McCarter Theatre Education Department Presents

The Adventures of

Puppet-Lecture Demonstration

A Study Guide by Dr. Kathleen Cioffi

Designed by Susan Fou

Offered in conjunction with the McCarter Theatre Touring Production

The Adventures of Perseus

Written and directed by Christopher T. Parks
Dramaturged by Kathleen Cioffi
Puppets designed and created by Christopher T. Parks and John Murdolo


This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Education programs are made possible by J. Seward Johnson Sr, Charitable Trusts; The BWF Foundation, Inc.; First Union; Prudential Foundation; Bristol-Myers Squibb Company; Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Mary Owen Borden Foundation; Chase Manhattan Bank; Jay B. Nash Foundation; Nexus Properties, Inc.; Princeton Area Community Foundation, Inc.; BETA Fund; PSE&G; Citigroup Foundation; and George A. Ohl, Jr. Trust.

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core curriculum standards

The Visual and Performing Arts are considered Core Curriculum areas for the New Jersey State Department of Education. This production of The Adventures of Perseus is designed to give your students exposure to the specific Core Curriculum Standards listed below.

The Adventures of Perseus and Curriculum Standards

This production of The Adventures of Perseus and related study materials will provide students with specific knowledge and skills to address the following Core Curriculum Content Standards in the Arts:

1.1All students will acquire knowledge and skills that increase aesthetic awareness in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts.
1.3All students will utilize arts elements and arts media to produce artistic products and performances.
1.4All students will demonstrate knowledge of the process of critique.
1.5All students will identify the various historical, social, and cultural influences and traditions which have generated artistic accomplishments throughout the ages and which continue to shape contemporary arts.

The Adventures of Perseus is also designed to address the following Core Curriculum Standards in Language Arts Literacy and Social Studies:

3.2All students will listen actively in a variety of situations to information from a variety of sources.
3.5All students will view, understand, and use nontextual visual information.
6.2All students will learn democratic citizenship through the humanities, by studying literature, art, history and philosophy, and related fields.
6.7All students will acquire geographical understanding by studying the world in spatial terms.

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the legend of perseus and medusa

King Acrisius of Argos was warned by an oracle that one day he would have a grandson who would kill him. He therefore declared that his only child, the beautiful Danaë, must never marry. Danaë was locked in a tower of solid brass, but though Acrisius could keep human beings away from her, he had no power against the gods. Zeus himself visited her in the form of a shower of golden rain that fell in through her window. In time, a son was born to Danaë and Zeus, and he was named Perseus.

Now that he had a grandson, Acrisius' fears turned to madness. He had a huge wooden chest made, and when it was finished, he placed Danaë and baby Perseus in it. He had the chest, with its precious cargo, pushed out into the sea. Acrisius hoped that the chest would sink, but it floated, and washed up on an island called Seriphos. There it was discovered and opened by a fisherman named Dictys. He took Danaë and her baby home, and cared for them as if they were his own family.

Perseus grew up into a strong and handsome young man, and Danaë remained very beautiful. Dictys' brother, Polydectes, who happened to be king of Seriphos, wanted to marry Danaë. But he was a cruel man, and she wanted nothing to do with him. "You leave my mother alone," insisted Perseus, clenching a not-insubstantial fist. The king decided that he had to get rid of Perseus so he could be free to pursue Danaë.

The king gave a great banquet, and to this feast all the young men of the island brought gifts for the king. When Perseus arrived, Polydectes asked him mockingly, "What have you got for me?" Perseus had nothing to offer, but flushing red with embarrassment, he said, "I will bring you anything you want - if you leave my mother alone."

"Bring me the head of Medusa, the fiercest of the Gorgons," the king said cleverly. Now Medusa, when she was a young and beautiful maiden had committed a sacrilegious act in Athena's temple. Athena punished her by changing her loveliest feature, her hair, into snakes. Polydectes knew that Perseus would probably never come back from such a mission, for whoever looked into Medusa's monstrous face was turned into stone.

Perseus knew he had been tricked, but he replied, "I will bring you the Gorgon's head, or I'll die in the attempt."

As he sat alone, wondering how he would fulfill his mission, two of the gods came to him, offering help. The god Hermes gave Perseus the sharpest sword in the world, and the goddess Athena gave him a polished shield. "You must not look into Medusa's face," she told Perseus. "Look into this instead, and you will see her reflection, and be spared. Now go. Seek the Three Gray Sisters. They will tell you how to find the Nymphs who live at the back of the North Wind. The Nymphs will provide you with all you need to find the Gorgons and kill Medusa."

The next morning, Perseus set off to find the Gray Sisters. Following the gods' instructions, he found the cave where the Sisters lived. The Sisters were old, wrinkled hags with only one eye to share between them. Creeping up silently behind them as they argued together at the mouth of the cave, Perseus snatched the single eye from their fingers, and cried, "Gray Sisters, I have robbed you of your sight. Tell me how to find the Nymphs who dwell at the back of the North Wind, or I will leave you in darkness forever."

The old women begged for their eye again, but he would not restore it to them until they had told him the secret of the Nymphs. Once he knew the way, he tossed the eye back to them, and left them fighting for it.

The Nymphs of the North Wind welcomed him, and told him the way to the Gorgons' valley. They also gave him three gifts to aid him in his quest: a pair of winged sandals, a cap of invisibility, and a bag in which to put the Gorgon's head.

Perseus and Medusa (Cellini, 16th c.)
On the way to the land where the Gorgons lived, Perseus saw statues of men and animals that had been turned into stone by Medusa. When he finally reached the valley where the Gorgons lived, he saw all three, fast asleep. Carefully, looking only in Athena's bright shield, Perseus picked out the horrifying face of Medusa. Putting on the cap of invisibility, Perseus drew close to Medusa, and drawing Hermes' sword from its scabbard, he sliced off the Gorgon's head with a single blow.

He kept his eyes closed while he put the head in the bag given to him by the Nymphs, and then in horror watched as the other Gorgons awoke. He thrust his feet into the winged sandals,and jumped into the air. Terrible screams and howls trailed away below him as he flew up over and away from that awful valley. High above Africa Perseus flew. He passed over the Sahara Desert and came lower over Ethiopia, and as he flew toward the sea, he saw a beautiful girl chained to the rocks, and the rising tide washing around her feet.

It was Andromeda, whose foolish mother, Cassiopeia, had boasted to the sea gods about her daughter's great beauty. To punish her, they sent a sea monster to ravage the coast. At last, to protect his people, her father, who was the king, chained her to the rocks as a sacrifice.

Constellation of Perseus
Perseus took off the cap of invisibility and appeared before the weeping girl. At that very moment, the monster rose from the sea. Quickly, Perseus reached inside the bag. Closing his eyes and covering Andromeda's, he held out Medusa's head to face the sea monster. At once, it turned into a great ridge of gray rock, with the sea lapping about it. Andromeda's father willingly consented for her to marry Perseus, now that he had slain the monster. After a great wedding feast that lasted many days, Perseus and Andromeda returned to the island of Seriphos to present Medusa's head to King Polydectes.

When they arrived, Polydectes sneered, "Here's the great hunter with the Gorgon's head!" The king's courtiers laughed and jeered as well. Perseus replied, "I have kept my promise. Do you want to see what I've brought you?" The king and his friends nodded eagerly, obviously not believing that Perseus had succeeded in his quest. Turning his face away, Perseus drew Medusa's head out of the bag. The laughter turned into silence, for the king and his entire court had been turned into stone.

Dictys the fisherman became king in place of his cruel brother, and Danaë agreed to become Dictys' queen.

Constellation of Andromeda
That evening Hermes and Athena appeared again to Perseus and Andromeda, and they gave back all the gifts that had helped them - the cap, the sandals, the shield, the sword, and especially, the bag with Medusa's head in it. Athena put Medusa's head into the center of her shield to strike terror into her enemies.

Perseus and Andromeda next set sail for Larissa, where there were great games being held. Perseus wanted to compete in the discus throw. Everyone at the games marveled at Perseus' discus throwing power, but his second throw went astray and hit an old man watching in the stands. It turned out that this was Acrisius, Perseus' grandfather, who had lived all his life in fear of the prophecy that he would have a grandson who would one day bring about his own death.

Perseus eventually went to Argos, where he and Andromeda became king and queen. When they died, Zeus set him and his queen in heaven, and they became two stars.

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glossary of terms

abhorred - hated

bestow - give

Chimera - a mythological, fire-breathing monster, with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. The word can also now mean any vain or idle imagining.

courtier - a person who waits on the king or queen at a royal court

detest - hate

homage - respect or reverence

impenetrable - unable to be penetrated or pierced

inaudible - unable to be heard

infamy - bad reputation

lair - a den or resting place of a wild animal

lineage - the line of descendents of a particular ancestor

nonpareil - a person or thing having no equal

perish - die

resound - to ring with sound

sever - to separate a part from the whole

sibling - sister or brother

unwitting - not knowing

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history of puppetry

Punch figure (19th century)
Some of the earliest kinds of puppets were tribal ritual masks with hinged jaws or jointed skulls used in religious ceremonies. Puppets seem to have evolved from these masks to doll-like figures with moving limbs. Native American Indians used puppets in their corn festivals and ceremonial dances. Egyptians made jointed puppets from terra cotta. Puppet theater is mentioned in both Aristotle and Plato's writings; however, no specific details are given regarding the art. It suffices to say puppets have been a part of human history since time immemorial.

Chinese shadow puppet
The Chinese made shadow puppets from stretched donkey skins, dried sheep skin, water buffaloes, pigs, or fish. Shadow puppets are translucent figures colored in with paints. These figures are placed in front of a screen with light passing through it and appear clearly to the audience on the other side. They usually have three rods or strings attached to them. The puppeteer uses one hand to control the rod attached to the neck and the other hand to control the rods attached to its wrists. Turkish puppeteers added waist movement to their shadow puppets and began controlling rod arm movements from the side, rather than the bottom, as the Chinese had done. Three dimensional rod puppets evolved from shadow puppets. So, you can see, many countries were introducing operational control changes to existing known forms of puppets and yet, developing different kinds of puppets, at relatively the same time.

Puppetry has survived due to the efforts of all the world's puppeteers through the ages. When Rome was overrun by barbarians and puppet theater vanished, it was the traveling puppeteers who kept the art and the craft alive. Troupes of puppeteers, jesters, jugglers, and entertainers breathed new life into the world's tales and histories, as they moved from place to place and puppets found a home in folk art.

Marionettes from Madame Butterfly
In The Middle Ages the Christian Church used puppets to spread church doctrine. Monks and priests were the puppeteers. The Nativity, the story of the birth of Jesus, was a favorite play. Generally, marionettes, small jointed figures operated with strings, were used to enact the story. The name "marionette," meaning "Little Mary" may have come from the figure of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, in the telling of the Nativity story. It may also have come from the word "marotte" meaning "fool's scepter." In the 14th or 15th century puppeteers began to explore themes other than religious ones. A comedic influence began to emerge. The Church decided puppets were no longer suitable for its teaching. However, puppet theater found a new home in the streets and fairs of the working class. By the 16th century, puppet theaters existed all over Europe. Marionette operas were popular.

Japanese Bunraku puppet
In the 17th century, hand puppets, figures with heads and a body of cloth that fit over the puppeteer's hand, became popular. They were easier to operate, cheaper to make and more mobile. Shows could be given from the back of wagons and from small portable stages. Puppet characters like Punch and Judy became popular and shows centering around local politics became common. These puppets could comment on things the masses could not.

Also in the 17th century, what is now called bunraku puppetry started in Osaka, Japan. In bunraku, the puppets are about half life-size. Their eyes move, their eyebrows rise in surprise, their mouths open and shut, and their hands and arms gesture. Each of the principal puppets is operated by three manipulators who work in perfect unison. The manipulators carry the puppets onto the stage and are visible throughout the play. The Golden Age of bunraku puppetry was the 18th century in Japan, but the classics written then are still performed to this day.

Storytellers have used puppets to illuminate and entertain for centuries. In the United States, we have seen Howdy Doody (marionette), Kukla, Fran and Ollie (hand puppets), Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney (ventriloquist dummy, doll-like figures with movable mouths and other options like movable heads, eyes, eyelids and arms), Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (ventriloquist dummy), Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop (hand puppet), and Jim Hensen's Muppets (combination of hand and rod puppets) brought to life. These puppeteers and their creations continue to educate and entertain.

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types of puppets used in perseus

Stick Puppets (Zeus) - Stick or rod puppets are manipulated from below, but they are full-length, supported by a rod running inside the body to the head. Separate thin rods may move the hands and, if necessary, the legs. Stick or rod puppets always require at least one person, and sometimes two or three for each character on the stage.


Gray Sister

Marionettes (Gray Women) - These are full-length figures controlled from above. Normally they are moved by strings or more often threads, leading from the limbs to a control or crutch held by the manipulator. Movement is imparted to a large extent by tilting or rocking the control, but individual strings are plucked when a decided movement is required. A simple marionette may have nine strings - one to each leg, one to each hand, one to each shoulder, one to each ear (for head movements), and one to the base of the spine (for bowing); but special effects will require special strings that may double or treble this number.

Hand and Rod (Muppet-type) (Hermes) - Hand puppets have a hollow cloth body that fits over the manipulator's hand; his fingers fit into the head and the arms and give them motion. The figure is seen from the waist upward, and there are normally no legs. In hand-rod puppets (like the Muppets) the puppeteer's primary hand passes inside the puppet's body to control the head and face of the puppet. The puppeteer's non-primary hand is used to control the puppet's arms via rods or wires.


Japanese Bunraku puppets
Japanese Bunraku puppets - Tadanobu & Shizuka

Bunraku-Type (Medusa, Polydectes) - Japanese bunraku puppets are named for a Japanese puppet master, Uemura Bunrakuken, of the 18th century. These figures, which are one-half to two-thirds life size, may be operated by as many as three manipulators: the chief manipulator controls head movements with one hand by means of strings inside the body, which may raise the eyebrows or swivel the eyes, while using the other hand to move the right arm of the puppet; the second manipulator moves the left arm of the puppet; and the third moves the legs.

The manipulators, although dressed in black, are visible. Our Medusa and Polydectes are not true bunraku puppets: they are larger, are moved by rods rather than strings, and do not have movable eyes or eyebrows.

Shadow Puppets (Young Medusa, Medusa Transformed, Athena) - These are flat figures, in which the shadow is seen through a translucent screen. They may be cut from leather or some other opaque material, as in the traditional theatres of Java, Bali, and Thailand, in the so-called ombres chinoises (French: literally "Chinese shadows") of 18th-century Europe, and in the art theatres of 19th-century Paris; or they may be cut from colored fish skins or some other translucent material, as in the traditional theatres of China, India, Turkey, and Greece, and in the recent work of several European theatres.

Shadow Puppet

They may be operated by rods from below, as in the Javanese theatres; by rods held at right angles to the screen, as in the Chinese and Greek theatres; or by threads concealed behind the figures, as in the ombres chinoises and in its successor that came to be known as the English galanty show.

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puppet-making activities

Puppets don't have to be as elaborate as those in The Adventures of Perseus to still be fun learning toys for kids. It's possible to make puppets out of ordinary everyday objects, like newspapers, envelopes, popsicle sticks, or paper cups. Enclosed are instructions for several different puppet-making activities: 1. Found Object Puppets; 2. Animal Head Stick Puppet; 3. Envelope Puppets; 4. Paper Cup Marionettes; 5. Newspaper Puppets

All these activities were found on the Internet (the URLs are listed in the Related Materials section), and some of these sites have links to other sites with more fun puppet-making activities. Drama teacher Matt Buchanan has a particularly useful site with lots of good ideas for puppet and other creative drama activities for elementary-level kids.

Found Object Puppets


Note: If you have not been a puppeteer it is a good idea to practice this ahead of time, and to deliberately select objects you know you can manipulate successfully. Use anything that works for you, but here are some hints: Sunglasses, with their bows spread wide, become a very convincing ant's head, complete with reflective eyes and two antennae, if the manipulator is skilled enough. A shoe has a tongue and can talk, or it can use its laces like tentacles. The paper-punch can become a barracuda. If it has a hinged lid, a cardboard box becomes a big-mouthed character with a ferocious appetite. A ruler behind a notebook becomes a shy character who keeps peeking out and darting back out of sight.

You will need:

  • A collection of everyday items
  • Some traditional puppets for show

Making the Students' Own Puppets

Manipulating the Puppets

Animal Stick Puppet Activity

What you'll need:

  • Paper plates
  • A popsicle stick
  • A stapler
  • Glue
  • Crayons or colored markers
  • Buttons

Making the Puppets

  • Have students draw animal heads on the paper plates and color them.
  • Glue buttons on the plates for noses.
  • Staple the heads to the popsicle sticks.

Manipulating the Puppets

  • Put students into groups and have them create scenes with their animal characters.

Cup Marionette Activity

What you'll need:

  • 3 paper cups per student
  • 4 pieces of strong thread or string
  • A "control stick" (can be a twig, an old ruler, a curtain rod, etc.)

Making the Puppets

  1. Tie one end of each string in a knot.

  2. Insert 2 strings through a cup from inside, as shown. This is the puppet's "head cup."

  3. Attach the other 2 strings from inside the "feet cups" as shown.

  4. Attach "feet cup" strings to "head cup" just as you did before.

  5. Decorate the puppets.

Manipulating the Puppets

Newspaper Puppet Activity

A great activity for older elementary students

You will need:

  • A whole lot of old newspapers. Figure a stack 6-12 inches tall for each group of three or four students.
  • Lots of masking tape. Figure 4 or 5 rolls per group. (Masking tape is fortunately really cheap.)

Making the Puppets

Manipulating the Puppets

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pre-show activities

1. Discuss the idea of mythology with your students. What is a myth? How is it similar to, yet different from, a fairy tale? (Standards 1.5 and 6.2)

2. Show students on a map or globe where Greece is, and tell them why Greece and Greek stories hold a special place in the history of Western civilization. (Standards 6.2 and 6.7)

3. Read a version of the Perseus legend to your students. You will find one version, The Legend of Perseus and Medusa, in this study guide. Or see the Related Materials section of the study guide for complete information on books by Warwick Hutton, Ann Pilling, or Anne Rockwell, which have other versions. (Standards 1.5, 3.2, and 6.2)

4. Talk about puppetry with your students. Ask how many of them have seen the muppets and other puppets on TV. Also ask how many of them have played with puppets in the past. Discuss the difference between theater with living actors and theater with puppets. Also discuss the difference between watching puppets on television or movies and watching them live. (Standards 1.1 and 1.4)

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after the show

1. Have the students brainstorm a list of character traits or qualities (such as: kind, generous, wise, thoughtful, brave, resourceful, considerate, adventurous, patient, sympathetic, silly, loyal, responsible, courageous, risk-taker, problem solver, curious, lazy, evil, selfish, disrespectful, foolish, loving, shy, serious, smart, dependable, polite). Have each student select two or three and tell how Perseus exhibited those qualities during the course of the story. (Standards 1.4, 3.2, and 3.5)

2. Have students draw or paint pictures of characters or scenes from The Adventures of Perseus. (Standard 1.3)

3. Have students make their own puppets. (See suggested Puppet-making Activities in this study guide.) These puppets can be related to the story of Perseus, or could portray characters from the students' own imaginations. After the students are finished making their puppets, put them in groups and have the puppets act out a scene of the students' own devising. (Standard 1.3)

4. Go over the information in the History of Puppetry section of this study guide. Discuss the different types of puppets that were used in The Adventures of Perseus. How are those puppets similar to puppets that they were previously familiar with or have made themselves? How are they different? (Standard 1.4)

5. Have the students write letters to the actor/puppeteers in The Adventures of Perseus. Please have the students tell us what they liked or didn't like about the show. Then mail the letters to us at Education Department, McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540. (Standard 1.4)

6. Discuss how our performance differed from the version of Perseus' legend that you read to the class. Why do the students think we changed what we changed? In general, why do the students think that artists change stories from history, literature, or mythology that they put on stage or on film? (Standard 1.4)

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related materials

The following books and web sites were used in the preparation of this study guide:

Buchanan, Matt. "Puppets in the Drama Classroom." 3 January 2000.

Copp, Linda A. "Sunnie BunnieZZ Storytellers Puppetry Home Page." 16 November 1999.

Hutton, Warwick. Perseus. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1993.

Learning Exchange. "Family Play Activities." 18 November 1999.

Morford, Mark P.O. and Robert J. Lenardon. "Chapter 19: Perseus and the Legends of Argos," Classical Mythology, Sixth Edition, Online. New York: Longman, 1999. 17 November 1999.

Pilling, Ann. Realms of Gold: Myths and Legends from Around the World. New York: Kingfisher Books, 1993.

"Puppetry." Encyclopedia Britannica. Online Edition. 1999. 12 January 2000.

Rockwell, Anne. The One-Eyed Giant and Other Monsters from Greek Myths. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1996.

"Third Grade Literature Overview March." 15 December 1999

Walker, Lois. "Easy Puppets Page." 18 November 1999.

Yomiuri Shimbun Osaka Head Office. "An Introduction to Bunraku." 1998. 6 January 2000.

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