Marionettes are stringed puppets depicting humans, animals and fantasy creatures and have been used throughout the centuries as a theatrical, educational and religious storytelling tool. Here's a look at all the moving parts that bring them to life.
The heads of marionettes are made from wood, porcelain, cloth, paper mache, or plastic. Their painted or sewn features emulate human faces, and their hair is made from yarn, cotton, paper, felt, synthetics, or real tresses. Mouths are generally painted in a fixed expression, although sophisticated marionettes may have a movable jaw.
Hands and Feet
The extremities of a marionette are made of wood, porcelain or hard plastic and are weighted at the wrists and ankles for control of their movements. The strings attached to the extremities either go all the way through the palm and top of the foot and are knotted on the side that's the least visible or are secured by a metal screw on the top surface.
The body of a marionette is soft for flexibility. Plastic, rubber or wooden dowels comprise the skeletal framework; cotton or rags stuffed inside a muslin or knit casing are what give the character its form and contours. Ball bearings are often sewn into the body cavity, arms and legs so the character won't flap around during a breezy afternoon performance.
The strings that control a marionette's movements need to be sturdy enough to support the puppet's weight but not so thick that they become a distraction. They can either be clear or a color. At a minimum, strings are attached to the head, hands, knee joints and feet. More elaborate marionettes will have strings to operate their jaws and eyes as well as strings attached to the shoulders, elbows, hips, and backsides.
The strings are attached by heavy staples or metal screws to two pieces of lightweight wood that are glued together to resemble a cross. For more elaborate marionettes, there is a second piece of removable wood that rests just above the top part of the cross and controls the leg movements of the puppet.
Marionette costumes are made of cotton, felt, fur, wool, burlap and brocade. The colors and styles are meant to depict the social/economic station of each character in the story and, in some cases, to incorporate signature elements of specific characters such as ruling monarchs or the clergy.