You have puppets. You have a stage. You have an audience. What you don’t have is time, or enough staff to present puppet shows. Or perhaps you have the time and the staff, but you are looking for an activity to attract teens to your library.
Anyone who has worked with teens knows that teens prefer to do programs, not just attend them. A puppetry troupe provides a hands-on program for teens that offers many attractive options: for the teen, it is something to do–especially when they are pre-driving and pre-job age. Volunteering adds luster to college applications, and credibility to job applications in the future. Teens can use their creative skills in a positive way, get community recognition, and get to play too! Even though they’re older, they still have enough child in them to enjoy the opportunity to make things, and creating sets, puppets and props is a great outlet for that drive.
For the library, a puppetry troupe offers an expanded programming opportunity. Teens that might never darken your door are often attracted to the puppets, and your troupe members will drag their friends in too. Parents have to bring their teens to the practices, and often stay to check out books and browse. Younger siblings can’t wait for their chance to be in the troupe, and the community loves to come to shows staged by their children, relatives or neighbors. It’s a win-win for all.
How do you start? First, you will want to establish who is in charge of the group. Pick someone who is enthusiastic about the project and who enjoys working with teens. Assigning it to a staff member who is reluctant and/or uncomfortable with teens is a sure path to failure.
Decide on the ages you are willing to work with. I found that children 12 and up were ideal, and occasionally even an 11-year-old was mature enough for the troupe. Younger children require more supervision from staff, which is a factor to consider. If your library is on two levels, as mine was, it means a staff member must be in the vicinity of practices because it is not wise to leave the group unsupervised. Some groups require more supervision regardless of age–each group varies, and you will need to work with them for a while to get a good sense of what your level of involvement needs to be.
Determine some ground rules. This is important. Members and their parents need to understand that this is a commitment and that practices can’t be skipped because someone wants to go to the mall. When a teens signs up to do a show, they commit to attending all practices and being present and on time on show day. If this sounds like the voice of experience, it is!
Decide how many shows you want to have, and what level of complexity you envision for your shows. We kept our shows relatively simple, although as time went on the troupe began to branch out, even spending one summer doing only shadow puppetry.
Develop a training plan. You may want to hire someone to come in and train your troupe, or you may be experienced enough to do the training yourself. Plan to have several sessions. The teens will want to get behind the stage immediately, of course, and that can be built into training sessions, but there is also a lot of work to be done teaching proper puppet manipulation. Make time for fun and leave time for practice.
Determine how many puppeteers your need. We ended up having three troupes of 5 members each at one time, when the program was at its height. Each troupe practiced and presented a different show. It was a lot to manage, but worthwhile. You may decide that one troupe is enough; in any case, allow for one or two backups because anything can and will happen. It’s good to have someone besides yourself ready to step in if needed.
Put out some publicity to attract teens to sign up. My first troupe was almost entirely made up of members of our teen volunteers who worked during the summer. After the initial start-up, membership was easily maintained because children attending the shows could not wait to become troupe members!
Hold an informational meeting for potential members and parents. Go over the ground rules, explain our vision for the troupe, get them excited but also make sure they understand what they’re getting into. Have them sign a membership agreement. Your library might require some kind of liability waiver too.
Next step: schedule a practice and get started!