My granddaughter Cosette celebrated her third birthday last month with a party in their backyard attended by eight kids, two infants and twelve adults. You need extra adults. Like everything else, Cosette has her own ideas about birthdays. She likes the cake and the singing part but has surprisingly little interest in opening presents. There we were, twenty-odd people gathered in common cause, people who had thought long and hard about what a three-year-old who never stops moving might like, had shopped and wrapped and picked just the right greeting card, people waiting to see the expression of joy on her little face when she opened their gifts, and all she wanted to do was hit a plastic ball off a plastic tee. Her father finally put the tee in the garage. It helped a little. Not much.
My assignment for the birthday party was to put on a puppet show. This is an excellent example of the things my children don’t mind asking me to do. I have never expressed any interest whatsoever in puppetry. I am simply available and not likely to refuse. So I went on the Internet to learn about puppet stuff.
There is no shortage of politically correct puppet show scripts online. There is a shortage of funny puppet show scripts online. I finally found an old Punch & Judy script. If you’re old enough to remember Howdy Doody, you probably remember Punch & Judy. They’ve been around for about 300 years and never in that time had a problem with family violence. Besides beating each other with sticks, they (baby)sat on the baby, put the baby in the oven to dry and perpetrated a number of other abuses against the baby. Naturally, I had to take all that stuff out (I also had to change their names, as my daughter didn’t want a puppet named Punch and I didn’t want one named Judy), but it was still a pretty funny script.
I went shopping for hand puppets. Nothing fancy. One boy, one girl. Apparently puppets are not the hot toy this holiday season, because I couldn’t find one in the seven-county metro area. Back to the Internet. Lots of puppets – dogs, cats, cows, bears, bees, mice. Humans? Not so much. I tried making sock puppets, paper bag puppets, even dish towel puppets. In the end, I ripped the heads off two old dolls in the basement, added some fabric, and voila! Two puppets who couldn’t hold their heads up.
Show time. Puppet theater set up on the grass. Little people lined up in front, big people in back – a group, fortunately, with few or no expectations. And despite several theatrical mishaps, such as props rolling off the stage into the audience, the show received rave reviews. This is what I learned: 1) try to have at least one dress rehearsal, lest the puppets go out there and forget their lines; 2) don’t use anything that’s round or has wheels as a prop; 3) it’s okay if you forget #1 and #2, because the kids don’t care anyway – just make a lot of noise and send enough objects flying through the air and they’ll think it’s hilarious.
As we say in the theater: fini, thank God, fini.