A narrow shelf placed along the front of a glove puppet stage held in place by solid triangular, usually wooden, pieces attached to the framework of the booth. The shelf may extend for a few inches or centimetres beyond the front opening of the booth or behind, or both, but sightlines are always a consideration. The playboard serves as the stage floor for props, scenery and for the puppet itself. For example, a Punch show will use it as a seat, as a place for Punch to lay down and count his various victims, and as a support for the hangman’s gallows. In Italy extensive use is made of the playboard as the puppet hits it with wooden hands, with a stick or even with its head as a comic means of emphasizing speech and providing an additional rhythmic dimension to the performance.
The playboard may be the top of an open booth, or can be framed by a complete proscenium arch which allows for the entrances and exits of characters and when made of wood may serve as a vertical extension of the playboard and be used for percussive effect like the playboard itself.
The curtain, which hides the puppeteer, is fixed below the playboard and often has slits or cloth panels through which puppets can also appear, notably in the case of the crocodile in Punch and Judy. This arrangement can allow for play between a figure on the playboard and one appearing just below it.
Away from the street show, on more elaborate glove and rod puppet stages, the playboard has mainly a framing function or serves as a support for props and pieces of scenery and has little role in the action. Often it does not project, but is placed directly behind the bottom of the scenic opening. It may be equipped with holes to plug in props or scenery or even larger openings through which puppets or scenic elements can appear. In some cases it can be removed and replaced by another one on which scenery is already mounted and in some cases may even have detachable sections.
Directly below the playboard on the inside of the booth or stage is a secondary shelf where props can be stored in readiness for use, and below this again often a row of hooks on which to hang puppets, a rack to hold them, or even another shelf or strip of fabric on which they can be placed.
- Philpott, Alexis Robert. Dictionary of Puppetry. Boston: Plays Inc., 1969.
- Philpott, Alexis Robert. Dictionary of Puppetry. London: Macdonald, 1969.