Burn Survivor Puppet Helps Heal

MicheLee Puppets began in 1985 when Tracey Conner moved to Orlando and realized that the “Kids on the Block” puppet show that she had been performing in Ohio, was needed in Central Florida.  

“Kids on the Block,” a disability awareness show, featured full-body, moveable mouth puppets. Puppeteers stood behind the characters, performing scenes and answering questions from the audience. Subjects ranged from physical disabilities, to emotional issues such as dealing with divorce.

 
 
 

 

The puppet characters had all sorts of unique qualities about them. Lynne, for instance had been burned. She wore compression sleeves and a mask to assist in the healing of her facial scars.

One day, MicheLee Puppets was contacted by a local school. Jacqueè was just starting 3rd grade at their school. She had recently been burned in a fire and they wondered if we had a show that could help introduce this concept to the other students. Tracey grabbed Lynne and off they went.

“We arrived at the school and performed the show,” remembers Tracey. “Lynne the puppet explained that she was the same on the inside, but on the outside she might look a little bit differently.  She showed the students her sleeves and her mask and told them about the skin graft surgeries that she had to have, which left scars on her body.”

The students sat quietly, mesmerized by Lynne and her story. At the end of the show the students had lots of questions.

“We placed a chair next to the stage and Jacqueè came up to sit with Lynne,” Tracey explained. “The children were very curious. Lynne answered many of their questions and then it was Jacqueè’s turn. A boy raised his hand and asked how she had been burned. Quietly, she told them that she had been playing by a campfire with her cousins when one of the boys threw a stick at her and it caught her clothes on fire. ‘I rolled on the ground, but I couldn’t put the fire out’ Jacquee said. As she spoke, a little tear rolled down her cheek…it makes me emotional just to think about it.”

The kids had more questions. Was she angry at her cousin? No, she knew it was an accident.

Finally, when all of their questions had been satisfied, the children all got up and surrounded Jacqueè with a giant group hug.

“As we were leaving, the principal stopped us,” recalls Tracey. “We learned that this was Jacqueè’s 2nd day of school. On the first 1st day no one would talk to her. Now it seemed that she was the most popular child in the school.”

MicheLee Puppets uses puppetry to bridge the gap between a child’s natural curiosity and their ability to grasp complex concepts. Our characters break down barriers, empowering children to be themselves and to have empathy for others.  We now use a variety of puppetry styles to convey important messages, but have kept our “Kids on the Block” characters for when they are needed. In fact, our newest show “Una Borinqueña en Florida” brings several of our characters out of retirement. Performed entirely in Spanish, this show helps youth heal from the trauma of relocating to Central Florida due to emergency situations.  Now a whole new generation of children are being empowered to talk about their feelings and heal together. Click Here to learn more about this new show and how to help youth in need.

 

 

More about “Kids on the Block” from its founding company:

Do you have students who could benefit from a MicheLee Puppets program? Check out our Touring Shows , Classes  and Videos! Contact denise@micheleepuppets.org for more information.

UPDATE: Make A Wish: Young Puppeteer’s Dream Comes True

In 2015 we had the honor of hosting Matty Smith and his family when the Make a Wish Foundation sent them to Orlando to fulfill Matty’s wish to be a puppeteer. Click Here to read about that joyful experience! 

We are delighted to have continued our relationship with Matty and his mom Taryn who sent a special message:

Since our first meeting we fell in love with Matty’s spirit and wanted to continue his connection to puppetry. Shortly after his visit, Producing Director, Jamie Donmoyer invited Matty and Taryn to his first National Puppetry Festival. Puppeteers from across the nation come together to watch shows, take classes, and explore the art of puppetry.  Matty got to meet Sesame Street puppeteers Carroll Spinney (Oscar/Big Bird) and Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby Cadabby) as well as a number of puppeteers from some of his favorite shows. At this festival, Matty also discovered the Puppetry Store, a place where puppeteers can purchase supplies, books, and other merchandise including puppets! How his face lit up when he found characters to take home and make his own!

Through texts, emails and visits we have stayed connected to Matty and Taryn. Matty has certainly faced some challenges, but he keeps his puppets with him, entertaining not only himself, but family and hospital staff as well. He now has a collection of characters that travel with him, and he brings each to life with its own distinct personality.

 

Matty even inspired puppet character ‘Marcus’ from our touring show “Mission STEAMpossible”. Like Matty, Marcus has a love for arts, an adventurous spirit, and uses a wheelchair due to the effects of Osteogenesis Imperfecta.  We love to introduce this endearing character to youth across Central Florida, many of whom see themselves in Marcus.

In 2019 we are excited to continue important programs including classes where people with unique abilities can learn to express themselves through the art of puppetry and movement. These classes will be held at our studio and are open to the public. To register, contact jamie@micheleepuppets.org  

It is through the generosity of donors like you that allow us to continue empowering lives through the art of puppetry. Click Here to make your tax deductible donation and positively impact the lives of youth.

 

2015 Stories of Impact: Staff Picks- Executive Director Tracey Conner meets “Policeman Kevin”

As we count down to the New Year, Executive Director Tracey Conner shares her favorite story of impact from 2015:

As I reflect on 2015, MicheLee Puppets has had a year filled with so many meaningful and important stories of impact. If I had to pick just one, I would have to say  2nd Grader Arrests Bully is my favorite for 2015.

What continues to impress me throughout the years is the immediacy with which the audience responds to the puppets and the message. In the case of Policeman Kevin, he was so affected by the behavior of our bully puppet, that he was compelled to take action, putting on the persona of a police officer and threatening to “arrest” the bully. Kevin’s classmates, having just watched A Good Day For Pancake which taught them to stand together as upstanders, immediately came to assist him. They wanted to know why “Willie Walker” (the bully puppet) would behave in such a way, and together they stood up to him, just as the group of puppets had done in the show they had just seen.

Kevin’s heart was touched with compassion when he witnessed a bullying situation. He took the bully prevention tactic “Stand up to the Bully” to heart and he and his classmates became upstanders!

The students watched the show and got the message so clearly that when confronted with our bully puppet, they could spontaneously put into practice what they had just learned. Because of this experience, this
puppet show, these students now know what to do in real life. They are empowered to stand together to be strong. It’s a beautiful thing.

You can empower children, like Kevin and his classmates, to stand up to bullies with your tax deductible gift to MicheLee Puppets. If 10 people give $30, we can reach 100 children! Thank you for your support.

Make A Wish: A Young Puppeteer’s Dream Comes True

With a mission of empowering lives through the Art of Puppetry, most days at MicheLee Puppet are special, but helping to fulfill the dream of Matty Smith, a boy whose wish is to be a puppeteer, ranks at the top.

Matty’s journey begins in New Hampshire, at the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s breakfast event. As he watches his mother speak onstage, Matty has no idea that he is about to be whisked away to Orlando, Florida where Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and MicheLee Puppets await!

 

 

Walt Disney World puppeteer Eric Sweetman meets the Smiths at the park entrance for a tour of everything puppetry. Presenting Matty with a puppet crafted by Magic Child Creative’s Jason Stanley, the Smiths are treated to backstage tours and meet and greets that a rare few witness.

But Matty’s wish is to perform (specifically puppeteer) at Walt Disney World: a nearly impossible task. WDW shows contain safety hazards requiring puppeteers to be highly trained before ever stepping foot (or arm) onstage. Luckily, 3 of those highly trained professionals are waiting at MicheLee Puppets for Matty’s arrival.

Featuring live shows and videos, MicheLee Puppets has the unique ability to make Matty’s performing wish come true. With help from the Central Florida Puppet Guild’s April Tennyson, Megan Boye, and Miker Heyn, the puppets are constructed, the characters are dressed and MicheLee Puppets is ready to film its latest “Rhyme Time” video, featuring Matty as a special guest puppeteer.

Arriving at MicheLee Puppets’ studio, the Smiths are greeted by Executive Director, Tracey Conner with WDW puppeteer alumni James and Jamie Donmoyer, and John Kennedy (current Sesame Street performer). Soon Matty is swept away into the memories of former WDW puppet shows including “The Disney Crew”, “The Legend of the Lion King”, and his favorite “Bear in the Big Blue House”. Pictures and puppets help him step into his performing dreams as he tries on one of the former Disney Crew puppets, but it is the guitar playing purple member of the “Electric Socketz” that brings him to life (with some inspiration from the red hen).

Singing on camera to the New Kids on the Block, Matty and his brothers warm up for their big scene. Television puppeteer John Kennedy shows the boys how to perform group choreography and the B-I-N-G-O puppets dance onto the screen. Soon numbers replaces letters and the jokes begin to fly!

“Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7,8,9!”

A room full of giggles with puppets popping up from every corner, Matty and his brothers are treated to creating puppet characters of their own. John Kennedy surprises the boys with a copy of his puppet-making book “Puppet Mania” and they pour over the pages in preparation for creating their characters. Volunteer (and professional artist) Ron Jaffe helps 3yr old Joey create an alien, while 8 yr old Ben goes the Disco route. 13 yr old Matty has his heart set on bringing home a red hen and while he needs some assistance with the implementation, he knows what he wants and makes sure that Jamie Donmoyer gets every detail complete, including a waddle, furry feathers, and blue eyelids.

Fur flying, glue guns heating and eyeballs googling, the boys finish their creations just as the final surprise is revealed. Matty’s eyes widen as professional puppeteer John Tartaglia, star of The Disney Channel’s “Johnny and the Sprites” arrives to greet him. A star-struck Matty can’t wait to show John everything he has done so far and John joins in the fun, spending the rest of the morning playing with puppets on camera.

The experience wraps up far too soon for all, and before he leaves, Matty is presented with a MicheLee Puppets’ “Honorary Puppeteer” button and framed certificate (designed by the talented Ron Jaffe). An indescribable morning of puppetry fun, the Smiths leave with a new book and new puppets, but have left those at MicheLee Puppets with so much more. A powerful day empowering lives through the art of puppetry, and making a wish come true.

Make-A-Wish® grants the wish of a child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition in the United States and its territories, on average, every 38 minutes. For more information on Make-A-Wish® visit http://wish.org