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Spreading the word through puppetry

June 20, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Using puppetry to get the message out to children of all ages is what Bob and Louise Hoard like to do.

The Hoards started Creator's Critters Puppet Troupe in 1991 and are members of Francis Asbury United Methodist Church in Berkeley Springs.

The 17-member troupe of children and adults, including the Hoards, performs Christian-based skits with hand puppets, said Bob Hoard.

In the 1980s, the Hoards began as puppetry directors in Hawaii and formed a puppet troupe there. They have worked with "kids" ages 10 to 80, Louise Hoard said.

The Hoards have trained about 107 (90 youth and 17 adults) puppeteer members since 1990, said Bob Hoard.

Louise Hoard said when they lived in Virginia Beach, Va., their daughter joined a puppet troupe, and they enjoyed watching her and other kids perform. When Bob Hoard was transferred to Hawaii - he served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years - the Hoards received certification to teach puppetry.

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Creator's Critters Puppet Troupe performs at nursing homes, churches and functions in Berkeley Springs, Martinsburg, W.Va., Charles Town, W.Va., and Otterbein United Methodist Church in Hagerstown. The group also has performed in Virginia Beach, Richmond, Va., Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, and will travel to Waverly, N.Y., in the fall.

They spend about 25 to 45 minutes performing.

Every year, the troupe marches in the annual Berkeley Springs Apple Butter Festival parade and performs puppet shows on the grounds of Francis Asbury United Methodist Church, said Louise Hoard.

The troupe is supported by donations and fundraising events such as the annual spaghetti dinner at the church, she said.

The troupe meets once a week to rehearse in the church's social hall. Members of the troupe do not have to be members of Francis Asbury United Methodist Church, said Bob Hoard.

Before rehearsal, the Hoards provide Bible study, and then troupe members share personal concerns and ask for prayer requests. They also share "praises" for the good things going on in their lives, said Louise Hoard. The Hoards also teach good etiquette by having the kids write thank-you notes to those who make donations to the troupe, she said.

Puppet troupe member Jeana Harman, 17, a Berkeley Springs High School senior, said she started performing at age 10 after she watched a performance given by the Boy Scouts.

"I absolutely love it," she said.

Louise Hoard said she made some of the puppets and Bob Hoard makes the props in the skits.

Bob Hoard said most of the skits are purchased from One-Way Street and Puppet Productions. The skit "I Love Jesus" was performed at a recent rehearsal and was followed by a matching song. The puppeteers manipulate the hand puppets to lip-sync the words.

Dan Wright, pastor of Francis Asbury United Methodist Church, said the puppeteer activities provide spiritual growth at rehearsals and puppet shows.

"That's what makes it so unique - it's an outreach program," Wright said.

One of the troupe members is Colleen Stotler, who has been a master puppeteer since 1997, she said.

"We provide spiritual growth and support," she said.

"It's a great way to build self-esteem," said Wright.

"And they can act out behind the curtain and no one knows who they are," said Stotler.

Douglas Barnes, 13, said he likes being a puppeteer.

"We get to go places, and get to entertain and meet new people," he said.

"The message is one we hope the kids get," said Ashley Barnes, 17. She said she likes being able to go places as a puppeteer.

"They (the Hoards) really know how to spread the message," she said.

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