Stages (aka Proscenium)
Puppetry has been presented on TV, in many Broadway plays, at birthday parties, right down to the smallest of Sunday School class rooms. BUT all of them required one thing, a stage! With that, we are happy you are here! If you, like us, are looking for a stage or need a few new ideas, we are here to help lend our opinions of 20+ years in dealing with various stages!
Table tops, behind couches, your other arm with simple material draped over it, wearable puppet stages, doorways, to even the back of a piano! Yep! Bruce's very first solo show took place behind an upright piano in a coffee shop. Because he had mastered the 5 Basic Steps he learned at various conferences, and that we share here, he was able to pull off the challenge of singing 2 songs and performing 1 skit, solo! He was asked back and was even given a section of the shop for his next show, but that prompted him with a big question! What kind of stage should he have? Where to start?! Yikes! All this was before the internet, too! All he knew was that he had a few puppets, he likes to move around a lot, and use "big" 2D props. He decide he would need something roomy. Also, Bruce "puppeted" on his knees, so he needed something roomy and "short" according to his height from his knees to his raised arm at the elbow. But the big deal of the day was, WHAT will fit into his 1967 VW? What to do, right?
Now, being hidden is not a must. Actually, it can bring another dynamic to your presentation! We have done that many times and it has been the most talked about part of the presentation post-show. It sets you apart from the rest, and will most likely get you a call-back, but we digress.
Since there are so many types of stages out there, we want to help cut through the confusion and share with you what we have used ourselves and have seen our friends use.*
Our suggestions are based on personal experience as adults who are careful during setup and strike-down. If you are building a new youth puppet team, please factor into your decision making their safety first!
PVC Pipe Stage
PVC Pipe is the most affordable stage around! It is easy to build a stage to fit in your car. Covering it with large amounts of fabric is a breeze. Replacement parts can be found at any home improvement store, and mostly it is sturdy. That is where we stop considering a PVC stage in the professional realm. Most puppeteers start with a PVC stage out of necessity, but mostly because of the myth if it is good enough to be buried 2 feet underground it must be strong! Yes and no. Its landscaping purpose is to be laid in a certain way, nice and still to never be disturbed again, right? But even underground they do become brittle and crack causing water leaks. So, imagine how short a life span they will have show-after-show, being man-handled by different people year in and year out. That, and labeling / color coding them so anyone can put them together is a bear. What do you do if ONE piece goes missing at an event? Mostly, they just do not last. Do not get us wrong! They are great to get you started. Just keep in mind they do warp, the joints become loose, the tubing bends, and they eventually snap under heavy weight (e.g. fabric that does not allow light in).
In short, you are very limited in what you can do with the PVC stage. With that, consider that professional websites do not even list PVC stages for sale at all!
Microphone Stand and a Dowel
One of our favorite stages is what we call the, "Boom Mic" stage. Just one Boom Mic, also known as an adjustable tripod mic stand, one dowel about 3 feet long and you are good to go! Instead of inserting a microphone, just insert a dowel the same diameter as the microphone into the mic clamp! You might need to wrap the dowel with some gaffers tape to make for a snug fit, but you get the idea. It takes about 5 minutes to setup and once up, it spans about 3 to 4 feet wide and about 5.5 feet tall. Plenty of room for one puppeteer to stand/sit/kneel behind. Breaks down as easily as it goes up! The photo is of our "fancy" setup with light weight crushed blue and wine velvet curtains accessorized with a heavy gold rope and faux tassels made with Styrofoam balls wrapped in gold ribbon, etc! It has received many compliments because it is so rich in color and made with quality materials. We use the brand On Stage for our mic stands and their Boom Mic is available on Amazon
Coleman Camping Lantern Stand - for 2nd tier
For the times when we need a backdrop or a 2nd-tier, we use 2 Coleman Lantern stands because of their telescoping height of 7 feet! Made of both aluminum and some steel, they are perfect for puppetry needs as shown in the photo above. In the photo below, you can see Bruce setting up a custom puppet show for a Men's Conference. The shiny corrugated aluminum wall would have been overpowering for his program, so he chose to set up a simple curtain he can easily maneuver underneath to reach his PA system, props, and of course, puppets! We also use this 2nd-tier when we employ large props that do not fit behind our "Brick" wood stage. This also creates a nice grand presence too (see our top cover photo)! This stage configuration is just 2 lantern stands, a 6 foot long dowel from a local wood miller, and thin velvet curtains. Remember, these stands are designed to hold "light weight" items, not tons of props, fabric, etc. But if used properly, these stands are worth the investment! You can read through the Amazon reviews about their abilities and even find some answers you may have about their can be hard to vind but are are available
Folding Wood Stage
We were blessed from the start back in 1996! We inherited an old folding wood stage from a church. It was well used, but it held up. WOOD! The best material for long term use. Whoever designed it, had puppeteers in mind. It has 2 large front panels and 2 side panels (aka wings). The old stage had standard door hinges so that it could only fold down to about 6 inches high. When we built our new stage we decided on 3 foot long piano hinges. Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes. They are much more durable and most importantly, the stage folds completely flat. Other hardware was "L" brackets on each corner. That would total 16. It is a must have if you want an on-the-go wood stage to last & to hold its shape.
Our "brick facade" wood stage is 52" high with three 48 inch piano hinges. The "brick" is actually white foam core painted by hand with a typical rectangular sponge and differing colors of pink and wine, then each brick patiently outlined in black. The mortar is actually a crafts paint called, Mortar! Velcro is how we attach the foam core to the wood frame. Non-adhesive Velcro is stapled to the wood frame and adhesive Velcro is stuck onto the back of the foam core. We have found that adhesive Velcro attracts dust-bunnies like crazy in which causes the Velcro to not work as efficiently -- not so "sticky". When it comes time to replace the Velcro on the stage, we just use a screwdriver to pry off the staples and lay down a new section of Velcro. The foam core facade is stored in a separate box when not in use. If taken care of, foam core can last decades. Ours has!
SIZE DOES COUNT
When our first wood stage was rather old, we decided to build our 2nd stage to the height based completely on the shortest puppeteer and not some random size. Yes, the shortest one as to avoid having to schlep around booster boxes and risers since it was just the two of us.
It is a 3-panel fabric covered poplar wood stage. It has door hinges instead of long piano hinges covered with various light weight fabric that is stapled on. The stage window, or opening, is framed by molding painted in gold and distressed a little with gold paste. It looks silver due to the camera flash. A few "gems" were added in just a few places to bring some sparkle to the front. Not too much. The red velvet drape has cafe rings that are hung a dowel. You can open the drape by hand or rig up a simple drapery pulley system using some type of black Dacron fishing line or something nice.
This wood hinged DJ Facade on Amazon looks to be a nice investment. It can take a beating because it is heavy and not flimsy. We would switch out the carpet with fabric, decal or paint to lighten the total weight:
Aluminum Tripod & Crossbar
The photo above is of Dale Von Seggen and the enormous aluminum tripod stage that Creative Ministry Solutions has to offer for sale here. This huge setup is around the $1200 range. You can purchase a section or the whole grouping. They offer fabrics already sewn to size and come in some nice neutral colors. If you are a large puppet troupe, a church or a ministry that plans to have a puppet ministry/team/group for decades to come, THIS is the best way to go! Aluminum stages are super light weight, easy to wipe clean, nearly indestructible, and that is why they are expensive!!
Our opinion in working with youth is this, when dealing with youth year in and year out, sturdy and longevity is what you need! Financial supporters do not like to hear "We are fundraising for a new stage" every year! So, trust us, when tired teens throw your aging PVC stage off the back of a truck when unloading, things go down hill real quick! This type of stage has a "classy" feel about it. It demands respect and is something your ministry can be proud of for many, many years to come.
* We do not receive any type of compensation for our reviews of or opinions of puppet stages.
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