Before long, all eyes are on puppeteer Justin Haveman's puppet EdGar Sinclaire. With his bushy eyebrows, bright red fur and ears that stick out to there, EdGar's presence alone tickles children's funny bone, but the laughing swells when the fuzzy puppet starts with a comical song, "Chocolate" that has the kids and adults laughing for joy.
"Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!,
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Bate, bate chocolate!"
The song's tempo quickens to a point where it's impossible to keep up with singing it, which makes it all the more fun.
Then puppeteer Kevin Kammeraad launches into a series of songs, "We are Thinking In the Light of God," "This Little Light of Mine," and "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes."
Introducing the Cooperfly Puppet Troupe
Kammeraad and Haveman comprise the Cooperfly Puppet Troupe. Kammeraad also is the author, coauthor and illustrator of several children's books including, "The Tomato Collection."
It's a full-time gig Kammeraad has been doing since 1999. Haveman joined Kammeraad's puppet troupe in 2012.
Kammeraad credits his grandmother for what eventually became the Cooperfly Puppet Troupe.
She gave him a journal as a Christmas gift when he was still a student at Grand Valley State University, and he started writing poetry. Eventually, he and Haveman and their cast of 10 puppets travel, teaching children at school and library programs and at churches how to appreciate their uniqueness as individuals, spark their creativity and, in the case at Fuller Avenue CRC, the creative power God has given them.
God's gift of imagination
"One of the coolest things God gave us is our imagination, our creativity," Kammeraad said, who attends Madison Square Christian Reformed Church with his wife of 13 years, Stephanie. "Our main premise is singing, Bible verses. A lot of times we do silly goofy songs that ties into creativity."
Kammeraad was convinced early on the way to hold children's attention is through the puppet characters made of fabric and foam. They include Kevin The Puppet, Bill Williams, Jacob, Breeko, Wendell the Wanderer and Critter.
"When puppetry is done well, it's captivating," Kammeraad said. "They know it's not a living character, but they can't help but enjoy the puppets. To see something so real and unbelievable is part of the allure."
The Cooperfly Puppet Troupe is a great fit for Fuller Avenue CRC's Tuesday Family Fun Nights, an annual summertime event its hosted the last seven years for the neighborhood, said Sue Hollemans, the church's ministry coordinator.
Serving a diverse neighborhood
Eight Tuesday nights in the summer, the church offers people a no-cost meal, occasionally a craft making activity, basketball playing and entertainment, such as Kammeraad's puppets, a carnival, Irish dancing and National Night Out, all of which draws an average of 200 people each Tuesday.
"We're a very diverse neighborhood," Hollemans said. "This is an outreach event. The community here feels like summer doesn't start until Tuesday Family Fun Nights start."
Kammeraad and his puppet troupe travel throughout Michigan, the Midwest, and the East Coast. He's being doing it full-time since 1999. The idea of a puppet troupe germinated after his grandmother gave him a journal as a Christmas gift while still a student at Grand Valley State University where he eventually earned a degree in film and video production. Kammeraad wrote poems in the journal.
While he was still a college student, Kammeraad also worked at West Ottawa Public School's video department in technical production where he learned its elementary schools had morning TV announcements using puppets.
The school district's use of the puppets intrigued him. He found out who made them and decided that was a creative channel he could combine his poems with. He also enrolled in a children's literature class at Grand Valley State University.
The nascent idea was a work in progress, he recalls.
"I did not have a plan," Kammeraad said. "What could I do with a puppet?"
The woman who made West Ottawa Public School's puppets made Kammeraad's first puppet, Jacob, who also is the main character in the first children's book Kammeraad wrote and illustrated titled, "The Tomato" Collection."
"We start with an idea and figure out where it leads us," Kammeraad said. "The puppets and the audience lets you know."
And there's just something about puppets children are drawn to in ways that's good and different than with adults.
"A child will interact with a puppet differently," Kammeraad said. "They feel safer. The puppet could ask a question and a child opens up more candidly, more honestly."
And that threat of rain at Fuller Avenue CRC's recent Tuesday Family Fun Nights? Not one drop fell from the sky.
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