Introducing Treehouse Puppet Theatre
In addition to her regular duties as a National Park Service ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Linda Barnes developed some very unique skills this past summer.
As an environmental educator with the NPS' Parkway Programs series, she learned various ways of how to get children interested in animals, forests, ecology and other subjects related to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the way, she mastered the art of puppetry.
Now Barnes is using her puppetry skills during the Parkway's off-season through her newly developed company, Treehouse Puppet Theatre. She plans to use sets and her animal puppets to teach kids about nature and their environment at schools, churches, community centers and other locales.
She recently tried out her new puppet play about Christmas during her Thanksgiving vacation in Pensacola, Fla. She performed the puppet show for a neighborhood and entertained more than two-dozen children and adults.
"It was a hit," Barnes said. "They especially loved the fake snow that flew out into the audience."
Barnes is tentatively scheduled to present her Christmas-themed puppet show to the residents of Blowing Rock Hospital on Friday, Dec. 18, at 1:30 p.m.
"I'm hoping that Treehouse Puppet Theatre can offer an educational, fun learning experience by teaching the children through laughter," Barnes said. "Puppets have a way of grabbing a child's attention immediately and are an excellent means of developing a child's interest in learning about the natural world around them."
Barnes' puppet performances at local schools are direct offshoots of the shows she performed at Julian Price Lake Amphitheatre as part of the Parkway Programs.
"When the season's over, I always want to keep teaching," Barnes said. "I've found a way through the Treehouse Puppets to allow me to continue teaching. These puppet performances are school curriculum oriented, such as 'Adaptations, Habitats, and Life Cycles.'"
As an environmental educator with the National Park Service, Barnes has developed and created numerous programs, most of them involving hands-on demonstrations that engage children in the learning process. Whether it is telling them what to do in case they see a bear, or how animals prepare for the coming winter, or how flowers make seeds, Barnes utilizes a gentle combination of knowledge and kid-friendly entertainment to convey her message.
"Puppets have almost a magical power in their capacity for creating an open, honest communication between whoever the audience might be and the puppeteer," Barnes said. "I have had children at puppet shows who I know could barely speak English but I felt understood the puppets. No matter what culture children or adults belong to or what language they speak, they all connect with puppets freely.
"Play is a universal language. And through play, what kids learn has a way of sticking. It has been proven time and time again that the audience remembers more of what it learns in a puppet show."
Currently, Barnes has developed more than 30 puppet performance shows, most of which are around 30 minutes in length, perfect for younger audiences.
Barnes' seasonal Christmas puppet show, "Look Who's Coming Down the Chimney," features many of her regular characters such as the Ricky, Rocky and Randy Raccoon, Mr. Squirrel, Benji Bear, Missy Mouse, Patty Possum and others. After all the animal characters come down the chimney on Christmas Eve, they hear more commotion from the flue. They throw a net on the intruder, but it turns out to be Santa Claus.
"Children love it because it has animals, Santa Claus, a talking Christmas tree and plenty of audience participation and Christmas carols," Barnes said.
In addition to her large repertoire of pre-written puppet plays, Barnes will also custom-write scripts for special occasions such as holidays and retirement parties. She can perform these plays indoors or outdoors (weather permitting) and brings along wonderfully elaborate sets.
"The goal of Treehouse Puppet Theatre is for children and adults to be entertained, laugh and have fun as the puppets perform and to leave the show with greater love, respect and awe for the wonders of nature," Barnes said.
"Laughter is the best medicine, especially when a puppet is holding the spoon."
For more information about Linda Barnes' Treehouse Puppet Theatre, call (828) 265-1755.