A puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by an entertainer, who is called a puppeteer. It is used in puppetry, a play or a presentation that is a very ancient form of theatre.
There are many different varieties of puppets, and they are made of a wide range of materials, depending on their form and intended use. They can be extremely complex or very simple in their construction. They may even be found objects.
Puppetry by its nature is a flexible and inventive medium, and many puppet companies work with combinations of puppet forms, and incorporate real objects into their performances. They might, for example, incorporate "performing objects" such as torn paper for snow, or a sign board with words as narrative devices within a production.
The following are, alphabetically, the basic and conventional forms of puppet:
- Black light puppet - A form of puppetry where the puppets are operated on a stage lit only with ultraviolet lighting, which both hides the puppeteer and accentuates the colours of the puppet. The puppeteers perform dressed in black against a black background, with the background and costume normally made of black velvet.
- Bunraku puppet – Bunraku puppets are a type of wood-carved puppet originally made to stand out through torch illumination. Developed in Japan over a thousand years ago and formalised and combined with shamisen music at the end of the 16th century, the puppeteers dress to remain neutral against a black background, although their presence as kind of 'shadow' figures adds a mysterious power to the puppet. Bunraku traditionally uses three puppeteers to operate a puppet that is 2/3 life size.
- Carnival or body puppet - usually designed to be part of a large spectacle. These are often used in parades and demonstrations, and are at least the size of a human and often much larger. One or more performers are required to move the body and limbs.
- Finger puppet - An extremely simple puppet variant which fits onto a single finger.
- Sock Puppet - A puppet formed from a sock and operated by inserting ones hand inside the sock.
- Hand or glove puppet - These are puppets controlled by one hand which occupies the interior of the puppet.
- Light Curtain puppet presentations use specifically focused light to highlight small areas of a performance, allowing the puppet to be seen while the manipulators remain invisible. The puppets stand on a stage divided into an unlit background and a well-lit foreground, meeting to form a "curtain" of light. The puppeteer dresses in black and remains hidden in the unlit background of the stage while the puppet is held across the light curtain in the lit foreground of the stage.
- Marionette or "string puppet" - These puppets are suspended and controlled by a number of strings, plus sometimes a central rod attached to a control bar held from above by the puppeteer.
- Marotte - A simplified rod puppet that is just a head and/or body on a stick. In a marotte à main prenante, the puppeteer's other arm emerges from the body (which is just a cloth drape) to act as the puppet's arm.
- Pull String Puppet - a puppet consisting of a cloth body where in the puppeteer puts his/her arm into a slot in the back and pulls rings on strings that do certain tasks such as waving or moving the mouth.
- Push puppet - A push puppet consists of a segmented character on a base which is kept under tension until the button on the bottom is pressed. The puppet wiggles, slumps and then collapses, and is usually used as a novelty toy.
- Push-in or Paper puppet, or Toy Theatre - A puppet cut out of paper and stuck onto card. It is fixed at its base to a stick and operated by pushing it in from the side of the puppet theatre. Sheets were produced for puppets and scenery from the 19th century for children's use.
- Rod Puppet - A puppet constructed around a central rod secured to the head. A large glove covers the rod and is attached to the neck of the puppet. A rod puppet is controlled by the puppeteer moving the metal rods attached to the hands of the puppet and by turning the central rod secured to the head.
- Shadow puppet - A cut-out figure held between a source of light and a translucent screen. Shadow puppets can form solid silhouettes or be decorated with various amounts of cut-out details. Colour can be introduced into the cut-out shapes to provide a different dimension and different effects can be achieved by moving the puppet (or light source) out of focus. Javanese shadow puppets (Wayang Kulit) are the classic example of this.
- Supermarionation - A method invented by Gerry Anderson which assisted in his television series Thunderbirds in electronically moving the mouths of marionettes to allow for lip-synchronised speech. The marionettes were still controlled by human manipulators with strings.
- Ticklebug - A ticklebug is a type of hand puppet created from a human hand to have four legs, where the puppet features are drawn on the hand itself.
- Table Top Puppets - A puppet usually operated by rod or direct contact from behind, on a surface similar to a table top (hence the name). Shares many characteristics with Bunraku
- Ventriloquist dummy - A puppet operated by a ventriloquist performer to focus the audience's attention from the performer's activities and heighten the illusions. They are called dummies because they do not speak on their own. The ventriloquist dummy is controlled by the one hand of the ventriloquist. Such acts aren't always performed with a traditional dummy, occasionally using other forms of puppetry.