by Ralph Dewey
The BHQ challenge this month is a balloon puppet, vent figure or marionette.
One of the neatest and cheapest performance ideas you could have is to make a balloon puppet, ventriloquist figure or marionette while on stage and then do a show with it. This month I’ll give you some ideas that you can use in your show. Recently I showed my “improved vent figure” below to a well-known puppeteer while we were at a clown convention. He was not a balloon twister, but he was excited about the possibilities of making a figure out of balloons.
Quick Hand Puppet
One of the easiest ventriloquist (vent) figure or puppets is one that I had shown previously in a Balloon HQ article. It is made from two #260 loops with a small bubble between them.
Trigger Mouth Puppet
A few years ago I met Ron Lighty. He came up with a different kind of moving mouth idea that he uses for balloon puppets. I call it a trigger mouth puppet because you pull your index finger like a trigger to make the balloon mouth or beak move up and down. Here is my version of a simple puppet that uses his principle.
Improved Vent Figure
Another more complex ventriloquist figure is a variation of the common balloon caricature face. The top of the head is typical, but the lower jaw is made so that it hinges and can move. It is basically like the Quick Hand Puppet described previously. Notice the photo below to se how to hold it with your hand. You will notice that your thumb gets wedged (a little bit sideways) into the jaw loop so that it actually hangs on to you. I made the shirt and torso by using the flat weave method.
Here is another ventriloquist figure. In back view of the vent figure you will see how to position your fingers.
Marionette Gospel Routine
A simple marionette type puppet is fun to make too. The one shown below is not fully functional because I have a surprise associated with it. The control sticks form the shape of a cross. However, with a few modifications, you could make the marionette so that it could perform somewhat like the real thing. While making the simple marionette I discovered two important construction points. The first point is that you will need to make the knee joints very flexible. I tied a scrap piece of a #160 balloon at each knee twist so that they would easily move. The second point is that you will need to add weight to the feet. A little weight helps the marionette to move more realistically. I simply wedged a quarter coin into each foot. If you study the photos below you can see how easy it is to construction this simple marionette. Notice that the strings are #160 balloons. The head is made from a Link-O-Loon balloon. The body, arms and legs are made from #260 balloons. Notice that the connection of the arms and legs where they attach to the body uses a little bit of uninflated balloon. This allows them to move freely.
One way to use this simple marionette is in a gospel routine. As I mentioned before, the control stick is made in the shape of a cross. I first dance the marionette around for a short while. Then I talk about the negative influence of the devil. I then ask the question, “Who’s pulling your strings, God or Satan?” To show the answer that a wise person would give to my question, I tilt the control stick upward so that it can be seen as a cross. Then I say, “Don’t let the devil control your life. He will lead you into all kinds of sin and troubles. Instead, give God control of your life. Accept Jesus who died on the cross so that you can be saved from your sins.”