Advice for a new boy

This is the place for Technical Tips, Questions and Answers.

Postby CvdC » 15 Jan 2008, 07:11

Yes I see what you mean Tony. When you look at a range of shows you are looking for the nuances between the different shows. I guess you need to understand something about the tradition to fully appreciate these nuances. And then again Punch is such a simple theatre I can understand Trev's view that too much theory and historical context can put a lot of useless pressure on you for no good reason.
Perhaps Glyn Edwards's book is a good practical starting read, along with his video perhaps. Or the Travelling with Punch dvd from the PJF.

Some swazzling and puppetry practice in front of a mirror. There must be 101 things you do with Punch, Judy and the baby. Handing the baby to Punch upside down, having the two puppets throw the baby back and forth, a bit of walky walky and rolly polly (to use some technical terms). Then there is the ancient martial art of slapstickery to practice. How to hit another puppet and make it funny rather than violent. That great routine where one puppet hits another but the stick is grabbed and he hits back. A good version of this can be seen in the Santa Claus video on YouTube.
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Postby Tony James » 15 Jan 2008, 10:25

Yes Chris, I agree. Perhaps we're in danger of becoming a little detailed here when our Blackpool friend is at the generalisation point. I'd also agree about Glyn's book being good, perhaps one of the best from an overall viewpoint. And Eric Sharpe's for someone who is already working and established and wanting to move forward.

I still find Geoff Felix's books a regular (annual) compulsive read though they are not How to books.

The problem with most How to books is the inevitable script. Not the words. There's some brilliant and usable content in them including the original Payne Collier. The difficulty I have with all of them is structure - and now I am getting technical.

For me, many fail on structure but that's purely me and comes from my theatrical background. I am sure they work successfully for lots of people.

As for the slapstick, I would always recommend visits to circus, especially European circus and to watch the French, Italian and Spanish clowns. They can be variable but when you've seen good ones and their varied routines you can learn by observation how to present something violent in a funny way and elicit laughter instead of concern.

Like so much of comic work, it's down to rhythm and timing. When you get that right, laughter follows. Doesn't matter if it's verbal or visual, rhythm and timing is the key to making it funny.
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Postby Professor Eek » 15 Jan 2008, 11:16

I think you're right about the 'script' being the main thing that can be worried about when starting out.

I don't have a 'script' - I have a mental image of a storyboard and go from one scene to another - usually in the same order - and use phrases, jokes and gags that have worked well before.

Occassionally new bits are added and something may get left out (I've missed whole scenes in the past) but sometimes a little bit of magic happens and a wonderful bit of theatre with good 'script' and audience engagement simply happens and you come out of the booth wondering how you did it and can you do it again.

So - as a beginner - look at the 'scenes' rather than focus on the words
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Postby Tony James » 15 Jan 2008, 15:10

I've always thought that the priority order for purchase (or making) is:

1. Figures
2. Script
3. Frame

Circumstances and opportunity may dictate otherwise but given the choice that would be the logical and practical sequence.
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that's my question

Postby Trev » 15 Jan 2008, 18:00

I suspected that Chris, I'm just (genuinely) curious to know why (apart from it being a little dated).
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Postby Chris » 15 Jan 2008, 19:53

Tony, you have on several occasions mentioned your theatrical background - without telling us what this is. I'm sure I'm not the only one curious.

Trev, I was trying to keep it simple, to give the advice I would have liked when starting out. The books I mentioned are, in my opinion, better in that context than the many others. My context was the books which gave some idea how to perform the show (the best being Sharp and Edwards) and the best for technical tips for anyone building a frame (the best being Alexander and Edwin). There was nothing deeper than that.

I know there are many other books I could have mentioned - I have a whole library of the things - I was trying to avoid bogging the poor chap down with too much conflicting information. Some hopes.

Eek, your idea of just keeping the outline scenes in mind and ad libbing round them is fine for an experienced performer. It is bad advice for a beginner who needs the security of a throughly learned script. You should be able to concentrate on working the puppets without having to think what to say next.

Once you do know the script, backwards, forwards and sideways, then is the time to start deviating, adding bits, playing about with it.

A professional musician would never dream of appearing in public with a piece only partially learned. The greatest actors first learn their scripts. And it takes a speaker of genius to speak genuinely off the cuff.

Starting off in any entertainment, children's particularly, is pretty scary. Most of us suffer agonies of stage-fright. One of the surest ways of reducing the apprehension is to know exactly what you are doing. You should be rehearsed so that you know exactly what you are going to do, and exactly what you are going to say.

This not only gives you confidence but, if you truly don't have to worry about what you are doing you are better able to concentrate on the audience and play t their reactions.

Chris vdC - yes, you are right. I had forgotten the Des Turner video published by the PJF. There are lots of useful routines on that DVD which could well inspire someone planning their own show. You can order it on their site I think Http://www.thepjf.com

I also agree with you that there's plenty to be getting on with before while waiting for May without having to resort to reading history.
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it's cool

Postby Trev » 15 Jan 2008, 19:58

That's cool Chris, I was just asking.
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Postby CvdC » 15 Jan 2008, 22:26

One thing more I would like to add to the idea of a well learned script. On watching video footage of various shows the thing I notice that most impresses is that in a good show there is no dithering about in what the puppet does. The moves are all quite precise and meaningfull. All exactly coordinated with what is said. When the puppets just randomly move about, stop for no apparent reason or have a bit of a nap on the playboard the whole show suffers.
I had a shot at learning contact juggling and was amazed at how effective pratice is for teaching the body to do quite complex movements.

I am an expert in starting out with Punch as I have been starting out for over twenty years now. I would agree that a very simple fundamental script, with as few puppets as you can get away with, learnt in detail, both moves and words (with swazzle) is the way to develop a show. When Judy brings up that baby you need to know exactly what you are going to do with it, how many times you will walk it across the stage and at what point you will throw it out the window. So when you are performing you don't need to think about it. (I'm reiterating what Chris has just written above.)

Many times I have heard it said that you know when you have done a good show when you have lost all self consciousness during the show. The pupets take over, responding to the audience directly rather than the performer.
Last edited by CvdC on 21 Jan 2008, 22:39, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Tony James » 16 Jan 2008, 12:38

Chris (S)

My theatrical background came through my family. By the time I was of an age to seriously consider the theatre there was hardly one to work in. It got better a bit later.

Because my mother died when I was a baby I was brought up in an extended family and my natural father compensated by taking me along with him at every opportunity. Whilst the family had a lot of involvement in the legitimate theatre his interests were variety and circus. And so from an early age I spent many happy hours backstage in dressing rooms between houses exposed to theatre talk. As an inquisitive child I watched and listened and asked a lot of questions and came quite early to understand the disciplines involved in acts and travelling shows.

I was convinced I would join that business eventually but as the time approached the theatres started closing and were being demolished at an alarming rate. I would never have made an actor because, whilst in my youth I did my fair share of amateur dramatics, I really only play a variation of me. And that's what I do when working magic and the Punch warm-up.

But it's interesting because as you know whatever it is - legitimate, variety, pantomime, revue, circus - the basic disciplines and theatrical structures apply throughout whether it's a play, musical, individual act or a puppet show. Getting the structure right provides the foundation on which to build.

Get it wrong and no matter how clever, the end result will never be as effective.

Chris (vdc)

Yes your right about words and movement but I think for a lot of us whilst experience tells us how to approach something, it's practical hands-on repeat performances which shapes the show.

Knowing the theory helps a lot because it will guide you to getting it right to start with but it's the audience reactions which dictate what works and that comes from constant repetition..
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Postby lesclarke » 16 Jan 2008, 13:55

There are so many aspects to doing Punch and that's part of what keeps it interesting.

I think overall the hardest thing is 'developing' a good script, it takes time for an initial written and then practiced, and then performed script to fully develop

If asked for just one piece of advice about performing I'd strongly go along with Chris S ...learn your script until you can do it without thinking about it. So, that's word by word, or in fact syllable by syllable. As you perform this then develop the timing and stress to discover the best delivery.

The script itself is not the most important part of the recipe, but you performing it as naturally as possible is the 'foundation' for the whole performance.

For instance, getting the correct puppet on stage is important, but if you reach for the wrong one you will recover yourself easily if you have full confidence in your script. Also to be able to adlib you must have a fixed script, if the adlib works you will keep it in.
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Postby okko » 16 Jan 2008, 20:16

Well talk of the devil - I opened the local paper tonight "At the Blackpool Winter gardens - Punch and Judy at the Seaside - Demonstration of the history and workings of Punch and Judy - February 9th
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Postby Miraiker » 17 Jan 2008, 19:42

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Postby Tony James » 17 Jan 2008, 20:47

Martin always seems to know what he's doing so that should be interesting. Pity I can't get to it.
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Postby Chris » 17 Jan 2008, 22:35

Quite magical - stretching a one day convention to a week! Takes quite a bit of leverage.
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Postby okko » 17 Jan 2008, 22:52

I also understand that the bi anual week long Puppet festival will be back in Blackpool Next year also .
some years ago I did go to a talk by some of the P&J performers given at the Grand Theatre during this festival.
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