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At this Forsyth County high school performance, kids can not only admire the puppets -- they can make one too
Forsyth Central High School's theater department is performing "The Jungle Book" on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, at 2 and 6 p.m. (Photo by Isabella Busse, Jacob Haslett, Jack Ramu)

By Isabella Busse, Jacob Haslett, Jack Ramu

For the Forsyth County News

From 4-6 p.m., theatre students of Forsyth Central High School have worked tirelessly on their production of “The Jungle Book,” a puppet show being put on for the Forsyth community.

The show is entirely student-run. Teens designed the set, built the puppets, and of course, are playing the characters.

The entire cast and crew contribute to the making of the life-sized, colorful puppets, like Baloo the bear, and the set.

“[Baloo] has taken over a month so far to make,” says junior tech member Patience McKendrick. “It’s a slow process, but I think it’s pretty rewarding.”

The show is rewarding indeed. Central’s theatre department teacher Kevin Whitley said the show was targeted at multiple different audiences.

“Aside from the elementary schools that come in, we have several different groups from the community coming in,” Whitley said. “We have Montessori schools, homeschool groups, and Creative Enterprises, which is an adult special needs organization here in Forsyth County.”

Whitley is thrilled at the size of the audience.

“There are a lot of people that can benefit from coming to see a great performance, and to have fun and hopefully enrich their lives in some way,” he said.

Another function of the children's show is that only freshmen are allowed to audition. This provides them a chance to acquire more direct experience as performers.

“We incorporated puppetry for our students here because there are different ways of performing on stage, and I feel like it’s important to offer many diverse ways to perform,” Whitley said. “Puppetry is a whole different type of performance venue.”

“Every play starts with a readthrough,” according to senior Claire Starling. “We get the underlying themes, and also the director’s vision of what they want.”

Starling works in the costuming department, as well as making the puppets themselves. She explains that the production uses “implied characters” rather than complete realism. For example, “you see ears and a tail, so visually it’s not 100% a monkey, but it’s implied.”

When the director's vision for implied characters is established, the costuming department collects things from the school's closet and other places. From there, they begin sizing, stitching, and sewing all the way up into the week of the performances.

Natalie Kasper, a junior who does make-up for the show, said they “coordinate with the costume department frequently because we need to consider what the stagehands are going to wear. We’ve been finding inspiration and looking up what the origin of the story is.”

“With that, for several years we’ve been lucky enough to be awarded a grant from the Forsyth County Arts Alliance for doing this particular production every year,” Whitley said. “I think they realized the validity of the community connection.”

The community aspect of the children's show has been growing since it began, and this year is the first year that the show will include a public workshop. Children and parents will be able to attend a puppet-making workshop before the show. The kids will leave their puppets to dry while they watch the show, and afterwards they get to try them out in a makeshift puppet theater.

The public show is on Feb. 29, with showings at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Student tickets are $7 and adult tickets are $10. Each student ticket comes with a pass to the puppet-making workshop 45 minutes before the show begins.