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Puppetry for Adults: What is a Puppet Slam?

If you thought puppetry was only for kids, you thought wrong my friend.

I didn't get into puppetry until I was in my late twenties which is also when I discovered the magic of the Puppet Slam.

I'm sure you've heard of poetry slams. A puppet slam is somewhat similar, minus the poetry.

Here's what's covered in this article:

If you'd like to see me moving around in time and space you can also enjoy some of these answers in video format below.

What the heck is a puppet slam?

A puppet slam is an evening of short form puppetry pieces intended for adult audiences. Sort of like a variety show but with all different styles of puppetry from hand puppets, shadow puppets, tabletop, toy theater, etc.

Occasionally you'll find a variety act thrown in, like music, burlesque, magic, etc. The acts will be both drama and comedy.

You can expect some acts that are great, some mediocre and some not so good. It live theater, what are you gonna do?

What are the rules of puppet slams?

The puppetry pieces in puppet slams are intended for adults, so think 18+.

That doesn't mean it will be all puppet porn, just expect more grown up and even sophisticated themes. You're likely to see some blue material, so if you bring your kids, you've been warned.

If you want to perform in a puppet slam a rule of thumb is "too short to suck", which means 5 minutes or under. I find in theater, less tends to be more.

You want to leave your audience wanting more from you, not wishing that you'd get off the stage already.

Some puppet slams have themes, but if you have an act that doesn't match the theme it doesn't necessarily mean you can't perform in it. Reach out and pitch your act anyways!

Are videos and films a part of puppet slams?

Sometimes, but not always. More slams are integrating short videos into their shows to mix it up and to accommodate people making puppetry films.

Some puppet slams are streamed online and are probably at least half video/film combined with live streamed pieces. If you want to submit a video or short film to a puppet slam, it can't hurt to ask!

Where can I see a puppet slam?

Puppet Slams are popping up everywhere in the last few years and it's very exciting.

New York has the largest concentration of puppet slams and they are scattered all over the US, mainly in the major cities. There are a few slams in Canada, one in Puerto Rico, in Mexico and I believe a new one in Trinidad.

You can see the map of all the puppet slams on the Puppet Slam Network website. Note: these are the puppet slams that have received a grant from the PSN.

You can also see the video from the online puppet slam from 2020, the National Puppet Slamdemic. It was May of 2020 and we were still figuring out Zoom and the whole working from home situation, so there are blips here and there. These acts were curated from artists all over the US, so these are the best of the best.

Start a Puppet Slam in your Area

If you don't have a puppet slam where you are, start one! You might start a movement. People will see that there is a show looking for acts and might just make a puppet act becauce the opportunity is there.

You don't need a Puppet Slam Grant to start a slam, but it can't hurt.

What are the requirements for a puppet slam grant?

You should have experience producing at least one show involving puppetry, ideally a puppet slam. Shows produced using the grant need to be at least 75% puppetry.

The grant application is open from October to January. You can find out more about it here.

What should I perform for a puppet slam?

That's up to you! I recommend keeping it simple. Since your act should be under 5 minutes, you don't want to be dealing with heavy set pieces, a bunch of props, or too many music or lighting cues.

The simpler the better, in my opinion! My simplest act uses just one puppet and a coat as the stage.

Are there organizations that offer classes where I can learn puppetry?

I offer my courses Intro to Puppetry and Writing for Puppetry. If you want to create a puppet act but can't figure out where to start, Writing for Puppetry is a good place. You learn ways ot generate ideas and get inspired as well as basic storytelling. Intro to Puppetry will give you a taste of all the ways you can use puppetry.

I also like to recommend that puppet-curious folk get themselves to the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference, which happends every year in Connecticut. It will answer any and all questions you have about puppetry, especially "hey, where are all the puppeteers?!"

You can also refer to my post about Puppetry Workshops which is a fairly thorough list of where to look for puppetry courses and workshops.

How do I know if my puppet slam act is any good?

You're not going to like the answer.

You have to try it in front of an audience!

The audience's response will tell you what you have. And I don't mean if they give you a standing ovation, I mean did they pay attention? Did they compliment you after? Did you get audible reactions?

This is especially important if you're doing comedy. Laughs=good. No laughs=bad.

Another good way to judge your act: do you like it? Because if you don't like it, you're not going to be motivated to perform it. Even if your audience loves it but you don't, it's not going to be fun for you.

And it's puppets, so it should be fun.

You can also figure out if you like your piece/it's any good by recording yourself performing it. Just use your phone or make a Zoom recording, don't complicate it with a fancy setup.

But don't watch it yet!!

Put that recording aside for 2 weeks and then you can watch it.

You'll have fresh eyes after some time has passed and you'll know what you have.

Don't ask strangers for notes on your pieces. You'll get a lot of bad advice from people with no taste and mediocre men with unearned confidence, especially if you're a gal.

The End

Those are the questions I get the most when it comes to puppet slams and performing. If you want to submit a question for my next Q&A, click here.

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