How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs

Puppetry drives students out of their comfort zones and into leadership. #ProjectLiteracy

Co-founder Roberto Ferreira with puppets of Puppet School. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Rizzotti.

Puppet School co-founder Roberto Ferreira sees reincarnation every day in his classroom. As students sew brightly colored fuzzy materials together into monsters or caricature-like humans, he finds them giving life to their ideal alter egos, their inner psyches, the murmurings inside their heads that don’t normally get a voice. Using hands-on maker skills—which, according to increasing research, are essential to establishing strong reading and writing abilities—students pick puppet patterns, gluing foam into puppet molds, creating the internal and outer structures of their puppets, from blueprints to fully formed bodies inspired by puppet identities they’ve brainstormed. Then, once the puppets are created, students find their voices and hand movements allowing the puppets to come to life, identities totally separate of their own.

“Puppets can get away with anything. I’ve seen a puppet put a puppeteer in place. One student was very shy before he came to our classes and afterwards, he was singing on stage,” he says.

Puppet School students with their alter egos. Photo courtesy of Puppet School.

Creating a puppet’s identity at Puppet School is a freeing, imaginative experience that has no right or wrong answers. “When people were trained at the Jim Henson Studio, there really was no time for mistakes. You did maybe one or two takes on camera,” Ferreira says. But in West Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco Puppet Schools, you can learn slowly and methodically, with structure, from beginning to advanced levels. The curriculum establishes the tenets of puppeteering education, which put educational theories about the importance of play and grit and resilience into practice.

In the beginning classes, students start to learn basic head and mouth movements, using motor skills in both hands and both arms, choreographed to pre-existing sound tracks of well-known pop songs. Students learn to articulate vowels and develop a sense of rhythm with their bodies. As the exercises advance, students learn to improvise using their own voices and hand movements, and eventually choreograph movement to material they’ve written. From motor skills, to communication and improv skills, then finally written skills, students exercise many parts of their brains at Puppet School, increasing communication between their two brain hemispheres.

According to Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when brain signals are passed from one side to the other quickly, or when the left and right sides of bodies work simultaneously, the brain is able to function more efficiently, and the stronger the brain’s connections become—thereby improving literacy, movement coordination, processing data, and communication skills. It is this reason Puppet School is starting to bring speech pathology to autism students in their puppet curriculum for behavior analysis nonprofit Leaf Wing Center.

“Being a puppeteer exercises different parts of the brain. You use your hands, you work on speech, you become more aware of the space you inhabit. You become more aware of who you are,” Ferreira says.

Puppets in progress. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Rizzotti.

Before Michael Earl started the first Puppet School in Los Angeles, California, he was working as Mr. Snuffleupagus, Slimey, Poco Logo, Forgetful Jones, Polly Darton, Leslie Mostly, and dozens of Anything Muppets at Jim Henson’s studio. He had seen a commercial in which the puppeteering needed improvement so he had the idea to start a school, and Henson encouraged him to “spread the love.” Years later, Earl met web designer and writer/director Roberto Ferreira, who envisioned a university of puppetry, including puppet building classes, TV puppetry, musical puppetry, and marionette puppetry. Ferreira helped Earl manage the school and write material for a musical called “It’s a Monster World” for the students to perform, while Earl developed a curriculum for TV and theatrical students.

As Puppet School’s students discover their creativity, some have even made puppeteering a part of their careers. While ABC prepares to reboot The Muppets as a late-night talk show, bringing puppets back into the mainstream starting this fall, Puppet School’s students are applying to Jim Henson’s Diversity Program with puppeteering demos they made in class, using puppets they have made themselves. In her demo, Libby Letlow asks her puppet Lala to say something nice about her. “She’s an excellent puppeteer and she’s nice to work around, and she’s a lot of fun to be around…ugh I feel so manipulated,” Lala says. It’s this comic sensibility that Letlow has been able to experiment with through her puppet, allowing her to not take herself so seriously in what otherwise would be an intimidating job application process. Puppeteer Alison Park once performed for a livestream Japanese show with her puppet, an overly furry weatherman named Carl Mudgeon, doing some pre-show primping: “I’m trying a new look…Clean Cut Carl…a professional,” he says. It’s characters like these that demonstrate how Puppet School is a place for puppeteers to play, create, and take risks—all pillars upon which the school was founded.

Michael Earl in the classroom with one of his first puppets. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Rizzotti.

As Earl and Ferreira refine their curriculum, with monologue lessons and puppet building classes out of everyday objects, they aim to push their students to a place where they get out of their comfort zones. Ranging from actors to animators, students sometimes create jobs for themselves, bringing out their entrepreneurial sides. Author Janine Pibal became a puppeteering teacher with Puppet School after taking all their classes and now she’s writing a children’s book featuring puppets. Puppet creator Gwen Dean quit her job in the 2014 Superbowl wearing a puppet on her hand, wrote a book, became a Go Daddy spokesperson, and now does puppet shows for kids with puppets she builds at

“Puppet School has really become an outlet for happiness,” Ferreira says.

Growing from eight to 10 to 18 students per class, now including students visiting from Saudi Arabia hoping to build a classroom of their own, Puppet School has become bigger than Earl and Ferreira. Students are seeing that anything is possible in puppetry by creating their own Youtube channels like PuppetsnShit and production houses like UnstrungHeroesLA, making feature movies like Thankskilling or the Sundance cardboard puppetry film Me+Her, making videos with celebrities like DJ Skrillex and basketball player Blake Griffin, finding jobs at Jim Henson’s creature shop, or even performing at weddings and events. Students continue to finesse motor, maker, and communication skills, and even volunteer their skills at nonprofit events for children.

Puppet School’s puppet making workshop. Photo courtesy of Alessandra Rizzotti.

Although people may say there are limited jobs in puppetry, Ferreira says, “It’s not about getting jobs. It’s about what you do with it. I thought out of film school I would direct and make movies. I didn’t dream of starting a whole school and helping run the LA Puppet Fest. You create groups that will take risks and those groups will create jobs. You become an entrepreneur.”

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

Keep Reading Show less

Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

Keep Reading Show less

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet