Puppet Performance Group Helps People With Special Needs

Lynchburg, VA- A program in Lynchburg is helping people with special needs, through performance. Puppets a la Mode is a puppet performance group that's been around for about four years now.

Barb Franz started the group with her own son in mind. She says puppets are a great way to showcase the group's talent, without drawing attention to their disabilities. And with the help of students at Lynchburg College, they turn lifeless puppets, into the stars of their Christmas musical.

"They're learning something new, they're showing their abilities, not their disabilities. And that's the main purpose of this," said Franz.

Franz started Puppets a la Mode for her son, Dan. As it turned out, he was more into music than puppets. He actually runs the music for all their shows.

Franz didn't have much of a budget when she started the program. Most of the puppets, props and set were donated to her--as is the rehearsal and performance space.

"We have taught ourselves to do this program. None of us knew how to do puppets. With a little instruction from somebody else, we just kind of improvise and have a great time with it," said Franz.

And Franz says this type of performance is very forgiving.

"If something goes wrong it's the puppet's fault, it's not their fault, it's the puppet's fault. So you just talk to the puppet and tell them to be better next time," she says.

Franz says the crucial part of the program is the students from Lynchburg College's Bonner Program. This is junior Peter Berry's second semester with a la mode, and he looks forward to three more.

"It lets us interact with a special group of people that we otherwise might not have been able to," said Berry.

"They're learning patience. They're learning how to understand them and work with them," said Franz.

Franz says patience is important, because sometimes, those puppets can get a little out of hand.

"We get after the puppets once in a while, and tell them they better straighten up."

Puppets a la Mode has a performance coming up next week. It's Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Grace Church on Timberlake Road.