Sometimes called a “living doll”, a puppet manipulated in front of the puppeteer, with the puppeteer’s head, and sometimes hands, appearing as that of the puppet. Typically, the puppet body is much smaller than the human head. The puppeteer manipulates the hands and/or body to bring the character to life.
Humanettes are most likely to be seen at a fair or as a theatre specialty act. The puppet body hangs from the neck of the manipulator and is animated through a slit in a backdrop or using the staging technique of a curtain of light. The arms are manipulated using horizontal rods, with the feet freely following the movement of the puppet. Sometimes rods are employed to manipulate the feet too, as in the case of a tap dancer whose feet move, but whose hands hang. Sometimes two manipulators operate a single character, with one manipulator performing the head and arms and the second animating the feet. During the 19th century, humanettes, known in German as “kakautskys” and in French by the rather vaguer term “fantoches”, were used to parade in front of fairground stalls to attract people and to perform interludes during plays.
The Blue Blouse troupes of the years immediately following the Russian revolution sometimes employed humanettes as a form of living newspaper for the purposes of agit-prop. In the film version of the operetta Naughty Marietta (directed by Victor Herbert, starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, 1935) there is a scene where Marietta is working at the “Marionette Theater”. The “marionette” show performed in the film is a splendid humanette sequence. Some music-hall artistes have made use of this technique, notably the French couple Shirley and Dino (known as Achille Tonic), in a skit where humanettes play the xylophone and tap dance. Humanette acts, such as the comic ballet routines with humanette dancers, Marianne Humainette and George “Stumpy” Spelvin (performed by Carolyn Carvajal and Corinne Levy, Dudley Brooks and Rick Nixon), can also be seen on YouTube.
René Aubry and Philippe Genty’s humanette performance, Floppiennco (2008), with Christina Hecq, Alice Osborne, Scott Koehler “wearing” miniature floppy yellow garments, create exciting characters and movement to rousing Spanish guitar. Teatro de Marionetas La Estrella of Valencia, Spain, frequently use humanettes combined with other forms of puppetry and mask work, most notably in El circo malvarrosa (The Wonderful Circus). A sequence in Salmagundy by Perry Alley Theatre (Andrew and Bonnie Periale, New Hampshire, United States) is performed with a humanette character. Trukitrek of Barcelona, Spain, a physical theatre company that uses puppets extensively, have a complete whodunit, Hotel Crab (2009), performed by humanettes and, like the work of La Estrella, designed for both indoor and street performance.