Ask someone what comes to mind when they hear ‘puppet’, and they’ll probably say Big Bird, Elmo, or any other puppets they’ve seen on the TV. But did you know that puppetry dates back to Ancient Greece, making it one of the oldest forms of storytelling still alive today?
Puppetry can be found in cultures all around the world. Notable regional variants around the Asia-Pacific alone include Japanese bunraku, Indonesian wayang kulit and wayang motekar, and Vietnamese Múa rối nước (water puppets). Ventriloquists, sock puppets, rod puppets, and marionettes are also some of the various puppetry types that have become well-known and utilised by puppeteers and entertainers worldwide, bringing joy to audiences of all ages.
Join us as we dive into the behind-the-scenes of some of the most famous puppets and puppetry styles you might see around you today.
Punch and Judy
Puppetry’s most famous duo can trace their origins back to the 16th-century Italian characters Pulcinella (Punchinello) and Joan. However, they are now most commonly associated with English seaside towns and children’s matinees. Regardless, Punch and Judy are beloved for their back-and-forth banter and increasingly fantastical plots to attack each other. The cast of characters (including mainstays like the Baby, Constable, and Crocodile) adopts slapstick comedy routines and lowbrow humour that rely on pure physical comedy to work, making Punch and Judy shows universally understood without any spoken language or words required.
Kasperle Theatre Finger Puppets
Like Punch and Judy, Kasperle is a puppet character who can trace his lineage back to Pulcinella and his crew. Traditional versions of this German finger puppet routine even seem very similar to the former, focusing on slapstick and physical comedy between Kasperle and characters like Gretel, Seppel, Grandmother, Princess, and Crocodile. Following a reintroduction in the 1970s, Kasperle has experienced a resurgent popularity in Germany. Many Kasperle performances today have satirical elements that poke fun at aspects of German culture and society, reflecting the subversive power of puppetry as an art form.
Year of Make: 1950s
Material: Wood and Fabric
Country of Origin: China
The Chinese marionette tradition dates back to the Former or Western Han Dynasty and has persisted through the centuries in some shape or form. The earliest Chinese marionettes can be traced back to the Former or Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-8 CE), with this particular puppetry form enjoying periods of resurgent popularity throughout the centuries that followed. The puppets are traditionally made from wood, silk, and other natural materials in the form of detailed and intricate costumes. Each puppet is attached via strings to a control bar, which the puppeteer controls entirely by hand. Chinese marionette performances typically revolve around religious or folk tales, as seen in these Journey to the West Puppets including a puppet of Sha Wujing. These puppet shows are typically accompanied by live music, mainly through the erhu and pipa – resulting in a uniquely Chinese theatrical performance reflecting many aspects of traditional Chinese culture.
Of course, a blog on puppets would only be complete with a quick mention of the Sesame Street gang. From the moment Elmo and co. first appeared on TV screens in 1969, they’ve taught countless children about letters, numbers, values such as friendship, compassion, and sharing, and how to deal with challenging real-life situations. The show was first conceptualised as a way to bridge the learning gap between inner-city children, and its development has always been guided by the latest principles in early childhood education. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson helped develop the original cast of rod puppets for the series, and he even voiced beloved characters such as Ernie and Kermit.
If you’re visiting the MINT Museum of Toys from now till 30 June 2023, pop by the Level 5 Outerspace collection see our latest Guerrilla Event. Dedicated to plush toys of our favourite children’s TV shows since the 1960s, this limited-time pop up features some of the best-loved vintage toys of characters from Sesame Street, Peppa Pig, Care Bears and more. If you’re looking for a family bonding activity to enjoy with kids, here’s your chance to introduce the little ones to your favourite childhood companions!
See a New Side to your Favourite Toys at the MINT Museum of Toys
From Punch and Judy to the Kasperle Theatre to Journey to the West to Elmo, puppets exist around us in all shapes and sizes. Explore the wondrous world of puppetry at Level 3 Childhood Favourites of the MINT Museum of Toys, along with many more best-loved vintage toys and memorabilia. As Singapore’s only museum dedicated to valuable vintage toys and collectables, every floor of our museum promises a one-of-a-kind look at how pop culture has changed throughout the decades.
While our museum is open to visitors of all ages, mums and dads looking to keep the kids entertained can also explore our various family bonding activities at our premises in Singapore’s Civic District. From creative workshops for all ages in Singapore to museum tours guided by none other than the Little Prince to special seasonal exhibitions, there’s something for everyone!