20 years of puppets

Posted: December 14, 2012

The Winchester Star

Puppeteering alumni will gather Saturday for a reunion at Mary Jane and James L. Bowman Library, 871 Tasker Road, Stephens City.

Stephens City — The hands and voices behind 20 years of Handley Regional Library puppet shows are coming back to town for a reunion.

The event will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday for the youth puppeteers who have helped put on shows since the program started in 1991, said Donna Hughes, youth services head for the Handley Regional Library.

Puppeteering alumni will gather at Mary Jane and James L. Bowman Library, 871 Tasker Road, Stephens City.

Most of the puppeteers are middle and high school students who have gone on to have careers and families, Hughes said. She hopes the alumni who hear about it will want to come and slip back into character at least once more.

“We want to remember good times,” she said. “It will also encourage those who are puppeteering now to know they are part of a legacy here at the library.”

Alumni aren’t simply going to sit in the audience, she said. She plans to divide them into groups and have them perform the song and dance moves to “Smile, Smile, Smile,” which has been used since the program started.

The performances will be a kind of “puppet sing-off” to see how much participants remember, Hughes said.

Puppeteers will start gathering at 10 a.m. to catch up and rehearse, she said. Then they will put on a show at 11 a.m. Cake and punch will be served afterward.

Although Vanessa Bittel, 18, of Clear Brook still acts as a puppeteer occasionally, she is excited about the reunion. The program provides a great environment to make friends, she said.

In the eight years she has been volunteering, she has worked with a number of puppeteers, and she is looking forward to seeing some of them again.

“Even though I do connect with old puppeteers, a lot of them I haven’t seen for seven or eight years,” Bittel said. “I am really excited to see old friends.”

Bittel, who was homeschooled, is now sharing the tradition of puppetry with her siblings, Eleanor, 11, and Lillian, 9, who both volunteer at the library. Their parents are Jim and Michele Bittel.

When Hughes started the puppet program, it was a simple affair. She started with two teenage boys, “a handcrafted PVC pipe puppet stage, and some borrowed puppets.”

The borrowed puppets sang along to songs on cassette tapes. Thanks to a federal grant in the 1990s, the library bought its own puppets and transitioned to CDs and a new sound system.

“That money afforded us to do that, plus to get some professional puppeteers in the area to give some training to the youth that were now starting to come in groups of maybe 20 or 30,” Hughes said.

At one point before Bowman Library was built and when Handley was being renovated, the puppet shows had to be done on the Loudoun Street Mall, she said. Some of the teens did the show while others held the stage to keep it from being blown over by the wind.

“We would have parents bring their toddlers and preschoolers in strollers,” she said. “Then it became almost like a drive-in for the toddler set.”


Handley Library’s 20th anniversary reunion for volunteers involved in its youth puppeteers will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Bowman Library. A show will be put on. The event is free and open to the public.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com