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Puppets—Before the Show

Steven Leggett

A puppet ministry is a great way to teach children basic Christian values. Children often listen and respond better to puppets than they do to teachers. But as you might guess, there's more to a puppet ministry than puppets and a stage.

To revive or begin a puppet ministry, you'll need to put together a plan, a team, puppets, a stage, and the drive to accomplish your ambition.

Make a Plan
Decide what you hope to get out of your puppet ministry. Do you want a small show once a month in a Sunday school classroom? Or do you want a show that proclaims God's Word to children on television (think public access)? Either is honorable; the plan will help you and your team agree on what you're aiming for. Does your church have a bus ministry? You might present shows at bus stops to promote the ministry.

Choose Your Puppet Team
Your church's youth group or older elementary-age kids may play a part in this step. Recruit four or five teenagers. Surprisingly, shy kids make excellent puppeteers. They often have hidden creativity, and puppetry can even help them learn to socialize.

Set up a regular practice schedule for your puppet team. Practice at least an hour a week until your team can perform the show smoothly. To rehearse how to handle unexpected situations, throw in some wrinkles such as what to do if a puppet's hair falls off during a show.

Make practices fun and interesting. Keep kids eagerly coming to practices by providing pizza one night and banana splits another. Videotape practice sessions so team members can see how they're doing.

Give team members at least 10 compliments for every criticism you make.

Select Your Puppets
Now that you've made your plans and picked your team, decide what kind of puppets you'll use. There are two popular types of puppets.

Many churches use hand-and-rod puppets, which are similar to Muppets. They're excellent for creating fantasy settings for younger children. However, they're not as great for reality-based messages aimed at older kids.

Marionettes are great for church settings, especially in more serious settings where the comical appearance of a hand-and-rod puppet might be less tasteful, such as a Christmas or Easter story. Unlike hand-and-rod puppets, marionettes aren't bound to the ground, so an angel can actually fly. Two drawbacks of marionettes are that they're harder to make and more expensive to buy.

• Buying Puppets-Puppets of either main type can be very expensive, with prices ranging from $15 for a small puppet to several hundred for an animated body suit. See the "Puppet Resource Showcase" on pages 115-116 for puppet supplier information.
• Making Puppets-To save money, consider making your puppets. One Way Street (; 800-569-4537) carries reasonably inexpensive puppet patterns with easy-to-follow directions that can help you create a quality puppet. As you become more experienced in puppet-making, you can save additional money by altering the same patterns slightly and varying the materials for new puppets. For example, use fake fur instead of cloth, and change human ears to dog ears. You'll have a unique puppet that no one else has.

Setting the Stage
Stages don't necessarily need to be elaborate. A puppet stage can be anything from a curtain hung across a doorway to an expensive, purchased stage. You can create an excellent stage from a refrigerator box by cutting a square hole at the top for the stage and at the bottom of the back for puppeteers to enter.

Raise the Curtain
Now that you're ready to go, remember two things: If your plan isn't working, change it. And God is the most valuable member of your team.
Get busy, you've got a lot of work-and a lot of reward-ahead of you! cm

Steven Leggett is a children's pastor in Bloomington, California.

Check out these resources for more helpful information about starting a puppet ministry in your church.
The Complete Book of Puppetry by George Latshaw includes everything from strengthening your puppet arm with exercises to making puppets. Dover Publications, $10.95; (516) 294-7000;
• Marionettes: How to Make and Work Them by Helen Fling is the best book available for creating and using marionettes. Dover Publications, $8.95; (516) 294-7000;
The Most Excellent Book of How to Be a Puppeteer by Roger Lade is written for children from ages 9 to 12. A great resource to get kids in on the act too. Copper Beech Books, $6.95;
• Puppets: Ministry Magic by Dale and Liz VonSeggen is a primer for everyone who works with puppets. Plus, there are nine ready-to-use scripts. Group Publishing, $15.95; 800-635-0404;

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