"puppetry classes"

Learn Mouth and Rod Puppetry at Puppet Showplace!

Furry Monsters 101 with Jonathan Little, Little's Creatures

4 sessions, February 25 - March 18

Tuesdays, 6:30-9:00pm
Members save 10% on registration!


Some characters are too good to keep bottled up. Let out your inner monster with the "Furry Monsters 101" class at Puppet Showplace Theatre taught by master puppeteer Jonathan Little of Little's Creatures. This class is for adults and mature teens ages 16 and up.

Students practicing with puppets made by Little's Creatures at Puppet Showplace.

Take a page of the Muppet, Sesame Street, or saucy Avenue Q handbook and create your own character through the use of a professional hand and rod puppet. Work with “Little Creatures” puppet company founder Jonathan Little, and give life to your inner characters. Will your puppet character be sassy? Meek? A childhood hero or an inner demon? Explore an exciting, visual storytelling medium in a supportive classroom environment with fellow adventurers.

Jon Little of Little's Creatures, Fury Monsters 101 instructor at Puppet Showplace


Jonathan Little is the founder of Little’s Creatures, a full service puppet company based in Medford, MA. Little’s Creatures has built puppets and performed for individuals and companies across the United States and abroad. Current puppetry projects include the Time Machine Guitar TV series and the National Fire Prevention Association’s “Sparky the Fire Dog” fire safety videos. Jon has been a Puppet Showplace teaching artist since 2011.

Jon and Chris Little, Little's Creatures performing Sparky the Fire Dog.

He received his own puppetry training from some of the nation’s best television puppeteers including Muppeteers Martin P. Robinson, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Tyler Bunch, Tim Lagasse, and Jim Kroupa. For the past four years, Jon has worked as the teaching assistant in Jim Kroupa’s mechanism workshop at the Eugene O’Neill National Puppetry Conference. In addition to performing, Jonathan is skilled in the fine arts, including sculpture, film, video, drawing, and painting. He holds a degree from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He is a skilled dancer, with over 14 years of ballet training (Red Shoes Ballet, South Shore Dance, and Boston Ballet). He has also trained in comedy improv with ImprovBoston.


In Furry Monsters 101, participants will learn the proper technique of hand and rod puppetry. Professional puppeteers know how to make these characters appear as living, breathing beings with their own thoughts, desires, and motivations. After learning the basics (breathing, lip-synch, focus, and body position), participants will also be able to bring their own characters to life too. Their hands will start to have minds of their own!

For samples of last year’s students’ creations in the Furry Monsters class checkout Little’s youtube page:

Participants will also cover essentials such as character interpretation, rhythm and timing, storytelling, puppet-assisting , working with props, creating a puppet film, improv and comedy, television monitor technique, and puppet/actor interactions. This is an ideal class for actors, comedians, die-hard Muppet fans, dancers, animators, or anyone interested in learning puppetry.

For those ready to embark on the hilarious, rewarding adventure of bringing your own puppet character to life, “Furry Monsters 101” is the perfect opportunity!

You can find more info about upcoming classes at Puppet Showplace online. CICK HERE.

Around the Puppetry World in Four Weeks

A whirlwind tour via Brad Shur’s “Introduction to Puppetry Arts” 
By Guest Blogger, Holly Hartman, Volunteer Media Consultant

In the past, I’ve brought children to a range of enchanting shows at the Puppet Showplace; since becoming a volunteer, I’ve been wowed by its programming for adults. Boundary-pushing Puppet Slams with excellent live music, touring theater companies, evening classes for puppet fans at every level of experience—all this is available right here on Station Street, along with a glimpse into New England’s thriving puppetry arts community.

One of the highlights of my autumn was taking an adult education course at Puppet Showplace: Introduction to Puppetry Arts, taught by Brad Shur, the theatre’s Artist in Residence.

Week One: Learning by Doing

At our first meeting, Brad demonstrates the basics of puppetry performance with an instant “tabletop puppet”: a plastic bag twisted into the shape of a bird. Thanks to his skill, this weightless creature is strangely convincing. Its chest heaves with breath, suggesting emotion; it looks around at us, suggesting thought; the effort of its slow movement across the table suggests muscle. Minutes into the course, I’m hooked.

Next, Brad passes around a variety of puppets. In trying them out, I realize that puppetry may be the epitome of hands-on learning. Playing with a George Bernard Shaw glove puppet built by Puppet Showplace artist emeritus Paul Vincent Davis shows me how its shoulder joints flex as well as where its eyes focus in space, neither of which is evident from the outside. In using a Red Riding Hood puppet made by Puppet Showplace founder Mary Churchill, I learn that her trademark crochet material moves sinuously with the hand, while the character’s weighted boots fall authoritatively on the table. I see that if you spent time with these puppets, they would teach you how to operate them.

Brad Shur (center) Puppet Showplace Artist in Residence with Introduction to Puppetry Arts class.
The remainder of the class is given to puppetry history, some lip-synch practice with the eyeball puppets known as “Peepers,” and, finally, building a box-shaped mouth puppet from construction paper. This activity will pretty much characterize my experience of the class: a hands-on approach to education that offers a lot of fun in a little time, as well as a lesson in how effective simple materials can be.

Week Two: History in Motion

This time class starts in the theater, where we watch a riveting series of video clips of iconic puppetry: old (Vietnamese water puppets) and new (animatronics), simple (naked hands) and complex (Bunraku), analytical (Burr Tillstrom’s Berlin wall piece) and magical (the giant marionettes of Royale de Luxe). I’ve seen photographs of some of these performance styles on the Puppet Showplace Pinterest boards, but to see them in motion is an utterly new experience, enhanced, like everything in this class, by Brad’s insightful commentary.

For the remainder of the evening, it’s back to the art table to create shadow puppets. Once again, simple materials do the trick. Using cut paper and a brass fastener for a hinge, each of us makes a creature with one moving part. Around the table, paper tails wag and tiny jaws flap.

Week Three: Taking the Stage

We return to the theater, where each of us takes our shadow puppet onstage behind a lit screen, then trades with another student so we can see our own puppet in action. A vaulted turtle drifts down from above, toward the light, then inches its head out of its shell; an elephant undulates its jointed trunk as it struts across the scrim.

One thing that strikes me about our shadow puppets is how expressive the outline of each one is, as individual as handwriting. Also, they are all captivating onstage. Brad points out that this is the only form of puppetry that doesn’t depend on a puppeteer’s skill in bringing the object to life, but instead makes use of the magic of light and shadow. Immediately I start pondering whether I can fit Shadow Puppetry 101 into my schedule this fall. (I can’t, alas—but the course will return next year.)

Next, we begin building rod puppets—using a rod, of course, along with balled-up newspaper wrapped by masking tape, a surprisingly malleable combination of materials. I lose track of what my classmates are doing as I form a pear-like rabbit head and hunchbacked rabbit body. When I look up, I see that the population of the class has doubled: every human is now accompanied by a rustic creature in process.

Week Four: Lights, Puppets, Action!

I’m thrilled to see my half-completed rod puppet again after a week apart. The room fills with the sound of newspaper crumpling and masking tape tearing as we finish building the bodies, then give our puppets rod-operated arms that swivel at the shoulder and bend at the elbow. With these points of motion, plus a turnable head, we have a crew of what Brad calls “robust” puppets, capable of a range of movement—and possibility.

This evening, those possibilities play out via fairy tales. We pair off and use our diverse cast of characters to retell classic stories: in my case, a rabbit and a snowman perform an unorthodox version of the Frog Prince. Working on the puppet stage is a ton of fun, though I can’t quite see what my rabbit puppet is doing through the thin black fabric that conceals our faces. No matter; I can hear the audience laugh.

I took this class hoping to learn more about the history and practice of puppetry, which I did; what I didn’t expect was to spend so much time building and using puppets, which was wonderful. As I walk up Station Street at the end of the evening, two people smile at me; I turn onto Harvard Street, and a little girl at a bus stop grins and clasps her hands. That’s when I remember that I’m holding a two-foot-long floppy-eared rabbit on a stick. I am sorry that the class is over, but I can already tell that it is a gift that will keep on giving.

To learn about upcoming adult classes, click here

Behind the Scenes of Adult Classes at Puppet Showplace

Adventures in Puppetry: Part Two
by Guest Blogger Holly Hartman

For Part One, click here.

It is Monday night at the Puppet Showplace Theatre,  I am at the third class of Jonathan Little’s  “Furry Monsters 101,” and I don’t know when I have last laughed this much. I have forgotten about my long day at the office and the sardine subway ride that capped it and have succumbed to the hilarity of playing with monster puppets.

Class Three: Where Is My Head?

Last week we saw ourselves—or rather, our puppets—on the screen of a video monitor for the first time. Like an infant, I was riveted by my own image (in this case, I was a shaggy orange creature with a bow tie). This week we’re sharing the camera in small groups. Our puppets’ movements onscreen are slow, absurd. I’m reminded of how it takes practice for young children to learn where their limbs are in space.

Many of our puppets look like dopey pets: mouths ajar, heads cocked, too clumsy to heed Jonathan as he urges us to move the puppets together and make them look at the camera. My golf-ball-like eyes can’t find the camera; my furry neck cranes in the wrong direction, as if the puppet is captivated by a faraway song. (Note: the students who’ve taken the class before--one is on his fourth enrollment--are a testimony to the benefits of practice. But most of us newbies are pretty klutzy.)

Things a Director Would Never Say to a Human Actor, Yet Prove Helpful When Spoken About a Puppet:

“Your neck looks broken. Hey Chris, would you go un-break his neck?”

“Oops, let me adjust your eyeballs.”

“Next time, remember to open your mouth when you sing.”

More Lucid in Gibberish

Seeing our puppets in groups is also a lesson in how tricky it is to establish spatial relationships among them, in part because we are manipulating them overhead. Many of our puppets end up talking nose-to-nose (or nose-to-where-a-nose-might-be), or leaning away from each other, or failing to make eye contact. As a group, they don’t look very socialized.

We sing “Frere Jacques” with simple choreography that nonetheless goes astray as often as not. (Some of us are self-conscious. “But it’s a puppet,” Jonathan counsels. “It wants to sing and dance.”) Then we try an exercise in which we pair off and have a conversation in gibberish: one puppet speaks nonsense words, the second riffs off of that, and so on. This becomes interesting fast. When the two puppeteers are attuned to each other, a relationship between their puppets begins to arise.

I find it oddly liberating to speak in a nonexistent language. With words cut off from meaning, it’s easier to play with voice and gesture. Plus I like the surrealism of it. At times I brush up against what for me is the most gratifying part of the creative process, when my cognitive mind fades away; and at those times I cannot quite tell whether I am playing with the puppet or the puppet is playing with me.

Class Four: Think Less, Skit More

I thought we were going to start our fourth class with more camera work, but Jonathan greets us by saying that last week he could see us thinking too hard. So instead we’ll begin with vocal and movement practice, then write skits and perform them onstage, then rewrite them and perform them on camera. Well! Is that all for the first hour?!

Soon we have broken into groups to write and rehearse our skits while Chris and Jonathan make the rounds to check on our progress. I feel grateful at how formal instruction accelerates learning, especially when Chris advises us on manipulating our puppets (“When you open the mouth all the way on that one it looks crazy, see?”).

Instructor, Jon Little
The skits end up being pretty hilarious. There’s an operatic saga of family dysfunction, complete with Wagner-length high notes; a Shakespearean trio trying to throw off a gypsy curse; and a tale of infidelity in the American West that features a make-out scene so heated the furry lovers have to pause for a breath. All of this, out of thin air.

Puppet Party

Coordinating my puppet’s jaw, arm, and body movements while I am talking remains a challenge. “Holly, your puppet is on roller skates,” Jonathan says after I glide my blue monster across the stage, having forgotten to give it the natural side-to-side motion of walking. (Which would have been okay if roller skates had featured in the scene.) Some puppets appear to be victims of quicksand, sinking out of the camera frame over time.

Before long, nine puppets are on camera at once. It turns out that much consolidation is possible when we angle our bodies sideways (I recall Jonathan telling us in the first class that “puppetry is the art of working in someone’s armpit”). But onscreen, the puppets don’t look crowded. In fact, they look pretty relaxed and happy as they mingle, sharing puppet observations on party clothes and nachos.

As my rudimentary skills increase, so does my appreciation for the video monitor as a teaching tool. In a nutshell: you can see where you are going wrong and fix it, then and there. Crookneck-squash neck, fixed. Zombie arms, fixed. For someone new to performance, this is like magic.

What the Puppet Wants

I took the class partly in the hope of demystifying puppetry for myself, at least a little bit. In this I have both somewhat succeeded and happily failed.

As to the success: In four whirlwind classes, I have been introduced to the skills necessary to operate hand-and-rod puppets (those icons of my circa 1975 worship of all things Muppet). I now have a novice’s sense of how to make this kind of puppet speak, move, and interact. I see that it takes a tremendous amount of practice to make these actions appear realistic, and that it’s a tremendous amount of fun.

Yet there’s something about puppetry that resists demystification. In skilled hands, a puppet in motion has a life of its own--with its own disposition, its own demands, and the capacity to outwit its puppeteer--and I am happy to say that this aspect of puppetry remains mysterious to me.

Click Here  for a full list of upcoming classes.

Introduction to Puppetry Arts

Instructor: Brad Shur, Artist in Residence
Four sessions, September 16 - October 7
Monday nights, 6:30 to 8:30 pm

What makes a great puppet show? Participants will be introduced to the exciting and multifaceted world of puppetry through hands-on exploration of the materials and performance methods used by professional puppeteers. Participants will survey basic puppetry construction methods, build their own puppets, and learn the basic techniques for making puppets come to life.
Mask and Physical Theatre Intensive
Instructor: Avital Peleg
Four sessions, September 18 - October 9
Wednesday nights, 6:30 to 9:00 pm

This workshop invites participants to immerse themselves in the physical and visual world of mask theatre, discovering the power of their own poetic body through a non-verbal approach to acting. Participants will focus on in-depth and detail-oriented physical performance with full-face white neutral masks. Beginning with solo scenes, adding objects, and building towards duo and ensemble work, participants will heighten their awareness of timing, breath, spatial composition, and audience perception.

Introduction to Shadow Puppetry
Instructor: Brad Shur, Artist in Residence
Four sessions, October 1 - October 22
Tuesdays, 6:30 to 8:30 pm

Shadow puppetry is a centuries-old art form that is constantly evolving to incorporate new materials and technologies. In "Introduction to Shadow Puppetry," students will learn the history of shadow performance and encounter examples of the exciting work being developed by today's shadow puppeteers. Through building and performance exercises, the class will explore diverse styles of shadow puppets ranging from simple hand shadows to elaborate cut-out figures with moving parts. 

Behind-the-Scenes of Furry Monsters 101

Adventures in Puppetry: Part One
by Guest Blogger Holly Hartman

Holly Hartman
I’m a few minutes early for class, and instructor Jonathan Little, the puppeteer and fabricator behind Little’s Creatures, is chatting with students about puppetry. He tells us where he buys the fur he uses in building his own monster puppets, why medical-grade foam is a good choice for puppet hands, how he fixes a puppet’s eyes and arms in place. I learn why all the Muppets are a bit cross-eyed and what makes Kermit’s head especially difficult to construct.

This serendipitous conversation (among others) is one of the pleasures of a class I’m taking at Puppet Showplace Theatre: “Furry Monsters 101,” an introduction to Muppet-style hand-and-rod puppets. One of the things that impresses me about Puppet Showplace is how it supports puppetry not just as a theater venue but also with workshops and courses like this, offering the public a chance to work with seasoned teaching artists.

I’m a longtime fan of Puppet Showplace and a current volunteer, but this is my first class. Seeing puppet shows here has gotten me curious about what it would be like to try my own hand (literally) at puppetry. It’s an art with many forms, but all, in my view, seem to involve some alchemy by which a puppeteer brings an object to life. How does this happen?

Class One: Inhale, Exhale

In our first class, Jonathan tells us that one of the surest ways to hook an audience is by letting them see your puppet breathe. He demonstrates with a lifted hand: an inhale, wrist shifting upward; an exhale, fingers subtly releasing the puppet’s breath. I am transfixed—it’s a creature! But no—it’s a hand.

Jon Little hand makes all of the puppets for Furry Monsters 101

 This suspension of disbelief is part of what fascinates me about puppetry. Jonathan’s brother Chris, also a puppeteer, is helping out with this class, and during our introductions he describes watching Puppet Showplace artist emeritus Paul Vincent Davis animate a milk carton—it became “the happiest milk carton in the world,” then the saddest. Puppetry, Chris says, involves the ability to imbue objects with energy.

We make our hands into puppet mouth shapes and practice making them breathe, sigh, sneeze, sniff, snore. Like infants, our hands then progress from sounds to words. The technique involves one precise flap of the thumb per syllable—downward, the way the human jaw moves in speech. We sing the alphabet, slowly. My thumb sags in confusion when we reach the impossibly multisyllabic letter W.

Finally, we try lip-synching to music. Time flies when your puppet hands are having fun. Suddenly it’s 9:00 p.m., class is over, and around the room students’ hands are rocking out to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Practice Makes Puppetry

For homework, I practice lip-synching with my hand. It’s hard. It’s fun. The occasional moment of fluidity is a thrill. My puppet hand has an affinity for the songs of Leonard Cohen—slow, simple lyrics punctuated by danceable instrumentals and the odd long word. Hal-le-lu-jah.

Class Two: Hands in Puppets

In the second class, when we start using hand-and-rod puppets, lip-synching feels different, strange. Each puppet is a new experience. I feel awkward maneuvering the tiny mouth of the first one I try, and enjoy posing the jointed neck of the second. Each student performs a scripted monologue, and when my turn comes I keep flapping my hand upward, causing what Jonathan calls, during the critique, “a bit of flip-top head.” Whoops.

Like everything else we’ve done in this very immersive class, the critique is fun and illuminating. I like seeing what qualities each person brings to their puppet performance. Some puppet characters are kinetic, others droll. Talking about what we saw that worked—and what didn’t—is invaluable.

Lights, Camera…

Next, we take our first steps—or, rather, make our puppets take their first steps—in front of the camera and video monitor. It’s harder than I would’ve guessed, both because it’s tricky to keep your puppet moseying along on its fictional floor level without slumping, and because on a video monitor, left and right are reversed. When you stroll your puppet onscreen from stage right, its furry face appears on the monitor at stage left. Surprise!

Also surprising: I love working with the monitor. It’s magic to see the puppet isolated in the world of the television screen, moving within its own reality, the puppeteer nowhere seen. I think I could watch that furry monster explore its onscreen world for hours, or at least until my arm went numb from holding it overhead. I feel like the kid who does not want to stop playing with a new toy.

As I leave the theatre, I am a little stunned at how much I’ve gotten to try in the last two hours. For someone who grew up with Sesame Street, it’s a heady feeling. And we have two more classes to go… I’ll be back in a couple weeks with a final report!

Monster Mondays are Moving In

Summer 2013 Adult Class

By: Joanna McDonough, Deitch Leadership Intern 

We have all heard it, that familiar falsetto voice that can usually be heard talking to a pet goldfish, or a man named Mr. Noodles, or Mr. Noodle's brother, coincidentally also named Mr. Noodles. Some of us were even lucky enough to take part in many giggles with this furry red friend in childhood, when he exclaimed "That tickles!" every time he was hugged. Yes, I am talking about Elmo my favorite Muppet character from Sesame Street and yes, my Tickle Me Elmo still has batteries in it.

Hello! My name is Joanna. I am 18 years old and an intern at the Puppet Showplace Theatre in Brookline, and I am proud to say that like many of you, I love Elmo. Interestingly enough however, until today I did not know anything about the mechanics behind the puppet that resides on Sesame Street.

It is sad to think that despite my knowledge of every song composed by him, I had no idea who the puppeteers who made Elmo come alive were, or who even created the character. As it turns out, the character was created in the 1970s and first performed by Caroll Spinney and Jerry Nelson then later by Kevin Clash. These puppeteers were responsible for Elmo's portrayal, providing his audience with the lifelike movements of the puppet's arms and legs.

How do they do it, you ask?

The techniques used by artists and performers such as Kevin Clash to create believable puppet characters may seem out of reach to master, but there is good news for aspiring performers and Muppet fans alike.

The Puppet Showplace Theatre is bringing back a class due to popular demand called Furry Monsters 101 which will be starting up in July.


'Furry Monsters 101' spring class 2012 show off Little Creature monsters

 What happens in the class?   

The class, taught by Jonathan Little of Little's Creatures, will focus on the proper manipulation of Muppet-style hand and rod puppets featured on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and Avenue Q. Jonathan will teach the class how to make these puppet characters appear as living, breathing beings with their own thoughts, desires, and motivations; some of the basics he will include are breathing, lip-synch, focus, and body positioning.

The sessions for Furry Monsters 101 run July 15 - Aug 5 on Monday nights from 6:30 to 9:00 pm. The registration price by July 1st is $150 and after July 1st it will be  $175.
And don't forget PST members save 10% on registration! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Even though it is only my third day here at the Puppet Showplace Theatre, I can already tell that the programs this organization has planned for the summer will be great ways to beat the heat and enjoy the arts, for both children and adults. I hope to see you this summer in the theatre!

Announcing Fall Adult Classes 2012


Puppet Shorts!
Six sessions, September 10th - Oct 15th
Monday Nights, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Cost: $150/ $125 before September 1st!
Click Here to register online, or call 617-731-6400

Introduction to Puppetry Arts
Four sessions, October 9th - 30th
Tuesday Nights, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Cost: $125/ $105 before October 1st!
To register, call 617-731-6400

Introduction to Shadow Puppetry
Five sessions, November 12th - December 10th
Monday Nights, 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Cost: $150/ $125 before November 1st!
To register, call 617-731-6400

Our artist-in-residence at PST, Brad Shur, will be teaching these three new classes for adults starting in September!  Brad has been professionally involved in puppetry for almost 15 years.  Creating and performing with his own puppets, he is equipped with an incredibly broad knowledge of various forms of puppetry and performance techniques.

Puppet Shorts! -  How do you get better at making puppet shows?  Practice!  Any great writer will tell you that in order to write well, one must write as often as they can.  The same is true with puppetry.  This class is designed to stretch a puppeteer's creativity and skill through a variety of projects.  Using different puppetry styles each week, participants will create six short performances.  With the help of the instructor, the class will also learn formal critique methods to analyze and improve each others' work.

Introduction to Puppetry Arts - Learn about the basics behind the scenes!  If you have always admired puppets from a seat in the audience, maybe it's time you got a closer look.  This class will teach the basic materials and performance methods used by professional puppeteers.  In addition, the class will study and discuss the work of great puppeteers such as Richard Bradshaw, Burr Tillstrom, and Sergey Obraztsov.  From constructing your first puppet to understanding the concepts of what makes an excellent puppet show, the subjects covered in this class are vital to a beginner puppeteer.

Introduction to Shadow Puppetry - Tap into the power of playing with light!  Shadow puppetry can be a wonderful way to tell stories, and at the heart of it, all you may need is a light, some paper, and a screen.  From the simple fun of playing with light, to more complex and diverse styles of shadow puppetry, this class is for anyone interested in this beautiful art form.  Through the use of building exercises and performance assignments, participants by the end of this class will have the tools to create their own shadow puppet plays.

Any questions about class content may be directed to instructor Brad Shur: bshur@puppetshowplace.org.  For more information about all of our Adult Classes, please Visit Our Website!