Doing Puppetry

What Is Puppetry?

Puppetry is a form of theatre that involves the use of artificial figures that represent human beings, animals, or other inanimate objects. These lively figures are the star actors and can talk, dance, sing, and create an exciting and engaging performance. Puppetry can take on a variety of forms, ranging from professional to informal and can be presented in many different settings. Puppets can range in size and complexity and can be anything from the simplest shadow puppets, to elaborate human size creations with detailed features and spectacular costumes.

Why Use Puppetry for HIV/AIDS Education?

Puppets are often a hit with audiences of all ages and across many different cultures. Puppetry is therefore a great way to approach HIV/AIDS education in an effective, engaging and non-threatening way. The premise for puppetry, and social issue education, as tested in South Africa in anti-apartheid work, is that "puppets can do anything they want without fear of harassment." The dramatic environment serves as starting point for discussion which can be used to help sensitize the audience to daily issues that can be difficult to address. Puppets engage the audience because they do not preach a message, but rather they ‘live’ through the issues that members of the audience may be facing. As a result, the audience can relate to the performance, is less suspicious, and is not as easily offended by subjects that are otherwise difficult and in some cases taboo to discuss for many.


    ✓ A variety of methods
    ✓ Helps the audience move past stigmas to facilitate discussion


    x Costumes may reduce how seriously the audience takes issues
    x Can be expensive depending on the type of puppets used

How to use Puppetry for HIV/AIDS Education

One of the great things about puppetry is that a performance can be as simple or complex as you desire. There are a number of different ways to approach puppetry as a tool for raising HIV/AIDS awareness; this guide will focus on two different ideas: a formal performance put on by a group of trained puppeteers, and mini puppet shows put on by you by creating your own theatre. In addition puppetry can be used in combination with other arts methods such as street theatre and forum theatre to increase effectiveness.

Classical Performance

The classical form of puppetry performance involves your group creating a series of puppets, usually fairly elaborate, and putting on a rehearsed play for the audience. The performance should be designed to be extremely lively and usually incorporates elements of music, dance, and comedy. Often, this kind of puppetry performance is followed by an open discussion to help audiences develop a greater understanding of the information they have been presented with. Sometimes the actions of the puppets are narrated by a narrator; other times the characters (puppets) form their own play through the use of a scripted dialogue. Usually, classical puppetry takes place indoors as it makes voice projection easier, collects the audience all in one group and makes a stage easier to form. However, puppetry can be carried out in open spaces as long as an appropriate stage (3-sided so there is a place for the puppeteers to sit behind) can be created.


    ✓ The message is rehearsed and therefore can be clearly portrayed.
    ✓ It allows for a mediated discussion of what is being presented in the performance


    x The message is rehearsed and may not be as reflective of the thoughts, issues, and opinions that are most important to the audience
    x It is less interactive for children and younger youth

*TIP* For formal performances it is best to make puppets that resemble human figures as opposed to animals or other objects – the issues being discussed are human ones and therefore the audience will be better able to relate to human-like puppets.

Interactive Youth Performance

This interactive form of puppetry is much less formal than the classical approach. Typically it works best for younger youth and children who are together at a regular interval (i.e. for school, or for a youth group). However, it can also be adapted for adventurous adults in the right context (ex. a women’s group, group of people who meets regularly). In this type of performance your group would be the facilitators of a puppetry performance rather than being the performers.

Typically what happens is a group of youth get into smaller groups - ideally each of these small groups would have their own facilitator. The facilitator then helps each group to come up with ideas for a play related to the issues, such as those surrounding HIV/AIDS that affect their everyday lives. The facilitator then helps the group to create a clear message surrounding the issue incorporating strategies on how to deal with the different situations. The group then create their own puppets and scripts and put on their own performances in front of their peers, members of their family, or the community, depending on what they feel comfortable with and what areas are available to perform in.


    ✓ The members of the group get to design their own meaningful messages, giving them a sense of ownership in the process and helping them to internalize the strategies developed in the group into their own lives
    ✓ It’s interactive, and for kids especially it provides an opportunity to make something of their own


    x The messages could become convoluted in each presentation and may not as effectively address the important issues as a classical performance would
    x The performances do not take place as publicly as classical performances so the message will not reach as many people at a time

Making Puppets and Stages

Puppets can be almost anything. The kinds of puppets you use in your performance will largely depend on the type of performance you are doing, your audience, your budget, your location etc. While this guide will not go into detail about how to make the hundreds of puppet types that probably exist, it will provide some links to good resources for puppet making and for making stages on which your puppets can perform. For more detailed information on puppets, check out your local book or craft store, or contact one of the performing groups listed in the next section. Here are some links to puppet and stage making:

Examples of Using Puppetry for HIV/AIDS Education

Combining Puppetry with other Art Forms

"The Champs Club" by youth in Grenada

Funding News

Grassroots Alliance for Community Education (G.R.A.C.E.) receives grant to support youth in puppetry in Kenya


Note: Some of these links may now be broken, but they have been kept to show what sources were referenced in the creation of this guide.