Spreading Joy, NanPuppets

by Cara Godlesky

Nanpuppets, Nantucket's puppet show for childrenThinking back to childhood, many can recall wiggling finger puppets on pinkies or watching in delight the magic of Elmo and Cookie Monster on “Sesame Street.” Now, Nantucket’s own version of puppetry is making its way into the island spotlight through Nanpuppets, a children’s puppet show. Nanpuppets is a live puppet show with a television program, “Out to See” based on the characters and concepts in the show. Created by Lizza Obremski and Sue Riddle, Nanpuppets and “Out to See” brings another element of island entertainment to children and families.

Nanpuppets, now in its third season, came to life when Obremski decided she needed a different career path from her usual elementary school teaching job and wanted to embrace her past of practicing puppetry. Obremski played with puppets as child and even took a puppetry class in college.

Obremski incorporated the use of puppets while teaching, but in the classroom setting it could never be a main focus. After being overwhelmed by the dynamics of working in a school, she thought to herself why couldn’t she make puppets. Puppetry was always a part of Obremski’s life and after a break from working with children and teaching, she allowed it to fully manifest into a career.

Obremski was doing live Nanpuppet shows when she met Riddle. Riddle’s background is in children’s illustration and daycare. She loves bringing humor into whatever she does. The women became friends, and, one day, Riddle thought the two should create a television program based of Nanpuppets, called “Out to See.”

Obremski still does her live shows but now she and Riddle are partners in creating a television program together. With Ombreski’s background in teaching and puppetry and Riddle’s experience creating kid-friendly content and dabbling with animation, the two businesswomen are in the process of producing an educational variety show.

Nanpuppets, Nantucket's puppet show for children“We’re writing together and our senses of humor are very much in tune,” said Riddle. “We’ll be editing pieces and laughing and laughing. We hope that comes through in our show.” Obremski and Riddle co-write and so-produce the show. Riddle thinks back to what she wished her own kids could see on TV and be involved in, which helped create the concepts depicted in the pilot of “Out to See.” The two try to incorporate educational, but fun concepts in the show. The pilot episode features apiculture on Nantucket, starting from shipment of bees coming to the island to the harvesting of the honey.

“Out to See” not only ties in academic knowledge but social and emotional knowledge as well. One of the puppet stars of Nanpuppet and “Out to See” is Larry the Lobster. Larry is normally grumpy and does not want to socialize. However, the shows emphasizes to its young audience that Larry might just be afraid. It is fear he is feeling. It helps teach the children that sometimes when people are cranky, they are actually feeling afraid. “We’re trying to weave emotional intelligence into the work that we do because it’s something we really value,” said Riddle.

Nanpuppets and “Out to See” includes other Nantucket sea creatures, like Clarence the Clam, who mentions to the viewers that he eats microscopic plankton. There is also a scene showing how all the puppets get together to strategize how to cheer up one of their friends who is feeling down. The two shows strive to embrace a kind and connected feeling while creating social skills and awareness.

“We’re looking to create this cozy, homespun human connection and connection to the simplicity,” said Riddle. Nanpuppets and “Out to See” aims to teach kids about many concepts in an entertaining way. “[We are] educating the whole child, socially, academically, head, heart, hand,” said Obremski. “Where you intellectually use your head, and you also feel with your heart, and then the handiwork where you can create things with your hands.” In a society where technology is rapidly advancing, children are often exposed to electronic devices at a young age. According to a 2014 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, over half of the surveyed children have their own television by the age of four and three-fourths had their own mobile device. Even more surprising, 96.6% of the children used mobile devices before their first birthday.

Nanpuppets, Nantucket's puppet show for childrenWith the majority of children exposed to electronics at such a young age, “Out to See” wants to be a program that benefits children. The show style is an interactive one, where characters on the screen talk directly to the audience to engage the children. This way, the children may respond and participate rather than passively watching. “It’s funny to have a TV show and want your mission to be understanding more than what’s on the screen,” said Obremski. “But you figure if a kid is going to be watching the screen anyway, it’s better to have it be something filling their hearts and soul and teaching them goodness and human connection. We’re going for nourishment behind the screen.”

Nanpuppets and “Out to See” nourishes children but also creates an environment for kids and adults to play and be silly. The shows features sing alongs and dress-up dance parties. Obremski and Riddle recall seeing parents come to events and hesitate to participate in the singing and dancing.

But by the end of the program, they warm up and throw on fluffy boas to dance along with their kids. “We are holding space that does not exist as much in society anymore,” said Obremski. “It allows kids to be kids and keep it simple and full of joy and less about the glitz and glam that’s going on on an over-stimulating screen … more about the message and love behind it.”

Nanpuppets also puts on kids crafts and laughter yoga. Laughter yoga involves nontraditional yoga poses with forced structured ways to make people start laughing. The idea behind it focuses on how laughter is the best medicine and can feel like a workout after laughing so hard. The different exercises may be initially started to force laughter but, in the end, people laugh on their own because the sound of it can be contagious.

“There’s so much fear and hesitancy in the world right now. It feels like it’s a good time to be spreading the joy,” said Obremski.

If you are interested in the Nanpuppet show, catch them every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. on Children’s Beach and every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. at Cisco Brewery. There will also be a show on Wednesday, July 12 at 10:00 a.m. at the St. Paul’s Fair and another performance on Friday, July 21 at 9:45 a.m. at the Nantucket Atheneum.

For more information on Nanpuppets or to book them for a birthday party or children’s event, visit them online at nanpuppets.com or follow them on Instagram @nanpuppets. “Out to See” also has a website, comeouttosee. com, where users can view the pilot episode and clips.