A puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by a puppeteer. It is usually (but by no means always) a depiction of a human character, and is used in puppetry, a play or a presentation that is a very ancient form of theater. The puppet undergoes a process of transformation through being animated, and is normally manipulated by at least one puppeteer.
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. As Oscar Wilde wrote, "There are many advantages in puppets. They never argue. They have no crude views about art. They have no private lives".
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. So a bought corkscrew can become a dancer puppet; or they 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. The puppeteers manipulate the puppets into the light, while they position themselves unseen against the black unlit background. Controlling what the audience sees is a major responsibility of any puppeteer, and blacklight lighting provides a new way of accomplishing this. Puppets of all sizes and types are able to be used, and glow in a powerful and magical way. The original concept of this form of puppetry can be traced to Bunraku puppetry.
- Bunraku puppet – Bunraku puppets are a type of wood-carved puppet originally made to stand out through torch illumination.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 (such as the May day parade in Minneapolis, USA) 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. In parades, the appearance and personality of the person inside is not relevant to the spectator. These puppets are particularly associated with large scale entertainment, such as the nightly parades at various Disney complexes around the world. Similar puppets were designed by Julie Taymor for The Lion King, derived in part from the parade tradition.