Master Marionette Maker, Ronnie Burkett
Curious about how Ronnie’s puppet characters are made? It all starts with Ronnie’s incredible imagination and detailed drawings of each character, including front and profile views. Every character and costume is designed by Ronnie, who also sculpts the puppet heads, does the wood carving, the jointing, and the face painting with alkyd oil paints.
From the drawings, patterns for the body parts are made and transferred to aspen wood, cut out with a bandsaw, then carved and hand sanded. Larger characters’ body parts are made from a strong papier-mâché pulp, no more than 1/8″ thick.
Legs, arms and feet are also carved out of wood. The elbow and knee joints are made from trunk fiber, the middle joints of the torso are connected by thin cord. The neck joint is Ronnie’s own design, which allows a complete range of movement.
The puppet heads are made from a papier-måché pulp mixture which is Ronnie’s own special recipe.
Most of The Daisy Theatre and Little Dickens puppet heads are one-offs, directly sculpted over a styrofoam skull. Currently there are five versions of Schnitzel, each a unique sculpt with nuanced differences. When multiples of one character are needed, Ronnie sculpts in plasticine, makes a silicone mold, and casts the heads from the paper pulp mixture, creating identical heads.
Props, such as Tiny Tim’s crutch, are hand-carved in wood.
Shoes are made from a variety of materials, but most often leather, which is patterned, stitched and glued directly onto the wooden feet. Camie Koo, a brilliant Canadian theatre designer, has made Ronnie’s marionette shoes for many years.
Kim Crossley has made all of Ronnie’s marionette costumes for over thirty years. Luman Coad worked with Ronnie to adapt a German marionette control designed especially for his specific needs. Marcus Jamin has done all of the marionette stringing for over a decade.
Other artisans have worked on the marionettes over the years, either sanding, base coat painting the bodies, or shellacking the wooden parts and heads multiple times prior to painting, always sanding between coats.