Scripting for non-verbal puppets

We’re having a conversation on puptcrit (Puppet Critique), which is a listserver for puppeteers, about scripting for puppet theater. One of the major problems with writing for puppet theater is that it is a very specific and different skill set from writing for live actors. I don’t write the scripts for our shows, because that’s not where my skills lie. It’s totally different from fiction.

Puppets can do things that actors can’t as well as having limitations that actors don’t.  In the course of the conversation, I talked about the importance of finding a playwright who understands, or is willing to learn, about writing for puppet theater.

Frequently, a show is largely non-verbal.  The question came up: How do you script a non-verbal show?

In response, I wrote:

Heh.

Okay, so that thing I said earlier about that I don’t write for stage?  My one play was non-verbal and was awarded an UNIMA Citation.  The reason I bring it up now is that several years ago, we did an experiment with MUM Puppet Theater and shipped them our script and puppets.  By all accounts, the show had the same impact on the audience as our original play did.

The way I did it was that I scripted the characters’ intentions AND their actions. My feeling is that body language is a non-verbal expression of what a character is thinking and feeling. So writing, “Character picks up rock” tells you what happens, but the way you pick up a rock if you’re planning on killing someone is different from if you think it’s pretty. It might be body language, but it is still language.

Since I can’t attach things to posts on puptcrit, I told everyone that I’d post it here.  Sorry non-puppet folks, for dropping you into the middle of a larger conversation.

Here is the 1993 script for “Old Man Who Made Trees Blossom.”

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4 Responses

  1. batwrangler

    I’m always delighted when you post about puppetry. (In semi-related news, I think of you every time I watch the rat directing the chef in the movie Ratatouie.)

  2. Diane Kordas

    Thanks Mary for posting “Old Man who Made Trees Blossom”. Lovely story and scripted very well – I could see the action easily in my mind’s eye. And a belated congrats too on your Hugo nomination!

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