People always have their own ideas on what ministry will look like when they get started. Of course part of the fun of doing ministry is you learn all the expectations you had right and all of them that you had wrong. For me personally? I don’t think I ever thought I’d work with puppets as much as I do. It’s something that, honestly, was a surprise, but a fun one, nonetheless. Some kids workers that I know, despise puppets and don’t think they have any place in entertaining kids. Relegated as obsolete next to the flannel graph. I happen to disagree. They can be a lot of fun but there’s plenty of reasons why they don’t work. Here’s 6 ways I think kids ministry can fail with puppets.
- People think that the puppet matters more then the person.
Presenters are presenters. If they can’t present or engage or dialogue without the puppet they don’t need to with the puppet. That’s not to say some people aren’t better at puppets then they are live. But what it does mean is, putting a volunteer behind a wall with a fancy and fun stuffed puppet on their hand doesn’t make them a better presenter.
- There’s no live element.
This isn’t always the case. I will immediately say that I feel that this is more true for a live show then it is for a video. In my experience puppets work great when you have a puppeteer and host working well together. The contrast of live person and fun puppet can be very entertaining and can overcome some obstacles you have when there’s only a group of puppets on stage. My point is, don’t put three puppets on stage with no host and then be disappointed when there’s no engagement or it’s hard to control a room of 3rd graders.
- People approach it like a person presenter.
It’s true that presenters are presenters and a good puppeteer starts by having a good presenter. But the fact of the matter is puppets can do things people can’t. So lean into that. Don’t treat the puppet like a person. We’ve bought several puppets of one puppet design and had them ‘transport’ across the room or zipline from the ceiling. If you get creative, with props, multiple puppets of the same design, and even voice recordings you can do some pretty fun stuff that you couldn’t accomplish with people. For kids this engages their imagination, which is huge!
- They don’t appeal to their entire audience.
Most often in kids ministry there’s a forgotten member of the audience. The adult. Don’t get me wrong. Ministry is for kids but so often in ministry, and this is ESPECIALLY true with puppets, we write skits and scripts that the kids laugh at and the adults grimace at. Throw in some jokes that go over the kids head. Poke fun at the puppet itself a little bit. Engage the whole audience and the puppet takes on a new appeal. Remember, stadiums sell out to ventriloquists, and not just to kids but adults as well. It’s not the puppet it’s the presenter.
- People focus on the voice and not the character.
This is more of a practical tip for your puppeteer after they’ve developed their presenter abilities. Your puppet shouldn’t stop moving. It shouldn’t stop looking. So often I’ll see puppeteers talk with their puppet and then they stop moving. Actors don’t do this. The actor will say a line and then react, with body language, with movement, with questions. The puppeteer should constantly be doing something with their puppet. Slight, simple movements are a big deal. Use the arm rod to brush the puppets hair. Slouch a little bit as the host talks. Have the puppet sit up straighter when it talks. Cock the head to the side slightly as if it’s listening closer. If they’re just moving the mouth when it’s time to speak, they’re not really presenting with the whole puppet.
- The emotions of the actor aren’t translated to the puppet.
One of the constant things I hear when someone new works with a puppeteer we are using in one of our environments is the unnaturalness of watching a puppeteer operate a puppet. Every once in awhile our hosts will be in a position where they can see the puppeteer even though the audience can’t and they can see that puppeteer’s facial expressions and actions. The actor observing the puppeteere always laughs at this because the person shows all of the emotion and facial expressions they are trying to convey in the puppet. It’s because it works. Actors need to truly act when they operate a puppet. Starting out, a puppeteer acts out the emotions, making the facial expressions of anger or sadness. As they do that and as they watch their puppet they begin to move that puppet to convey what is so easily conveyed on themselves. Eventually it’s like a muscle memory takes over. The actor makes a sad face and instantly the wrist, hand, and arm rods move to where they need to, to convey that sadness. By watching the puppet in a mirror or back on video, the puppeteer can get a feel for what hand and wrist movements as well as what arm rod movements led to the right portrayal of emotion.
Of course this doesn’t mean puppets will work for you in your ministry but here are 6 simple things that we avoid so that we can have the most fun in engaging kids imagination and wonder.