Meet Hobey Ford
How did you get started in puppetry? What inspired you to become a puppeteer?
When I was in the 5th grade, a puppet show came to a school assembly and I just never forgot it. When I was in arts college I decided I would try some puppetry and was so taken with the craft that I decided to become a puppeteer.
What were some of your first challenges when you started out doing puppetry?
I had a handle on making the puppets really early on, but going into theater I was really out of my element. Then I started learning some tools and tricks to how to work, one of which was storytelling. It became one of my cornerstones that I would approach puppetry as storytelling with puppets.
What kind of puppet would you suggest a beginner start with?
I would recommend rod puppets. For kids, they’re easier to operate than hand puppets.
With a rod puppet they can just grab the stick or sticks and then move the sticks directly. You can sort of stand back a little bit and watch what you’re doing, observe it yourself.
How do you bring an individual puppet to life?
That’s where the action comes in, so it might be as simple a thing as having the puppet just stand there and breath and how would it move, and then how would it work with its hands – whether it scratches its head or looks around.
Do you change your voice?
Jane Yolen, the children’s author, recommends finding the character, then moving back toward your own natural speaking voice, only giving that character 30% of the emphasis, and keeping close to your own vocal range. I’ve always pretty much done that.
When does set design come into the picture?
I generally keep set design to the very minimum. I create a prop or a set piece only if it’s essential to the story. You’re bringing the character and the action of the character to life, infusing the storytelling with that, and then leaving the set and all of that business to the mere minimum. If it’s not essential, I won’t include it.
What can you tell a teacher who has never used puppets in the classroom before?
Stick with a project that is going to be fun. A shadow puppet can be incredibly easy to make. Work with something that’s going to be doable, and keep it simple. Keep your presentation short. Keep the focus on the process, not the end product, so students can succeed in the process and have fun.