Water puppets

Vietnamese puppetry uses an ingenious method to hide the puppeteers’ controls: they put them underwater.

Water puppets
Gryffindor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the key challenges of puppetry is hiding the performer. The performer can be under, over, behind, or within the puppets, but it’s usually pretty obvious that they’re hidden somehow. Vietnamese water puppetry uses a clever technique to hide the performer and all of the puppet controls: a big pool of waist-high water.

Essentially, the pool / stage has a separate compartment behind the scenery, and all of the performers stay within that compartment. The puppets are attached to long bamboo poles which always stay submerged, and the performers can control the puppets from the rear of the stage.

Water puppets
audrey_sel, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It doesn’t sound like a pleasant job, though. Each puppeteer wears rubber waders and must immerse their arms into the water to properly control their puppets. The first written records of Vietnamese water puppetry date back to 1121 CE, when the stage would have been an actual rice paddy, so at least things have improved since then.

There are a lot of cool effects you can do with this setup: puppets can carry fire (because there are no strings to burn, and if anything goes wrong you can just dunk the burning puppet); dragons can dramatically surface from below; boats, fish, and fishermen look fantastic. You can see a performance here:

Or a behind-the-scenes look at the puppeteers here:

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