Exoskeleton takes strain off puppeteers
Puppet theatre in Augsburg uses Ottobock exoskeleton in new cabaret programme
On 31 December 2019, the puppeteers of the Augsburger Puppenkiste, a puppet theatre in Augsburg, Germany, began working with an unusual device. In their cabaret show, which is scheduled to play until the end of June 2020, the puppeteers are now using the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton from Ottobock for the first time. “Holding and moving the hand puppets above your head for several minutes at a stretch is really hard work,” says Klaus Marschall, owner of Augsburger Puppenkiste, which became especially well known for its television productions in the 1960s with the characters Jim Knopf and Urmel. “The exoskeleton is an incredible help to the puppeteers in this situation. It takes the strain off their shoulders and upper arms so they can concentrate more on performing and are less tired out after the show.”
The puppeteer wears the Paexo Shoulder close to the body, similar to a backpack. The weight of their lifted arms is directed via arm shells to the hips, by means of mechanical pull-cable technology. This provides noticeable relief for the muscles and joints in the shoulder area, and moving the hand puppets overhead is much more comfortable. “We tested the exoskeleton in various situations over the course of several months. It’s a huge help when we’re performing with the hand puppets, and we will also use it in the marionette theatre in future where the situation requires it – which is any time the marionette is used on an elevated prop and the puppeteer really has to stretch,” says Marschall. One example is a piece called “A Little Magic Flute,” where the character Tamino is standing on a hill. In this position, the puppeteer has to hold the control bar with the marionette’s strings above their head.
Ottobock developed the Paexo Shoulder together with Volkswagen to support employees in production during strenuous overhead installation tasks. The exoskeleton, which has been on the market since October 2018, is now use by various sectors, including aviation and automotive companies, the food industry and logistics, and at shipyards and building sites, where it is used for tasks such as installing cables under ceilings. “It’s also used in rather unusual situations – like the Augsburger Puppenkiste – which we think is especially great,” says Dr Sönke Rössing, Head of Ottobock Industrials. “This demonstrates our exoskeleton’s full potential – because it supports any type of work above the user’s shoulders and head.”
The partnership between the Augsburger Puppenkiste and Ottobock began when one of the puppeteers came across the product online. Klaus Marschall then got in touch with the med-tech company to test how the exoskeleton worked behind the stage. “Our team of 18 puppeteers is exposed to extreme physical strain. In the past, we often had team members who were unable to perform due to back pain, so now we take a preventive approach. A physiotherapist comes to do exercises with us every two weeks, for example. And the Paexo Shoulder will now help to make our workplace a healthier one as well.”
The puppeteers particularly appreciate the fact that the exoskeleton is geared towards natural human movements. They can move freely behind the stage while wearing it and can bend over, walk, sit and lift objects. Weighing just 1.9 kilograms, the Paexo Shoulder is the lightest exoskeleton of its kind. Ottobock’s portfolio of products for healthier workplaces also includes the Paexo Neck and Soft Back as well as the Paexo Wrist and Thumb.
Photo 1 - Puppeteer Hans Kautzmann rehearses the “meerkat routine” for the theatre’s 2020 cabaret programme. He holds both of the puppets – which he operates with his arms – overhead for up to ten minutes. The Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton from Ottobock relieves his muscles and joints in the shoulder area as he does so.
Photo 2 - The Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton from Ottobock supports puppeteer Hans Kautzmann as he works. It enables him to hold the pair of meerkat puppets overhead for longer, meaning he can concentrate more on the actual performance.
Photo 3 - In future, the Augsburger Puppenkiste will also be using the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton for their marionette theatre when performing with characters on elevated props.
Photo 4 - Klaus Marschall, the owner of the Augsburger Puppenkiste, and his team of 18 puppeteers tested the Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton from Ottobock over the course of several months.