The Design of Character Development

Characters are built from the inside out, that's why it's called "character." This is equally true of puppets, in theater roles and the life we build each day.

Today at GenCon I attended several seminars on puppetry, partially for myself and also on behalf of my daughter. One of the common themes I heard was about the development of the character in addition to the mechanics of the puppet. Just like in life, character takes time to develop and can quickly be destroyed in a moment of poor decision.

One of the seminars was with Steve Whitmire, known for Rizzo the Rat, Wembley Fraggle and tasked with taking over the role of Kermit the Frog following Jim Henson's death. It was good to hear his story about joining the Muppet crew in London and his personal journey as a performer and artist. Throughout his discussion, he would emphasize the role that character plays in the performance.

Finding the heart or kernel of what drives the character provides a center, or focus to fall back on. For Steve it's a laugh; how the character responds to something funny. From there the voice, the tone and response to others can be built, with each being influenced by physical traits or mechanical limitations. It takes time to build up the layers of a character.

When asked if he misses performing some puppets, Steve emphasized that the puppets are simply tools for expressing the creativity of the puppeteer. This reminded me of theater performances where the cast misses the collaboration and creativity they accomplished together but rarely lament no longer performing a particular role.

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