Puppet Play, Dollar House Raise “Bricks for Nepal”
Maple Syrup Players (left to right) Diana is Lily the lamb, Peter Boggs is Tucker the turtle, Roger is Hound Dog, and Denise is Daisy.
The Rev. James Leamon’s puppet plays are chaotic and full of corny jokes. And there’s always a serious, timely point.
His plays – “probably 300 over the past 30 years,” he says – have addressed bullying, forgiveness, the 9/11 terror attacks and police-community relations. They have emphasized “nobody’s perfect,” “don’t steal” and “stay away from drugs.”
Leamon writes one new play a month, and the Maple Syrup Players at Maple Shade (N.J.) Congregational Church UCC perform it as the children’s sermon.
On a recent Sunday, the play had a very specific “ask”: Help the United Church of Christ raise money for rebuilding of houses in earthquake-devastated Nepal. Quakes in April and May killed nearly 9,000 people, destroyed nearly 600,000 homes and damaged another half a million.
The play’s characters that day were the Elvis-impersonating Hound Dog, nut-crazy Sammy the squirrel, Daisy the whining donkey and Von Ratt the German-accented rat. After several minutes of banter about the story of “The Good Samaritan,” they created “Sam’s Club” (named after the biblical character, not Sammy the squirrel). Club members’ mission was to help others.
“Vell, who can we help first?” Von Ratt asked.
Daisy replied: “Whine … our Vacation Bible School wants to buy bricks for Nepal so those that lost their homes in the earthquake can build a new one.”
Lindsey Flake, with the “Bricks for Nepal” house she created for VBS and wider congregational fundraising.
And Hound Dog explained how even a small contribution from their small church “means we are helping hundreds of families because people from lots of churches are buying bricks, too!”
Daisy pointed her audience to the “Dollar House,” a bank that 13-year-old member Lindsey Flake made.
“Howlooo … to hold the dollars we need to buy ‘Bricks for Nepal!'” announced Hound Dog. “So far we raised $353!”
Donors color in one brick on the cardboard house for every dollar they give.
Leamon – who not only pastors the Maple Shade congregation but also serves as a disaster response coordinator for the UCC’s Central Atlantic Conference – noted that, like his plays, each year’s Vacation Bible School “always has a theme.”
Typically, VBS raises awareness of a current need and collects money for it. “This year was Nepal,” Leamon said. “This disaster just happened. People need houses.”
Children ages 7-13 in this year’s VBS built a Nepali village, played Nepali games and heard a presentation by a recent visitor to Nepal, who showed them photos from before and after the earthquake.
P.S. There is so much more that could be said about Leamon’s plays and puppeteers – mostly kids who start as early as age 11 and gain poise as they become experienced performers.
The stage was built more than 20 years ago by Gary, a heroin addict Leamon was counseling at the time. “He did a beautiful job!” Leamon said.
Leamon detoxed Gary, who stayed clean for almost six months. But then an employer paid Gary in heroin and “the next day he was dead at 30 years old,” Leamon said, adding that “every time I put up that stage I always remember Gary and a whole bunch of other great people who lost their life to addiction. It’s always an emotional time for me.”
Want to know more about Leamon’s puppet plays? Contact him at email@example.com.
Want to contribute to building new, earthquake-proof houses in Nepal? Click here: UCC International Emergency Relief Fund.
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