Bring Me Laughter at Home: Masks and Puppets

Bring Me Laughter at Home: Masks and Puppets

Our latest Bring Me Laughter at Home blog takes a look at the sessions where our participants helped to create puppets for fun games and storytelling and gives a suggestion of how you can make your own at home to produce your own shows. 

Find out more about our Wellcome Trust-funded dementia arts project at Bring Me Laughter and click Bring Me Laughter at Home for more content for you to check out and take part in from home.

Masks and Puppets 

Towards the start of the Bring Me Laughter project, our artists and volunteers met together for a workshop with award-winning international teacher and theatre-maker, John Wright, the author of ‘Why is that so Funny?’

This workshop helped set up some really interesting starting points for planning our Bring Me Laughter sessions, which lead artist Alison Clough reflects on:

At one point we wore simple white masks with very restricted vision. John invited the mask-wearers to interact, while the rest of us watched.  The masks gave no information so we were forced to read the body language to make any sense of them. One instruction was to ask the mask-wearers to look at the audience when they heard a finger click, clocking us. We, the audience, were intrigued and fascinated by how the none-expressive masks created a connection in that moment – funny/sad/quizzical – and evoked empathy from us at every move.  Their spirit of innocence and simple joy spread to all of us.

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As a visual artist, and the designer for the project, I wanted to make use of what I had learnt from John’s workshop by introducing puppets into some of our sessions, as they are more appropriate than masks for people living with dementia. I started by inviting everyone to experience the soft and tactile qualities of salt dough, then played a game of three dimensional ‘Consequences’ in which I asked people to make eyeholes and pass it on, add a nose and pass it on, etc. The game resulted in a set of characterful puppet heads made by all of us together.

For another session, I painted a range of boxes found around the house with black paint so they could be drawn on with chalk and decorated to make heads.  With dots for eyes and textile scraps for hair, we soon had another set of expressive characters. Transforming these into puppets that could be made and operated by our participants was more of a challenge - the heads had to be lightweight and easy to hold and the bodies needed to be collapsible, so they didn't crowd us out and block our view of each other.

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I gave myself a further challenge to reuse and recycle as much as possible. Heads were made out of recycled bottles and plastic containers, bodies from plastic coat hangers, wire, string and cardboard. Participants paper-mâchéd the heads and made arms, hands and legs. We dressed them in children's clothes from a jumble sale, and then we had fun interacting with them.

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For all the participants, there was a great sense of achievement in seeing the finished puppets and watching the puppets perform and interact with members of the group prompted much laughter – especially when the puppets reacted with each other!

This resulted in an enjoyable, interactive game for everyone to take part in – copying the puppets’ movements! One participant even shouted in, “We are definitely going to have some fun with this!”            

If you would like to have some fun with this yourselves and make your own puppet, Alison has sent us this sketch with instructions.

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You could try inventing your own puppet by recycling things you can find around the house.

Make the head out of a cardboard box or plastic container. Cover and add detail with masking tape, newspaper strips and PVA glue (or flour and water paste) – very Blue Peter or Art Attack!

Make a simple body from a bigger box, an old lampshade or even a squashy cushion.

Add arms and legs using heavy twine/thick wool and corrugated cardboard, and feet from cut down boxes or old children’s shoes.

We’d love to see your finished puppets.  Take a photo and send to: