Nick Barnes

Puppet Maker


What I do

I am a puppet designer and puppet maker. I recently designed the puppets for Mr Popper’s Penguins at the Lowry and co-designed the puppets for The Lorax at the Old Vic.

What I love about my job

I get to be involved at all stages of the production. From talking with the director and participating in research and development workshops, through to designing and making the puppet, either alone or with other makers I bring on board. Then it’s into the rehearsal room and theatre for rehearsals and production week.

I have to go on stage and fine-tune the look of the puppets under lights. Every puppet presents a new set of challenges and often requires new solutions. For example, the penguins needed to be operated by one puppeteer and move quickly around the stage, so we decided to put them on wheels. The Lorax’s moustache needed to twitch, so I had to create a mechanism that could move each side of the moustache independently.

What’s difficult about my job?

The ‘making’ challenges can be the most frustrating parts of the job and, equally, the most satisfying. We have to build puppets that are strong enough to last for the whole period that the performance is on. They also have to be light enough to operate comfortably for extended periods, and we have to think of solutions to make that possible. This can lead to learning new techniques or modifying tried-and-tested ones. While it can be frustrating to have to start from scratch on each project it is also pleasing to discover new ways of doing things.

What skills I need

You need to be artistic and a good maker, and have an understanding of construction and basic engineering. It helps to have had some experience of puppeteering. A knowledge of materials is good, too. My particular advantage is that I have performed with the puppets, so I feel like I know the puppeteer’s needs, even if I can’t always satisfy them!

Where to start

Anywhere! In your bedroom or on the kitchen table. Start making and working out your own solutions. If you don’t go on that journey you cannot know what works and doesn’t work and the reasons why.