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The puppeteer supplies "soul" and "heart" to a puppet with his charactarization & performance. It is the very quality I look for in good puppetry.
The puppet is indeed a prop or even more specific - a tool. It is created with a certain look & abitlity to achieve movement. Those two qualities, by themselves, don't mean much. A beautifully made puppet can still be manipulated with simple mechanical moves & complete a performance. Such a performance does little to capture or move an audience. They cannot empathize with a mechanical character & artificial actions. The audience may laugh & be charmed by the "cuteness", but all of this is a type of superficial relationship. It is a hollow example of the ability of puppetry.
A good puppeteer, using the puppet as an extension of his own body & mind, can produce a performance that transends the mechanical. He achieves a puppet that "breathes" and "feels". It reacts to stimuli in the moment. The puppeteer is totally absorbed into the character of the puppet & lives its performance. This is the "soul" or "heart" of the puppet. Audiences frequently discribe this puppet performance as "spooky". This is because they have been pulled into a deeper relationship with a clearly artificial character. They forgot the puppeteer & the mechanics of the puppet & experienced it's soul. This is the type of magic that good puppetry creates.
Without the puppeteer present, the puppet becomes the simple prop or tool, once again, except for the memories of performance that people may project onto a famous puppet displayed in an exhibit.