Boos between the books

‘Kooky Spooky’ Wump Mucket Puppets at Metro Main Library

By Tim Smith

Photo: Wump Mucket’s G’Wizzl, the super space princess; photos: Michelle Jellison

Long before video games and digital animation, there existed a magical world of imagination called puppetry. Puppet shows featuring cute, funny characters were once the mainstay of school programs, birthday parties and Saturday morning TV. Wump Mucket Puppets of Cincinnati will present their Kooky Spooky Halloween Show at the main branch of the Dayton Metro Library Oct. 13 and at the Huber Heights branch Oct. 27.

Wump Mucket Puppets is the brainchild of puppeteer Terrence Burke. He and his wife Lara Rumizen have been performing their tune-filled shows at area schools, libraries, museums, and festivals for six years.

“Puppetry has been a passion of mine since I was a very young boy,” Burke says. “My adult activity with puppets began in 2001 as a hobby that over time grew quickly to become a regional touring puppet troupe. Many of the puppet characters are inspired by my interest in cryptozoology. I have fun creating characters that my audience has some familiarity with, yet may not know much about their personalities. I try to create puppets that I want to see, by bringing mythical creatures, aliens, and even a caveman to the stage.”

This year’s Halloween-themed show features a new skit, “The Ghost Who Couldn’t Say BOO!” Burke wanted to create a story that celebrates the spooky elements of Halloween without being scary or horrific.

“The characters include Witch Willie,” he says. “She is a loving wink to my two favorite witches, Witchiepoo from the television program H.R. Pufnstuf and the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz.” Morty the Ghost is the co-star and is certainly inspired by all the Saturday morning cartoons that I watched as a kid. Both characters are friendly, and not menacing at all. The puppets work with each other to try to solve Morty’s problem of not being able to say ‘boo!’ which can be rather embarrassing for a ghost, especially around Halloween.”

The puppet troupe has become a family affair, with everyone contributing something to the numerous shows they perform.

“I am the creator, scriptwriter, songwriter, musician, prop builder, website/social media guy, press and booking agent, driver, and solo puppeteer,” he says. “Lara is the puppet designer/builder, prop and set artist, IT troubleshooter, and voice of reason. Our daughter Eleanor and son Tiernan have helped with story and song ideas, jokes, and being my test audience. I am very fortunate to have a family that tolerates hearing me practice voices, songs, and skits around our house.

“My wife created our moniker as the name for the attic room that I would use to record electronic music,” Burke continues. “I had originally thought of calling the troupe The Wonder Puppets, inspired by comic books and science fiction pulp novels. Lara didn’t think it was a very good name, and suggested that we reuse Wump Mucket. We are often asked what does it mean? Nothing at all! It’s just a silly name, and it fits the show well.”

The troupe averages 60 live performances a year, touring throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Burke has found that some of his characters have developed a following.

“Everyone seems to have their favorite, with many children telling me that they love all the puppets in the cast,” he says. “Coleman, the sasquatch is certainly a fan favorite, perhaps due to his numerous live television appearances over the years. I think that kids identify with him. He’s small, cute, and likes to have fun. Many young girls tell me that our alien space princess superhero G’Wizzl is their favorite. They often line up after our show to hug her and have a photo taken together. This past summer, Unka Unka the caveman received lots of laughs and attention, which is wonderful for a simple traditional hand puppet. This tells me that the character is really reaching
his audience.”

Burke and company clearly enjoy being puppeteers and entertaining their audiences.

“There have been so many magic moments for me over the years,” he says. “A few special ones include sharing the joy of puppetry with the children and families at the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati, having a 93-year-old great-grandmother tell me that my puppet show made her feel like a little girl again, and being heckled (in a friendly manner) by Sesame Street puppeteers while I was performing a short bit at the 2013 National Puppetry Festival. Every show has a special memory for me.”

Burke likes to keep his shows lighthearted while giving the younger audience members something to think about.

“There are themes that I do try to relate to my young audience,” he says, “including using your imagination, the importance of reading and libraries, taking care of our planet, and most of all, be kind, share joy, and have fun. I am very aware that puppets are powerful tools to communicate a message with, especially to children. So, I keep mine positive, short, and sweet.

“It is my hope that the show made them laugh, clap, or sing along, creating a special memory for the children and families who attend my shows,” he says. “I want people to leave a show with a smile on their face, knowing that my puppetry brings joy to our world.”

Wump Mucket Puppets will present its ‘Kooky Spooky Halloween Show’ at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13 at the Dayton Metro Library Main Branch, 120 S. Patterson Blvd. in Dayton, and 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27 at the Dayton Metro Library Huber Heights branch, 6160 Chambersburg Rd. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, please call 937.463.2665 or visit WumpMucketPuppets.com. 

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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