You are currently viewing Creative Thinking through Puppetry

For some, the coming week is the quiet time between national holidays. For parents, it means, “What will we do with the kids?”

New Orleans-based puppeteer Karen Konnerth has a few ideas.

The world-renowned puppeteer and American arts integration and English language specialist is currently touring South Africa for a series of puppet performances for primary and high school students in Pretoria and Durban.

Karen, in conjunction with the United States Mission to South Africa (to promote education and innovation) is also hosting several workshops for teachers in Polokwane and Benoni.

Regarded as a visual storyteller who has followed her puppets around the world, Karen enjoys sharing stories and fostering imagination.

Her Calliope Puppets bring to life original adaptations of three of Aesop’s fables with dynamic hand-sewn and sculpted puppets.

As a dedicated educator, Karen offers workshops that help teachers to integrate arts into their teaching to nurture learning and creative thinking in children with diverse learning styles and academic abilities.

Particular emphasis is placed on skills such as problem solving, listening, sequencing, decision-making and collaborative learning.

Karen was awarded the 2011 Puppeteers of America Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin Award for her contributions to the field of education. She was also awarded a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

We recently caught up with Karen to find out why she is touring South Africa:

Q: In a world dominated by Internet, video games and television, are puppet shows still relevant to today’s children?

The live 3D aspect of puppetry holds at least as much attraction in today’s internet dominated world because puppetry lives in the same 3D world the child lives in, making the impossible real and creating real magic. Any screen-based entertainment is already removed from the child’s and limited to the screen. I get asked this question often, and it’s a little disturbing, to be honest. It seems that adults equate the powerful attraction screens have on children as a step into the new present. The overexposure of screens can stifle a child’s imagination. For example, a teacher recently showed me an app called Sock Puppet she uses in her classroom. It allows children to choose a character and give them movement and voice. But the user is limited to the choices the developer came up with. Children, when given any pile of miscellaneous materials to build a puppet show will ALWAYS come up with totally unique concepts that this app does not allow.I think the problem is adult perception: The kind of people who thought painting died when the camera came along.

Q: How can puppets assist in improving a child’s learning experience?

KK: In a performance, all kinds of educational information can be woven into the show and made visual, interactive, and fun to stimulate the child’s imagination and curiosity. Lately, my work is far more in support of teachers, hosting workshops on arts integration and on how to use the arts, particularly puppetry, to teach across the curriculum.

Q: Puppetry is about stimulating imagination and creativity. How important are those aspects to a child’s education?

KK: Crucial. The strongest educational support we can give to children, besides the ability to read, is to nurture creative thinking. We cannot educate children with specifics on their future world because we don’t know what that world will be like. But we can teach them to think creatively to be able to solve problems.

Q: Why did you decide to go into puppetry?

KK: Puppetry combined my love of stories, working with my hands (I make all my puppets myself), education, music and world cultures. And through puppetry, I have traveled extensively both as a puppeteer to festivals in many countries (particularly in South and Central America) as well as an educator, teaching arts integration techniques through puppetry to teachers.

Q: Perhaps you can share with us a few of the characters in your show?

KK: My Calliope Puppets bring to life original adaptations of three Aesop’s fables with dynamic hand puppets. In The Tortoise and the Hare, we see the value of perseverance. The importance of telling the truth centers through The Boy Who Cried Wolf. And The Lion and the Mouse reveals that even the small can be powerful. The hand sewn and sculpted puppets interact with the audience in verbal participation for a fun show for all ages.

Q: What does your workshop entail?

KK: One of the workshops I present is Finding The Story. Through hands on, collaborative projects, participants will seek out elements of a ‘story’ across the curriculum, and bring it to life with very simple, yet engaging, puppets made of every day materials. The workshop emphasis is on the opportunity to experience the implementation of the sequential process from introduction, through collaborative writing, puppet making, peer performance, critique and learning assessment.  The workshop leads participants through the complete process using shadow puppetry, and may include demonstration and some hands-on experience with other options in puppetry techniques.

Anton Pretorius