A water puppet stands on a round wooden plate which can rotate around its horizontal axis with a rudder at the bottom. The plate is linked with a long pole which the puppeteer uses to move the puppet on the water. Ropes or string run from the puppet’s articulation through pulleys and along the pole to the performers.
To move puppets to a far distance from the manipulation room, poles with pulleys are placed under the water to connect the strings between puppets and performers.
With the skilful manipulation by the performers, the puppets can swim, catch fish, cross sword, row a boat, raise a flock of ducks, dance, jump high in the sky, spurt fire and kick a ball.
Puppets maker must be good at designing, wood sculpture and have a good knowledge of the complicated movements of water puppets.
When working out a water puppet item, first of all artisans think of movements and operation mechanism of puppets in order to make puppets with proper structures.
For istance, Uncle Teu has two arms moving around a vertical axis. Fairies‘ arms can wave around the axis perpendicular to their body. Teu’s arms has a single articulation while fairies’s arms have joints at their hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders. More complicated puppets have very special structures: dragons that can sprut fires and water, fishes or frogs that snatch bait.
Source: Pham Hoang Hai, “Traditional Water Puppetry”