Walk Out with a Smile: Serious fun at the Puppetry Institute PDF Print E-mail
Written by Suki Wessling   

Puppetry doesn’t begin and end with socks and googly eyes.

That’s the first message you hear from puppeteer Ricki Vincent, who runs The Puppetry Institute, currently housed in the Capitola Mall next door to the Children’s Museum of Discovery.

Students at the Institute start at eight, well past the age of sock puppets, and continue through adulthood. They learn to design, build, write stories, and act as they take puppetry to a level that most kids never experience.

“The art subjects that we tackle carry all the core STEAM principles,” Vincent explains, invoking the acronym that is currently in vogue in American education—science, technology, engineering, art, and math. “You can’t build a 22-hand unicorn without using geometry, physics, engineering skills, art, social studies, history, culture.”


“Grandma, do you have any cloth I can use?”

Vincent’s own story informs his approach to teaching puppetry. He had “the sort of mom who woke a kid up in the middle of the night to show him something cool”—in this case, Jim Henson’s Muppets in an early TV appearance. Ricki was so inspired by Henson’s inchworm that “there were inchworms everywhere—it looked like an infestation!”

Vincent suggests that children’s waning interest in puppetry has more to do with lack of resources than any image of puppets as “little kid stuff.” He finds that if you support kids with the technological knowhow needed, their puppetry grows along with their intellectual and emotional growth.


Puppetry is math…and more

Part of his mission is to use puppetry to connect academic learning with creativity and self-expression.

“We did an assembly at Bayview Elementary,” Vincent remembers. “I started with twenty minutes of a dragon show, then broke the fourth wall and told them what I did. We talked about all the subjects they were bored in—math is the biggest one. I explain to them how math relates to how I built the puppet. It was a math teacher who taught me how to make eyes blink.”

Commonly used in therapy, puppetry gives all children a safe way to grow emotionally. After building puppets with a variety of facial expressions, for example, a student came back with an observation to share with his teacher: “‘I can tell when my mom’s angry and happy and when she’s thinking really hard just by looking at her face now!”

“They get that cognitive click,” Vincent explains.

“For me, the Puppetry Institute represents not only the manifestation of creativity in the form of puppets but a wider world where fantasy meets reality,” says Patrice Keet, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Discovery. “The passion and knowledge of Ricki and his able assistants inspire confidence in even the novice puppet-maker.”


Moving past fun and games

The Puppetry Institute is supported by grants and donations through The Children are our Future, a nonprofit that supports a variety of leadership and education programs for local children. Vincent’s latest puppetry goal is again inspired by his life.

“My transgender daughter reunited with me when she was seventeen,” Vincent explains. “She was a wreck because she had no one to vent to and no one to talk to.”

Vincent helped her face and overcome her anxieties and he watched her blossom into the person she had the potential to be. “Now she’s out there in the world and doing amazing things because she had an outlet.”

Our Stories: Support for LGBT+ kids

Through his new program, Our Stories, he hopes to recreate his experience with his daughter on a larger scale, supporting, LGBT+ kids and their allies in creating a show from the ground up. With help from the youth program at the Diversity Center, Vincent will guide kids in writing their stories, creating their puppets, building a large set, and performing their show for the public.

“We’re hoping they can move on with their lives free of that burden of never being able to tell that story to anyone,” he explains.

But all of this comes with a cost, which is community support. The Puppetry Institute is appealing to the community to support this program through tax-deductible donations.

In any case, the doors are open for kids of any age (including adults) to come in and learn about puppetry.

“Come on by,” Ricki says. “Nobody ever walks out without a smile.”


Find out more about The Puppetry and help support its programs:

The Puppetry Institute: https://www.thepuppetryinstitute.org/

Support for the Puppetry Institute: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=5148966

The Children are our Future: http://www.thechildrenareourfuture.org/      


Suki Wessling is a local writer and the mother of two teens. Read more at www.SukiWessling.com.

Last Updated on Saturday, 03 March 2018 05:56
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