by Donald Devet
For the past year and a half Bob Nathanson of Puppets To Go and I have produced movie posters satirizing the current political climate here in the USA. His comedic sense and my computer skills have proven a fruitful combination. We’ve produced over 450 posters and continue to feature a new poster five days a week. Bob is an active touring puppeteer whereas I morphed my puppetry skills into video and graphic production in 1999. Our method of speaking truth to power is meant to evoke a reaction: a laugh, a knowing nod, or sometimes, disgust.
Our puppetry experiences have paid off for Bob and me in the creation of our posters. Years of writing and performing shows have honed our abilities to zero in on a topic and deliver a powerful message. Even though we are no experts in political puppetry, we are motivated by the shifts in political ideology to put our skills to work in calling out political perversity. We follow in a great tradition, for wherever there is political disorder puppets have been drafted into service as voices of dissent. For a detailed overview of puppets used in time of oppression, read K. Ruby and Morgan Andrews’ “History of Radical Puppetry.” Another good political puppetry resource is the website Puppetry Films. Six short videos demonstrate puppets used in protest in South Africa, Kenya, and the USA.
Maybe you are toying with the idea of using your puppetry skills for political purposes. We encourage you to do so. You don’t have to take to the streets with oversized caricatures to communicate. Political messages can be weaved into your current repertoire. For instance, when I was performing with Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets, we satirized Richard Nixon in our adaptation of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The emperor’s line, “There are no bugs in the palace,” drew knowing chuckles from adults in the audience. We also produced an adaptation of Orwell’s Animal Farm, an allegorical novella written in 1941, reflecting events leading from revolution to tyranny that rings even truer today.
More recently, I produced a 53-episode web series satirizing the 2016 election. A puppet “Harold” discovers the rough and tumble world of American politics as he runs for President. My experiences producing the “Harold and Me” series is featured in the 2016 fall issue of Puppetry Journal.