Intern News: Puppetry and Voice-Over

Hello fellow puppet fans!

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I'm Peter Choi, a summer 2018 intern from Boston Latin School. When I first came here, I had almost no knowledge of puppetry. However, after many weeks working here, with lots of time spent at shows, in camps, and around professional puppeteers, I am proud to say that my knowledge of puppetry has expanded greatly! Now, I'd like to share some insights with you. 

One of my personal hobbies before I first entered the theater was voice-over. Voice-over is the business of using the voice to create recordings to be used in things such as radio, audiobooks, video games, narrations, cartoons, telephones, anime, commercials, and announcements. As I learned more about puppetry throughout the weeks, I realized that voice-over and puppetry had many similarities that I hadn't appreciated until now.

  Me and T-Rex behind the scenes with Mike Horner of Mesner Puppet Theatre. 

Me and T-Rex behind the scenes with Mike Horner of Mesner Puppet Theatre. 

One important similarity is of course the voice! In both voice-over and puppetry, the voice is manipulated to create characters and to transport the audience into the world of the story.

At Puppet Showplace, performers uses their voices to do so many things! I heard voices used to perform humans, monsters, dinosaurs, heroes, villains, and other characters big and small.

 Bonnie Duncan performs without words in "Squirrel Stole My Underpants" by the Gottabees

Bonnie Duncan performs without words in "Squirrel Stole My Underpants" by the Gottabees

One thing I discovered that I didn't expect was that sometimes, shows tell a story buy don’t use the voice at all! In shows such as Milo the Magnificent and Squirrel Stole My Underpants, the story is told entirely with puppetry and pantomime, or using gesture to communicate.

Both actors and puppeteers need to maintain good vocal health. Maintaining good hydration and avoiding actions that can damage your voice and lungs, such as smoking and screaming too much, are vital for keeping a healthy voice.

Silly voices: try this at home!

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While working here, I took the class Fundamentals of Silly Voices taught by Puppeteer, Voice Teacher, and Vocalist Brenda Huggins. I learned a lot! For instance, have you ever done impressions or made voices different from your regular voice? Not only do make for good laughs among friends, but they can be applied to both puppetry and voice-over as you can embody different characters with different voices. You can even try this at home.

First: with your normal voice try speaking faster than your normal pace, then try speaking with a slower pace. Now raise the pitch of your voice and speak with a high pitch with a normal speed, fast speed, then slow speed. Do the same with a very low pitched voice. You now have 9 different types of voices that you can use for both puppetry and voice-over! You can make even more by adding different accents and impressions.

Learning Lip-Synch

Another thing I learned is that puppetry and voice-over both require well-timed vocal movements. I found this out during my first couple of weeks working here when I helped with puppetry summer camps for children. Even though these classes were for younger kids, I still learned a lot by helping out! 

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"Lip Synch" when puppeteers match a puppet's mouth with the words that the character is speaking. Usually, the puppet's mouth is opened and closed by a puppeteer's hand. Doing this correctly can be really hard! One thing you can do is to practice is to bring your hand to your mouth, putting your thumb on your bottom lip and the rest of your fingers on your top lip. Then, match your hand movements to your mouth movements. It’s very difficult to do without touching your mouth and requires lots of practice to get it right.

Lip-synch and the puppetry requirement of well-timed lines is very similar to creating voice-over tracks for anime, cartoons and video games from foreign countries. Since animation from foreign countries is animated with their vernacular, English voice-actors must redub characters, keeping in mind the timing of the mouth movements, also known as “lip-flaps”. This also can be difficult in in the beginning, but with practice can become easier.

Both puppetry and voice-over are specialized fields, and I hope you enjoyed learning more about both! I look forward to applying what I learned during my internship in all of my future endeavors. If you're curious about voices in action, then come by soon to see a show!