Big Bird is a full-body Muppet. (AP, RB)

Big Bird is a full-body Muppet. (AP, RB)

Oscar the Grouch is a live-hand Muppet. (AP, RB)

Oscar the Grouch is a live-hand Muppet. (AP, RB)

Elmo is a hand-and-rod Muppet. (AP, RB)

Elmo is a hand-and-rod Muppet. (AP, RB)

Jim Henson created the Muppets. He poses with Kermit the Frog. (AP)

Jim Henson created the Muppets. He poses with Kermit the Frog. (AP)

When several Muppets appear together, the performers have to crowd together. (AP)

When several Muppets appear together, the performers have to crowd together. (AP)

Working Muppets

Posted: December 31, 2018

Big Bird’s performer has stepped out of the feathery suit. But the character will continue. Jim Henson’s Muppets have been around for half a century. But puppets have been around waaaay longer.

A traditional marionette is controlled by strings or wires. A puppet usually works like a big glove. When you learn how Muppets are controlled, you can understand how they may have gotten their name—marionette + puppet = Muppet!

Traditional marionette puppeteers stand behind a low wall with the marionette dangling below them. Hand puppet performers are usually hidden below the opening of a puppet theater. Muppet performers don’t have to hide. They scrunch down, out of the camera’s view. When a scene includes several Muppets, things can get kind of crazy. Performers sit on scooters, squinting at monitors and scripts. They reach around shoulders, over heads, and through arms. The performers look like they are playing a game of Twister!

There are three types of Muppets. But beware. Muppeteers are inventive. Like the Muppet name, many are combinations.

Live-hand: One hand works the head. Because Muppets are made of flexible foam and fabric, the performer’s hand can tilt, twist, and shape the character’s mouth to create lots of expressions. The performer’s other hand goes inside the Muppet’s arm like a long glove. Muppets are usually left-handed. That’s because most performers are right-handed, and working the mouth and eyes takes a lot of coordination.

Hand-and-rod: The head is worked with one hand. Arms are moved by thin rods held in a performer’s other hand. “Can you give me a hand?” When muppeteers say that, they really mean it. For all three Muppet types, there are times when a character has to do a lot with its hands. The Swedish Chef is an example. An assistant puts one or both hands and arms into the Muppet’s sleeves while the main performer operates the head.

Full-body: Like a sports mascot, performers put on a character’s suit. Two people climb in to work Snuff.