Why Puppetry?

This page explains why we use puppetry as the basis for our activities. The text contains excerpts from a report written by Chris Agnew in 1984 “More than passing the time” and the thoughts of Doug Agnew.


A puppet is any inanimate object brought to life through movement or sound. Stick a couple of googly eyes on anything and a character is born.

Puppets are used as aids in speech therapy, in communicating health messages and as a craft because puppets have character, personality and movement – they perform. They are therefore able to communicate many emotions and messages; and they provide the opportunity for characterisation, satire and parody. Puppets can be very, very funny.

Also, both the making and performing can provide opportunities for working together and a range of expertise are required to create a show – writing, design, construction, music, performance, lighting, direction – bringing together a diverse group of people. Puppetry is the ultimate multi-arts, cross-curricular creative agent.

Importantly, puppets, or the set, can shield performers. They take the focus off the individual and put it in the puppet. In this way, those with low self-confidence or self-esteem are more able to perform – as it’s not really them or they can’t be seen, particularly behind a shadow screen. This is one reason we particularly focus on shadow puppetry. The other, is that even the most simplest shadow puppets can look amazing when moved to music. Everyone, whatever their ability, can achieve with shadow puppetry.

Shadow Puppetry

Shadow puppetry is a perfect blend of visual and performance art and from very simple beginnings can become total theatre. Shadow is all about the transformative power of the imagination on everyday objects and materials; of light on, behind and through such materials; of a parallel reality which can two, three or four dimensional to our perception. The audience is captivated by these mind games and their poetic potential. At the same time the cornflake packets, cellotape and staples are plain for all the world to see. The alienation of CGI is avoided. The home-made ‘thing’ is there working its magic. That means that there is magic in all things and that making is key.

We make living pictures. It is ‘live’ cinema and physical theatre. It is ‘hands-on’ story making. The first full length animated films were made with shadow puppets by Lotte Reiniger back in the 1920s and 1930s. Sophisticated thought they were, technically, anybody with a stop-frame movie camera and a sharp pair of scissors could do it. We constantly learn from our work in schools that even at Key Stage 1, the audacity of simplicity of what the kids produce can can your breath away. Within any group there are no limits to the medium. There is no ‘norm’ above and below which people struggle. It is accessible to all but will challenge the most talented.

​Shadow puppetry is perhaps the most ancient art form. Shadows cast by the firelight on the cave wall were our first pictures and movies and a natural accompanyment to storytelling. At this time there was no gap between art and life, spirituality and survival. Shadow images call forth an intuitive response even when highly abstracted and stylised. A shadow is essentially mysterious. The imagination supplies the detail which the eyes cannot find, therefore everyone is engaged in the creative process. The simplest combination of shapes is enough to start this process and so the story begins. And stories may be spoken and sung, danced and mimed, recorded and written.

We find that once children have experienced the magical transformation of discarded materials by light, they come to realise that there is no such thing as rubbish or even an inanimate object. Art plus recycling equals alchemy. It is a familiar story that young children on Christmas morning will discard the toy and play happily with the packaging. Clearly that is because there is more ‘play potential’ in the paper and cellophane than the finished object. And the play is the thing.

​​To end, we would like to share with you the secrets of the humble over-head projector. They give us as clear and focussed light source and a platform from which shapes and scenery can be projected to any size while shadow puppets presented directly to the screen and controlled from below command the stage. OHPs make this art form simple, transportable and accessible.