On Easter Sunday last year, we introduced Blacklight Puppetry to our children’s church program with a huge success. Up to this point in our puppet experience we focused on hand puppets, but this addition is opening doors to new and exciting opportunities.
What is Blacklight Puppetry?
It’s performing puppetry in the dark with only a black light for illumination and using puppets that stand out or “glow” under the lights. Anything you don’t want the audience to see is covered in black, so if you have a theater with black curtains, only the puppets show up.
With black lights, you can make a large backdrop out of black material and have your puppeteers dress in black from head to foot and perform outside the stage. This allows you to use full body puppets where the audience can see their legs and gives you more room for creativity in performing your play.
A big plus to using black lights is you can make backgrounds that fluoresce and cause the audience sit back and say “wow.” You can make background items out of fluorescent poster board and paint the backside black. During the performance set the black side toward the audience so it appears as though there is nothing there and then when the time is right, turn it and it gives the illusion that it appeared out of nowhere.
There are reasonably priced black light puppets available with skin and clothing that “glow” under the black light. You can also make your own using foam and painting it with fluorescent paint.
How Did We Get Started in Black Light Puppetry?
Throughout our ministry, we’ve focused our puppetry on using arm rod puppets and a couple of human arm puppets. I’d heard about black light puppetry, but didn’t know anything about it.
I was asked to teach a weekly puppet class at a nearby non-public school and planned to team up with a guy that had used black light puppets in the past, so that was to be part of our curriculum. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for the guy to teach with me. I wound up doing the class myself, but still wanted to include teaching on using black lights in puppetry.
To do the teaching, I had to do some personal study. The first place I went to was Puppets from One Way Street, a company that sells puppets and puppet supplies including black light materials. (They also sell puppet programming, gospel magic tricks, ballooning supplies, and other materials used in children’s ministry.)
In searching their site, I came across a DVD called “How to Start a Blacklight Ministry” with John Coen. It sounded like it would cover what we needed to get started, so I ordered it and recommend it to anyone interested in starting or developing a blacklight ministry.
When it comes to black light puppets, several companies sell them online, but there isn’t a big assortment to choose from. Most companies sell the same puppets, so I just shopped around to find the best deal. We were able to purchase a full-bodied boy and girl puppet and two clown fish puppets for under $200.
When starting this emphasis in our puppet ministry, we obviously had to get some blacklights. We don’t have a huge budget for our ministry, so I wanted to start out as inexpensively as possible.
Our first blacklight was a small flashlight ordered from Puppets from One Way Street online. It’s a great tool to find out what colors, fabrics, and papers fluoresce. Before getting the flashlight, we had purchased a packet of foam sheets that looked like they would fluoresce well, but when put under an actual black light they barely glowed. If I had the light in the store, I would have known not to buy them. Now, whenever I buy or make anything for black light use it gets checked with the flashlight first.
When purchasing the actual black lights for our theater, I went to our local shopping center and found a 24 inch black light for about fifteen dollars and purchased two of them. The room our puppet theater is in has no windows allowing us to get it very dark so the two lights work great. Depending on your space and how dark you can make it, you may need more.
We mounted them at the top of our permanent theater so they shine down on the puppets. If you intend to do the puppets outside the theater, you’ll probably want to mount lights above the puppets and on the floor so you can illumine the entire puppet.
If you’ve never tried blacklight puppets, they are an excellent addition to your puppet experience. Start small to see how they work and then grow them based on response and excitement.