Introduce Baby Teacher Big Mouth Puppet to the class. Have her say hello. Baby Teacher is a big mouth puppet which means her mount is controlled by the thumb and four fingers flapping together and apart. Take apart the puppet and show the thumb hole and finger compartment.
Invite two students up to help with the puppet. Have one student be in charge of the head and mouth movement, while the other student is in charge of moving the arms. Ask another student in the class to come up with a line of dialogue they want the puppet to say. Once the class has decided on a line, have the person who came up with the line say it, while the two volunteers move the puppet to react to the line.
Ask the volunteers how difficult it was to match the movement and emotion of the line of dialogue. If time permits, a second team of students can try.
Instruction: (40 minutes)
Show pictures of bunraku puppets. Obviously, these puppets are significantly more complex than Baby Teacher. There are two types of Bunraku puppets.
Osaka: smaller sized puppets Awaji: bigger
We will learn about them in this video! Watch first video. (10 minutes included in the 40) Discuss what was seen in the video and clarify the different types of puppeteers. \
The main puppeteer, the omozukai, uses his or her right hand to control the right hand of the puppet.
The left puppeteer, known as the hidarizukai or sashizukai, depending of the tradition of the troupe, manipulates the left hand of the puppet with his or her own right hand by means of a control rod that extends back from the elbow of the puppet.
A third puppeteer, the ashizukai, operates the feet and legs.
Puppeteers begin their training by operating the feet, then move onto the left hand, before being able to train as the main puppeteer. This process can take 30 years to progress.
Watch second video (This video is footage of a bunraku performance. Have students pay special attention to the life-like qualities of the puppets.)
There are two other important people in a Bunraku performance. They are the TAYU and the SHAMISEN. The Tayu is the voice of the characters. The shamisen is the instrumentalist. Usually a single chanter recites all the characters’ parts, altering his pitch in order to switch between various characters. However, sometimes multiple chanters are used. The chanters sit next to the shamisen player on a revolving platform, and from time to time, the platform turns, bringing replacement musicians for the next scene. The role of the tayu is to express the emotions and the personality of the puppets. The tayu performs not only the voices of each of the characters but also performs the voice of the narrator. Located to the side of the stage the tayu physically demonstrates facial expressions of each character while performing their respective voices. While performing multiple characters simultaneously the tayu facilitates the distinction between characters by exaggerating their emotions and voices. This is also done to maximize the emotional aspects for the audience. The shamisen used in bunraku has a sound which is different from other shamisen. It is lower in pitch, and has a fuller tone. Watch third video (This video shows the tayu and shamisen during a performance).
Practice: (20 minutes)
Students are now going to practice their own puppeteering skills. Split class into groups of 4 (it is better to have a group of 5 than a group of 3). Students will each be one of the puppeteers or the puppet itself. One in charge of head/right arm, one in charge of left arm, one in charge of feet, and one puppet. (If 5 in group, split the head and right arm controls).
Each group is going to do a mini-skit of the “day in the life of a Bunraku puppet”. They can either be backstage or on an adventure around the world as a puppet in a human world. Give the students 15-20 minutes to make their skit, then come back together as a group.
Assessment: (10 minutes)
Have each of the groups perform their skits.
Discussion: (10 minutes)
Have students discuss what they learned in being puppeteers/puppets (try to focus more on the viewpoints of the puppeteers). What was challenging? How did three different manipulators influence the way one puppet moved? Imagine an actual Bunraku puppeteer who has to use individual fingers simultaneously to create various movements at the same time. How much more difficult do you think that would be?
One of the most interesting things about Bunraku is the number of years required to become proficient in puppeteering. Don’t give up on challenges in your life just because you gave it a few tries and it’s not working. Becoming an artist takes TIME, EFFORT, and FOCUS.
Final Note: Added to your final performance from today:
– Performance Element: You will need to include a “mood change/head flip” as we saw in the youtube clip with the demon puppet. This does not mean your character must be a demon, but at a significant moment when the objective or tactic changes for your character, we need to see a dramatic mood swing accentuated with facial expressions and vocal changes before and after you flip your head to the ground and back up again.