On television one of the important people you never see on screen is the warm-up artiste. When there is a live audience in studio they must be kept happy during the inevitable technical rehearsals and delays. This task is usually divided between either the floor manager or director, and an artiste specially engaged for the job. The floor manager or director will instruct the audience on studio etiquette, on when to clap, and when to keep silent. The comedian or spesh act employed as warm-up has the job of getting the crowd into a receptive mood for the actual show, and also to fill in during any delays. A good warm-up can greatly enhance a show and some artistes make it their speciality. The late Ken Brooke, a great friend of mine, was a brilliant magician. He was booked regularly for the original Basil Brush television show, but the viewers never saw him. Only the audience in the Shepherd's Bush Studio were treated to his skill.
A query appeared on the Punch Booth message Board saying that what the writer found difficult was starting his Punch show. After he had got the children sitting down he had to leave them to go inside the booth and get the puppets on his hands.
In my initial reply I said Before you start you need to pre-prepare the audience with some kind of warm-up which establishes you as the performer, and sets up a rapport with the audience - which, if well done, you carry into the booth and so retain your control even when out of vision.
This warm-up can take a variety of forms - a magic trick, a shouting game, a bit of balloon modelling or just banter. To watch a clever warm up is a joy. I remember first seeing Clive Chandler. He was presenting his puppet version of Pinnoccio - but did a warm up with the audience beforehand. I didn't need to see the show to know that here was a professional. Brian Clarke is another Punch Prof. with a reputation for his warm-up ability. I mention these gentlemen since they are two, among many others I am sure, who are worth studying if you get the chance. As in most things in this business, you'll learn most by watching other performers.
One of America's leading Punchmen and influential puppeteers is Prof. Will. He writes: "I start off as "Prof. Will" with a speech in rhyme, make any announcements, introduce the bottler, Mr. (or Ms. Bottles) if present, then announce the world famous Mr. Punch, who doesn't come up, of course. Sometimes I trigger recorded snoring using a remote, sometimes I pull up Joey by his topknot to go get Punch if I'm going to give a bit of the history. Finally I disappear in a huff and start waking Punch who is heard before he is seen. For a long show, Joey does a curtain opening scene (which has improved since I saw Martin Bridle's) and then finally Punch appears - Backwards! That should get audience reponse at which point Punch sez "I've been waiting for you" and on with the show."
Mr. Fizzo recommends that Punchmen who are also magicians should use the Die Box, this never fails for him. Personally I think this is the wrong choice, since although it generates a lot of reaction it is confrontational, and leaves the audience with egg on their face at the end. For those who do not know the effect of this trick, then briefly, a large dice is placed in a four-doored box and you claim to make it vanish and reappear in a hat. With a pantomime of tipping the box this way and that, opening and closing doors, and misunderstanding the kids you generate a certainty in the kids' minds that you are cheating, concealing the dice behind one door while showing another. This generates a terrific amount of shouting and frustration in the kids as they demand that you open one door and then another. The finale is stunning when you open all four doors, showing convincingly that the dice has vanished, and you do indeed find the missing dice (or die if you insist) in the hat.
This usually leaves even the blasé teenager gobsmacked. But surely this is not the mood you are trying to achieve with a Punch warm-up? You want a nice co-operative, receptive crowd, who will still respond to your subtle control from with the booth. Do you really want a crowd who have just been suckered and some of whom might be just a teeny bit resentful?
Tony Clarke, editor of The Swazzle advises: "Whatever you do, be yourself. If you try and be something you are not, your warm-up style will not compliment your show. I have seen many people do a great warm-up and a so-so show. If you are going to big and brash, loud and cheeky, then your show should match. Do not overshadow the Punch and Judy show with the warm up, it should be a good introduction to the show and get the children interested and ready to participate. Don't allow the warm up to take over, it can become too long and you will loose some of your audience whilst your show is on, as they have been sitting there too long already. Conversely a warm-up that is too short may not have the desired effect.
"A brief history of Punch and Judy is always quite good as this will also interest the adults. That is another point, it is not likely that your audience will be only children, so put something in for the adults, especially if you are taking a bottle. They are the ones with the money not the children.
"Balloon models are OK, but again do not be too clever, keep it simple and hand out a few simple ones rather than doing one elaborate one. Be careful that the event does not already have a balloon modeller since they will not be happy you are doing their act. Magic is of course good, a simple trick will always grab an audience's attention and get them going.
"This is the first impression an audience will get of you, so always appear enthusiastic and not just routinely going through the motions, the audience will know and you will switch them off before you even start the show. Showmanship is the key and nobody is born with it, it is learned.
"Bob Sacco is great out the front and his puppet warm up is also great, with Ken Dodd and other characters popping up and down, very fast and some great fairground music sets his show off with a real buzz. But if this is the pace you set, you have to keep it up."
Azz, one of our youngest Profs had this interesting and imaginative and useable suggestion:"After asking my audience 'do you want to see Mr.Punch?'and getting a response -'OK I will just get him.'you go inside the booth stick your head out of the back or out of the window or somewhere and say 'the big nosed gentlemans gone to sleep, he's not even dressed!'then pop up and down saying things like he's just putting his bloomers on, for nearly all his clothes then pop punch up to waist and say 'Come down, you havent got your pants on' and pull him down again. Then when he's popped up and said hello bring him down again hang him back up and come out and say 'Did he go back down again?". Repeat this a few times then say 'I think I'd better stay inside to make sure he does'nt go back down again'. Then give Punch an especially large grand entrance with him singing , dancing and kicking his little legs in the air then get on with the show. 'Do you want to see judy?'"
Of course there are occasions when in is impractical to do a front of booth warm-up - yet you don't want to go straight into the meat of the show. It may be that you use some lively musical act - dancing puppets or instrumentalists perhaps - to attract an audience. Prof. Martin Bridle uses this technique with some lively, authentic sounding folk tune and lots of rhythmic non-demanding puppet dance type items. Les Clarke's offering is appropriate in this context:
"I've seen some excellent warm ups, but for now I do my warm up from inside the booth, and there is no sign of a puppeteer. I use a puppet to do the warm up. After several musical interludes/puppet bits I bring up my Judy who chats with the audience. She enters very noisily, which gets my adrenalin going and wakes the audience up. 'Here we are again, here we are again in sunny Doncaster!' She chats about wanting to have a look at the audience and asks if they are good at shouting etc. Then she explains that in fact she can't start the show because she can't find the baby. Earlier the baby has been shown and now pops up again from the left right and under the playboard.
"There is no chance to build a personal rapport, but my Monkey (who is much cuter than me) has already built up a relationship with the audience. One advantage of this approch is that you can double check everythings in its proper place."
Finally, something nobody has mentioned, bribery. I'm a great believer in bribery. You can use it in many ways. Produce sweeties by magic and promise to distrubute them after the show, or similarly display your giveaways - photo's, badges, painting sheets or whatever. Of course these will be only given to those boys and girls who have behaved themselves. It works a treat.
Chris Somerville May 2003