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Marionettes A La Planchette Dancing To Scotland The Brave


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I recently made a pair of marionettes a la planchette (dancing puppets that a musician can operate with a string tied to their leg) depicting Queen Victoria and a Highland soldier. Here is a video that I made to show them off, including a rather clumsy performance of Scotland the Brave on my Lachenal English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABGOK8mYYbw

 

And here is the full write up on my blog with photos and description of the puppets: http://alex-holden.livejournal.com/277198.html

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Yes, very nice Alex - love this traditional stuff being kept up, and you're so good at crafting these figures, I still recall P.C. Peeler and the ghost and not forgetting the crocodile... B)

 

Very interesting and entertaining blog of yours...!

 

Best wishes - Wolf

 

P.S.: Thanks a lot for repeatedly visiting my cloud, very glad you like what is displayed there too!

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Nice one Alex. I am toying with the idea myself, have been for sometime, because they are a local tradition; see this URL http://www.eatmt.org.uk/jigdolls.htm. EATMT recently organised a day for fledgling puppeteers , but I had to miss it.

Thanks Mike. I sent them an email because they say they are interested in hearing from jig doll makers.

 

I made a detailed Morris dancer jig doll for a friend last year, but he didn't dance very well (mainly because his costume was too restrictive). We recently converted him to a marionette a la planchette so that she can operate him while playing her concertina, and it turns out he dances much better on a string than he did on a paddle. I should give credit for the idea of converting a jig doll to a planchette puppet for hands-free operation to Jody Kruskal, whose Youtube videos were inspirational.

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Yes, very nice Alex - love this traditional stuff being kept up, and you're so good at crafting these figures, I still recall P.C. Peeler and the ghost and not forgetting the crocodile... B)

 

Very interesting and entertaining blog of yours...!

 

Best wishes - Wolf

 

P.S.: Thanks a lot for repeatedly visiting my cloud, very glad you like what is displayed there too!

Thanks Wolf! I am in awe of your harmonic-style English playing and the speed at which you are able to pick up new songs. :)

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Yes, it is certainly not easy to both play and operate the puppets well at the same time. Controlling the puppets is the easier of the two skills (in my experience), and after many hours' practice it has become mostly automatic, allowing me to concentrate the majority of my attention on playing the instrument. To a large extent the tempo chosen is based on the resonant frequency of the puppets' limbs: i.e. they don't like to dance to slow tunes! ;)

Incidentally, Victoria can dance more energetically than she did in the video. I think something about dancing on sloping ground interfered with the swing of her feet. It's impossible for the performer to see what her feet are doing without a carefully-placed mirror.

Edited by alex_holden
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Thanks Steve! The feet aren't specifically weighted, though the legs are ash and the feet are oak, so they are relatively heavy. The tenon parts of the joints are made of stainless steel, and the ankle tenons are slightly longer than the heels so the metal parts hit the board each time the feet come down and make a loud tap.

 

Getting the swing right is mostly about moving your leg at the right frequency and amplitude to control how high the puppets' legs go. Preventing them going out of control and flapping their legs around unrealistically is more of a challenge than getting them to swing in the first place. There are a couple of moments in the video where Jock begins to kick a little high but I reined him back in. Varying the force of the taps to emphasise the downbeat is an extra challenge.

 

The length of the string, the position of the puppet(s) on it, and the heights of the two ends all matter to some extent so play around until you find the setup that works best for your particular puppet(s). The restrictiveness of the costume is a very significant factor. A little restriction (e.g. from a loose kilt or skirt) reduces the problem of the legs swinging out of control but too much restriction (e.g. from tight trousers) will stop them swinging easily. The wire frame under Vicky's dress makes it quite difficult to get her to go completely out of control.

 

If you only have one puppet on the string you can control it more precisely and get it to do more interesting things (e.g. getting their arms swinging as well as their legs) than if there are two of them on the string and you are limited to frequencies that work OK for both of them.

 

If you start out by just learning to operate the puppets while listening to recorded dance music (or get someone else to play for you), you'll quickly pick it up. The tricky part for me was learning to play my instrument at the same time as making the puppets dance and not failing miserably at both. I can still dance better when not also playing, and play better when not also dancing.

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  • 2 months later...

Alex,

 

I've been utterly taken by the marionettes a la planchette from watching your video and Jodi K's also...to the point that I was compelled to make one. It's mostly complete now and just needs some minor adjustments here and there for string tension, board control, etc.

 

I quickly realized that having only one string does not equal ease of operation. This is tricky business! I was just about to send out a plea for technical assistance when I saw your informative post above. I think that will give me the inspiration to keep at it and make a video posts once I figure it all out. One challenge is that I find it much easier to operate the marionette while standing. However, I have always played sitting down. Just learning a tune confidently is one thing, but then adding a new body position and coordinated rhythm of one leg...whoa.

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