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:
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1 in 4 U.S. students say they have been bullied and 70.6% of young people say they have been “bystanders” (witnessed bullying). As adults we may find ourselves at a loss for what to say or do, so how do we stop this epidemic? Empowerment is key. When we define bullying and its many forms we can employ strategies and tactics that turn our youth from bystanders into upstanders. MicheLee Puppets uses puppetry as a disarming and relate-able way to convey these messages to students in A Good Day for Pancake (K-2nd grade) and The Upstander League (3-5th grade).
Start the bully prevention conversation with your youth by using DRT– Definition, Roles and Tactics. Make it a game! Role play the different types of bullying to allow your child to practice being an Upstander. Remember, these tactics aren’t just for kids, adults can use them too.
Bullying is intentional behavior that is repeated or has the potential to be repeated. It creates a real or perceived imbalance of power and is used to harm someone and their reputation. Some examples are:
Person exhibiting bullying behavior
Person being Targeted by the bullying behavior
Bystander- someone who witnesses bullying
Upstander- someone who witnesses bullying and does something to stop it
Encourage your child to report in person, so that they can clarify the facts. If they are nervous, reporting can be done in a note, even written anonymously if they fear retaliation.
Why is REPORTING important?
In order to have the proper resources to combat bullying, reporting is essential. Many states report bullying through school INCIDENT RECORDS rather than through student surveys. States then report only a 1% bullying rate. 2 out of 3 schools report 0 cases, and yet according to the The National Center for Education Statistics 21 of every 100 kids ages 12 – 18 are bullied at school. 1 in 10 students cite repeated bullying as the reason they drop out.
“Be a Friend” is a crucial, especially with social/emotional bullying. This tactic can be one of the most difficult to use because it can mean standing up to friends, however, the more people who use this tactic, the more effective it becomes.
We often hear of “frenemies”, individuals who suddenly exclude or spread rumors about a friend. It is up to bystanders to become upstanders and combat this behavior with friendship.
Whether or not you and the TARGET are friends, you can still “be a friend” by speaking up for the TARGET, including them in groups, and refusing to spread rumors. And, of course, report any bullying behavior to an adult that you trust.
“Ignore the bully” works especially when groups of people participate. To ignore the bully is not to ignore the situation. Reporting is an essential component. Many people bully because they want to get attention. Simply refusing to be an audience can stop bullying in its tracks.
This tactic is crucial for cyberbullying. Don’t respond online, even if it is to stand up for the TARGET of the bullying. Report the bullying to a trusted adult, then delete.
Distracting a BULLY can help a TARGET escape a dangerous situation. Talk directly to the bully, even use their name and do something to get their attention.
Upstanders can shout something like “Hey (insert bully’s name) the cafeteria’s giving out free ice cream right now!” or “The Principal is coming.” Upstanders can even find funny videos on their device to show the bully or dance around wildly to get their attention. What other distractions can you and your child create?
Creating an excuse such as “Your Mom is here to pick you up” can help remove a TARGET from a dangerous situation. This technique is especially important to combat physical bullying.
Be prepared! Practice excuses that can remove a Target from a bullying situation. Think of public locations such as a playground, library, party, etc. and come up with excuses that could apply in each location. Determine which excuses will work in a school setting.
Your child may have questions about lying related to giving excuses. Remind your child that these excuses are for emergency situations (similar to stranger danger) to keep someone from getting hurt.
Standing up can take many forms, but at its essence, it means to tell the bully to stop. People may think of physical violence, such as in “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie, a TARGET of bullying, fights back bloodying the bully’s nose. This is not what we mean. By adding to violence, it puts more people in danger. Words Have Power.
Tell the bully to stop. Get others to do the same. Groups are powerful against bullying. If someone is spreading rumors, verbally bullying someone, or physically bullying them, tell them to stop. Speak with confidence. Then report the bullying to a trusted adult.
The Upstander League -A Bully Story from MicheLee Puppets on Vimeo. On his first day at a new school, Steven becomes the target of bullying. Instead of helping, his peers join in, leaving Steven feeling powerless. Learn how upstanders can make a difference in a bullying situation by using tactics such as “Be a Friend” and “Stand Up to the Bully.” MicheLee Puppets makes learning fun with shadow puppetry in The Upstander League “A Bully Story.”
Join “The Upstander League”! Learn how to stand up to bullying with “The Upstander League” official handbook! The Upstander League includes everyday citizens, like you, who witness bullying and do something to stop it. With this comic book, you will have the tactics to help stop any bullying situation. Enjoy stories and activities that will take you from witness to Upstander.
Be informed. Use these resources for more information on bully prevention:
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