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Cousins teach moral lessons with puppets

July 09, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING - Adrian Black started the cameras rolling full time on his television career soon after he graduated from Clear Spring High School in June.

Adrian and his cousin, Chris Shank, write, direct and produce the "Just Kids" Christian television show. "Just Kids" uses music, live action and puppets to teach youngsters Christian values and educational lessons.

Adrian, 17, spent most of his final semester in high school working on the show as part of a work-study program, he said. He specializes in such behind-the-scenes duties as lighting and direction while his cousin relishes his time in the spotlight as the show's host.

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"I get this weird adrenaline rush when the camera's going," said Chris, 24.

He and Adrian brainstorm for show themes that focus on moral lessons, find contemporary Christian children's music to illustrate the themes, write scripts, coordinate the volunteers who man the show's puppets, and film and edit each of the year's 10 episodes, they said.

It can take several hours to record a two-minute song, Chris said. And coordinating volunteers' schedules is always a challenge.

"We come into it with big aspirations and an hour later, we're only halfway through a song," Chris said.

Cornerstone Network broadcasts "Just Kids" in the United States and sells the programming to networks in countries such as Uganda, Australia, England and Kazakhstan.

"The show is also used as a teaching tool for the English language," Chris said.

Chris and Adrian work full time in the Trinity Teleproductions studio at the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission. Adrian's great-grandparents and Chris' grandparents, Ellen and Jimmy Resh, founded the mission on North Prospect Street in the 1950s.

Adrian's grandmother, Dorcas Black, later started the mission's children's ministry and puppet team.

Puppets play an important role in "Just Kids," said Chris and Adrian, who have been involved with the show in various capacities since it started in the late 1980s.

Chris now co-hosts each 29-minute segment with Maxine the monkey, a comedic character that he and Adrian recently decided to feature instead of the more studious Molly the mouse. Adrian's mother, Brenda Black, provides the voice and actions for Maxine.

"Kids can identify more with a monkey who makes mistakes," Chris said. "And I'm like an older brother."

Numerous other animal puppets and the "people puppets" that Dorcas Black creates from cloth play special roles in different shows. Chris and Adrian are currently shooting a song segment that includes roles for such jungle animal puppets as lions, parrots and snakes.

The song "Kalepo," from a children's cassette tape based upon the Ten Commandments, features a lazy monkey named Kalepo who prefers to steal other primates' bananas rather than climb the tree for his own.

"The birds in the jungle, they heard about Kalepo; the snake and the boodle, they heard this from the beetle; they said he was a naughty boy to take from the other monkeys; everyone hoped he would learn that it was wrong to steal."

Such verses from the songs that highlight each show reinforce the moral lessons that serve as the shows' themes, Chris and Adrian said.

They've written episodes that address such issues as the importance of being true to yourself, heroes and sibling rivalry, they said.

Adrian said he and Chris frequently switch the show's format to keep kids interested in "learning more about the Bible and the different values we broadcast."

The pair is now creating episodes that include upbeat music to encourage more activity among viewers and interactive educational crafts and games to promote interaction between kids and adults, Adrian said.

He and Chris often test their ideas on younger relatives, they said.

They hope to use their experience with "Just Kids" as a launching pad for future television and movie projects, they said. They want to continue producing educational entertainment for children, adapt several Christian books for the big screen, and write family-oriented movies using animation and live actors, they said.

Adrian plans to take advantage of career-related courses at Hagerstown Community College when he begins classes there this fall, he said.

Chris also hopes to use his history degree from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., by incorporating short history lessons into future "Just Kids" episodes, he said.

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