’s an illusory craft, because it mustn’t draw attention to itself, which is harder than it sounds.
Oonagh and I will meet our puppet actors for the first time in London later this month. We’re greatly anticipating the moment. I’ve wanted to collaborate with Jan Zalud for the longest time, but the stars didn’t align for us to do so until this project. Oonagh and I will be able to closely examine Hansel and Gretel and take measurements of them. Her task of compiling photographic references began several weeks ago, but once she can see exactly what she’ll be costuming, the work of bringing wood to life can begin.
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Thank you for sharing this really insightful post, Clive. I was fascinated to read about creating the puppet costumes. I was given a rather excellent tour of the graduate creations at a London art school last year, where my host had studied costume design. She explained the process of distressing the costumes that she had gone through but I never considered how this would apply to puppetry and, more importantly, with those extra layers of detail due to the puppets inanimate ‘lives’.
I am a big fan of puppetry and design so will look forward to following your blog.
Dear Clive, just returning to say that I very much enjoyed the performance on Saturday and have written a review. I have used your poster image and photo and linked to the YouTube trailer and your blog. Please let me know if you would like me to remove/credit anyone for the poster/photo. Congratulations and best wishes for the tour. Kind Regards, Ginny
Ginny, thank you so much. Lizzie and Di will be so pleased to read about how much you appreciated their performance skills. They are simply the best, and were wonderful to work with.
It’s a shame none of Jan Zaluds puppet making courses are close enough for me to attend!
But I am going to attempt to make a skeleton puppet this weekend under the tutelage of a puppet maker based in Henfield – i’ve chosen to have a go at a Pelham style skeleton!
(No clothing issues with that – except it may need some kind of small hat?!)
That’s really impressed JHJ as someone who’s always enjoyed the works of the Andersons.
Love from us both B & Jxxx
Clive, your energy is astounding! I’m amazed by the breadth of your talents, and gift for collaboration, as usual. The new people look wonderful and—as someone who is currently engaged in making costumes for fashion dolls—your comments about miniaturization are right on track. I look forward to seeing more as your project goes forward!
Another great adventure Clive! How marvellous this will be. Looking forward to seeing all the steps. It is fascinating to learn about this. Thank you for sharing and explaining so beautifully. (As usual!)
I had to snicker, thinking of God molding the first….🙃!
Just think if he’d had Oonagh as costume designer!
Greetings from the Black Forest.
How interesting and actually it’s ‘bringing wood’ BACK to life isn’t it?
VERY happy for you.
Love as ever (from Four Feathered Falls via Pinnochio and not forgetting Lady Penelope!)
Ahhh, Lady Penelope, carved for Gerry Anderson by my old friend John Blundell. He did Parker, too!