A puppet where the fingers of the puppeteer constitutes the principal form of manipulation (either elevated manipulation or same-level manipulation). Sergei Obraztsov defines the term as “a doll operated by a bare hand with a ball at the tip of the index – it is like the anatomic formula of a glove puppet” (Mon métier) – and talks of his “Full-Hand puppets” (cf. Bare Hand Puppetry).
This designation incorporates a group of puppets that use either a single finger that loosely resembles a body with some kind of head stuck on the top or the whole hand leaving the fingers free, except one that becomes the head. All the fingers can be used simultaneously, to represent a crowd, a family, a choir, a zoo. A single gloved hand becomes an entire theatre: the palm of the hand (where the scene is displayed) becomes the stage and each finger, a character. Thus, up to five people can be shown on stage at the same time.
A finger puppet can take the shape of a gloved finger onto which distinctive features are drawn – nose, eyes, mouth, hair, hat, the sketch of a costume or even abstract zoomorphic traits. This type of puppet can serve as a visual support for small-scale interpretations of tales (or stories with numerous characters) in a puppet theatre scaled down to suit the size of fingers or in the area between the torso and the arm. By simply placing a sleeve that resembles a curtain onto it, a “natural puppet theatre” for same level manipulation is obtained. If the index and the middle finger are bare or dressed in a tutu or trousers, or if they have socks drawn on, they become the legs of the puppet. The torso, arm and head are placed on the back of the hand, held in place with an elastic band, stitched to a glove or attached to the wrist by a velcro bracelet. If the ring finger, the little finger and the thumb are bent into the palm, the hand gives the illusion of a character. In his show Le Cirque (The Circus, 1975), Bjorn Fühler visibly manipulated, on a string placed in front of him, two fully equipped tightrope walkers. By simply placing his hand horizontally, with his middle finger in the air like a trunk, two big ears stuck underneath and the other fingers forming the legs, and with the addition of a small tail, he conjures an elephant. Other accessories can characterize other animals.
Another way of making finger puppets consists in taking a single ball and placing it on the index finger. Two puppeteers have used this type of finger puppet: Sergei Obraztsov and Frédéric O’Brady. The former performed a number with two characters over Tchaikovsky’s melody, Nous étions tous deux au bord des flots (We were both at the edge of the waves), taking two balls onto which he inserted a square nose and drew two simple lines to represent the eyes of the male and two crosses for that of the female. A black surface was their hair. He placed these two heads onto his bare hands and went as far as erasing every detail on the balls: “I wanted to interpret with my puppets the poems of Mayakovsky expressed in Attitude à avoir avec une demoiselle (Attitude to Have with a Girl) … the characters have to be deprived of any characteristic trait; that is to say adjectives. Therefore, I took two simple balls of wood of different sizes, without giving them a nose, or painting the eyes or the mouth, thus rendering my characters as laconic as they were in Mayakovsky’s drawings in the Rosta Windows” (Mon métier). O’Brady, of Hungarian origin, who was an actor, dancer, composer, professor, journalist, and puppeteer, learnt string puppet manipulation with Géza Blattner, glove puppet manipulation with Marcel Temporal and, from 1940 onwards, he performed his own shows: L’invitation à la valse (Invitation to the Dance/Waltz, original German: Aufforderung zum Tanz) by Carl Maria von Weber; Laideronnette (Little Ugly Girl) of Maurice Ravel; Valse triste (Sad Waltz) of Jean Sibelius; a sarabande and gavotte by J.S. Bach; one of Frédéric Chopin’s preludes; two pieces of jazz; and Les Patineurs, Les Entretiens de la Belle et la Bête (The Skaters, Conversation of Beauty and the Beast) by Ravel, with bare hands, with a small head attached to each index.
For his part, Jean-Paul Hubert, the spiritual son of Sergei Obraztsov, is solidly implanted in two enormous red shoes and hidden behind an equally red velvet stage that is bordered in gold. He wears, on his shoulders and head, his “Théâtricule” (a small table about 60 centimetres wide) “the smallest big top in the world”. Here, he presents Le Baron de Münchhausen, Saint George et le Dragon, Le Sculpteur, Le Grand Turc, Le Docteur Faust, reciting the text as voice-over and illustrating his interpretation by manipulating finger puppets. His hands are simply gloved; he places a ball decorated with only the facial essentials on a finger that he chooses depending on the character. Between each play, the artist salutes the audience by opening his Théâtricule, revealing an impressive array of heads and accessories attached to belts.
“Make-up hands” equally offer a very large variety of possibilities. One just has to take the time to flip through the works of Mario Mariotti, like Animani (Animains, 1980) and Umani (Hu-mains, 1982). In these works we find, typically of Mariotti, a fascination with hand shadows, but the unbridled inventiveness of this author is a marvel, as can be seen by the Arlecchino (Harlequin) made by the palm side of a hand, using make-up to represent the traditional multi-coloured triangles, the thumb and the index forming the arms on the side whilst the three other fingers, in black, are bent inwards and the eyes, drawn onto the nails of the middle finger, gaze at the audience.