By Brian Dembowczyk
Maegan Bruce and her puppet friend, Jessie, are the new hosts of The Gospel Project for Preschool Bible story videos. We asked Maegan to share a little about her experience using puppets in kids ministry.
How long have you been doing puppetry?
I grew up watching my parents use puppetry and ventriloquism in children’s ministry. I have been doing puppetry since I can remember, honestly. I used to put together shows and try to sell tickets to my family … making money didn’t really fly, but I did fill some couch seats! When I was 9, I asked my dad to teach me ventriloquism. He took me through the basics and made my first character for me. I memorized a script my mom wrote, and within a couple weeks, I started performing 3-4 times a day, 5 days a week with my dad.
How do you develop characters for your puppets?
Each character is a little different—sometimes the voice comes first, or just a concept. Sometimes you pick up a puppet and have a magical moment. After that initial “creation” moment, the process of development is so important—I recommend putting pen to paper and assigning some basic info and quirks, but most importantly, give that character some playing time! Just like real-life people you meet, the more time you spend with them, the more you learn about them. Put them in different scenarios and add dimension! Kids relate to the spark you create in a character, and that relationship provides some awesome teaching opportunities!
What tips would you pass along to someone learning puppetry or using it in a local church kids ministry?
Practice! There are five basics of puppetry: entrances/exits, eye contact, lip synchronization, height/positioning, and rod manipulation. Some of these are self-explanatory, and you can find all kinds of information online about them, but these rules are rooted in this principle: good puppetry mimics human behavior. There are some great resources for learning puppetry technique. Video yourself doing a puppet and watch it! Seriously, best advice I’ve got. Once you’ve sharpened your tools, brainstorm with your fellow creative geniuses! I always try to make the message my starting point—it’s my driving force. It helps me to think of it like this: any of these fun things we pick up to illustrate the gospel are just vehicles—vehicles of purpose that carry the most precious of cargo: the gospel of Jesus! You fine tune that vehicle and keep it running the best you can, but always with the gospel cargo in mind!
Share a story of how you saw puppets being used to impact a kid.
There have been many times I’ve seen puppets impact a kid, but there’s definitely one that stands out. There was a little boy I met one day who had just been placed in the foster home of a family in our church. He was just 3 years old, but had experienced some really unfair stuff in his short life—and he was angry about it. It was all over his face—not like throwing a fit, pouty anger, but deeply-rooted pain and bitterness—and it broke my heart. I knelt down and tried talking to him. No response, just the glare. His mom said he wouldn’t talk. I tried all sorts of tactics; still nothing. So I ran to our preschool classroom, grabbed a little puppy puppet in a bag and went back. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I pulled that puppy out of the bag with a “Hey, I’m Skippy!” The anger instantly melted into a huge smile and that sparkly eyes thing preschoolers do so well. He immediately started talking to Skippy, but didn’t appreciate my efforts to join the conversation—only Skippy was allowed. That was the beginning of a sweet relationship I got to build with him before he went back to his family. Skippy instantly did what I couldn’t and it allowed me the opportunity to plant some seeds and just love on a kid who needed it. I just love that our God uses the simple and small!
Here’s a clip of Maegan and Jessie presenting the Bible story for preschoolers.