Discover why this former teacher now goes ‘to work’ with a smile, every day …
Before her show begins at the Midland Regional Library, in the Mill Park neighborhood, professional puppeteer Penny Walter “wakes up” two of the central characters in the day’s show.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Because word has gotten out about her puppet shows over the last 15 years, parents and children were lining up outside the large room at Midland Regional Library, on the afternoon of January 21, to enjoy “Fox and Rabbit” – the wintertime show put on by Penny’s Puppet Productions.
“It’s wintertime in the meadow, food is scarce, and all of the animals are gathering food before the next storm,” recounted Penny Walter about the story she was preparing to tell, as she set up her portable puppet theater.
Before her show begins, Penny and Mrs. Rabbit go into the audience to meet some of the audience members.
Walter said she has loved doing shows with puppets since she was five years old – including programs she presented in a corner of her mom’s antique shop.
“By the time I got into middle school, I got teased for ‘playing with dolls’ and didn’t come back to it until I was almost 30 years old,” Walter told East Portland News.
As she went on to a career of teaching in a kindergarten classroom, Walter said she started using puppets to educate and entertain her students. “It was then that I realized that I really wanted to be a puppeteer; so I quit the security of teaching, and have been doing this, full-time, for 15 years now.”
After Awesome Possum wakes up, he enjoys being petted by kids who came to see the show.
Over the years, she’s presented thousands of her puppet shows, with dozens of different and original storylines, in libraries across the region.
“I love performing in libraries, because the program is free for the patrons who come,” Walter explained. “And at the same time, I get paid, and get to earn my living! It’s the best of both worlds. I get to do what I love to do with my art, and the audiences get to see a good quality program.”
As the show begins, Awesome Possum calls to the other creatures in the forest, telling them it’s time to get ready to go.
She’ll be presenting a few more winter-themed shows, Walter said. “In the spring, I’ll create a show about the environment; and in the fall, it will be a harvest theme.
“I also present classic fairytale stories that I creatively modify, such as my new on this year with the “Three Little Pigs and the Huffy, Puffy Wolf,” Walter smiled.
Over the years, she’s noticed that her best audiences are preschoolers, up to third-graders. “Maybe because of peer pressure, when they get older, they say they’re not interested. But later on, there are many kids in their teenage years who still enjoy seeing my shows, which is wonderful.”
While puppeteer Penny “takes a nap”, her colorful critters perform the show by themselves.
Staying busy, Walter appears at many private events like birthday parties and festivals throughout the year. “I haven’t done a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah yet, but I’m certainly open to it. If a client has a special idea in mind, we will create a special theme for them.”
The best part about of her “new career”, Walter said, is that “I get to laugh, every day I go to work. It’s great to be with the kids and families and give everyone a break from the rigors of daily life. Here they have a moment of togetherness, where they can sing together, laugh together, and participate in stories together.”
During her show – this time in front of an audience of about 60 kids and adults – Walter performed voice characterizations for the puppets, and also demonstrated that she has a beautiful, professional-quality singing voice. If she tires of puppets, she could embark on yet another new career – singing on stage.
Learn more about Penny’s Puppet Productions at her website: CLICK HERE.
© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News