They’re puppets with strings — it’s marionettes! | Explore | Awesome Activities & Fun Facts | CBC Kids

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They’re puppets with strings — it’s marionettes!


Photo credit: kudumomo on VisualHunt / CC BY

Have you ever put on a puppet show? Puppetry has been around for thousands of years, and has been a form of entertainment in many cultures. In fact, some people think that puppet shows were around to entertain people before there were even plays with actors on a stage!

elephant and rabbit and alien finger puppets on a hand

Maybe you've played with finger puppets like these. (Photo credit: husbandunit on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND)

There are many fun types of puppets: hand puppets, finger puppets, shadow puppets, rod puppets … even ones that are performed in water (called 'water puppets' — good name, right?). And, of course, there are marionettes!

What’s a marionette?

a street performer works his marionette in front of a group of people

A street artist amazes some kids with his marionette's high-wire act. (Photo credit: pierofix on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND)

While most puppets are moved from below using your hand, your fingers or a rod, marionettes are moved from above by using strings (that’s why they are also sometimes called string puppets). They are considered to be the most difficult puppets to operate, but for people who are very skilled, a marionette can seem almost alive!

Did you know?

a young girl playing with a simple marionette

Photo credit: atacamaki on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

A person who works a puppet is called a puppeteer, but a person who puppets a marionette is called a marionettist!

How do they work?

four people standing behind a puppet stage manipulating the marionettes

Photo credit: gorbulas_sandybanks on / CC BY-NC-SA

Marionettes have strings attached to each leg, arm and shoulder, as well as to either side of the head and the lower back. The strings are attached to a hand controller that looks a bit like the letters H or X. Some marionettes have even more strings attached to other parts of the body. The more strings a marionette has, the more difficult it is to move, but a very skilled marionettist can make the puppet seem almost alive!

Big marionettes = big fun!

a gigantic marionette out in the desert at the Burning Man festival

A giant marionette out in the desert, so big she was operating using a crane. (Photo credit: Stuck in Customs on / CC BY-NC-SA)

When you think of marionettes, you might think of something about the size of your hand. Actually, some of the biggest marionettes today are so tall, they need motors or a large group of people to work their different parts.

A gallery of magical marionettes

Here are some examples of fantastical marionettes from around the world.

marionettes on a stage acting out Cinderella

(Wikimedia/Noralanning/CC BY)

The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre production of Cinderella. Can you find the marionette with the glass slipper?

orange tiger marionette

A marionette for the lunar zodiac Year of the Tiger.

a giant marionette sitting in a boat

Photo credit: nancy_gb on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

The very large "La Petite Géante" marionette from the Royal de Luxe of France blinks, breathes, opens her mouth, moves her head and even walks.

marionettes of famous characters like Harry Potter

Do you recognize any of these marionettes?

marionettes in colourful costumes and painted masks hanging on a wall

Photo credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D. - Global Photo Archive on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

Marionettes come from all over the world. These beautiful ones are from Nepal.