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LMNOPuppets Creates the ‘Sesame Street’ of Longmont

November 29, 2018

Ben Mills, left, and Matt Bethune prepare to shoot a video at LMNOPuppets on Wednesday.

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For more information about LMNOPuppets, visit lmnopuppets.com

Growing up Matt Bethune was a shy kid, but it wasn’t a parent, teacher or coach that inspired him to break out of his shell, it was the Muppets.

This self-described “obsession” not only helped him discover a passion for performing, it also gave birth to a career working on shows like “Sesame Street” and, yes, even the “The Muppets.”

While puppetry is becoming a lost art in the age of animation and live-action technology, Bethune and his team have set about exposing more kids to the power of performing and puppetry in hopes of inspiring another shy kid to break out of his or her shell.

“There are some puppeteers in the Denver area, but it didn’t seem like anyone was touring schools and doing videos,” he said. “So I just started doing it and founded LMNOPuppets in 2017.”

While Bethune’s initial plan for LMNOPuppets was to do live performances at schools and libraries, he found that schools and libraries no longer have the resources to regularly book performers and he was forced to re-evaluate his business plan.

That’s when his board of directors, many of whom are school teachers from around Longmont, made the suggestion to start making videos that schools could access online for free.

“What we heard from schools was that the live performances were great, but what would be more useful are video resources to show in class and send home,” Bethune said. “My background’s in television puppetry, so that’s right up my alley and this year we kind of switched gears.”

Some videos, like the word of the day, will help young students improve their vocabulary, others, like The S-Team, a parody on the ’80s cult classic “The A-Team,” teaches kids to solve problems in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.

With a experienced team comprised of Ben Mills, one of Bethune’s co-writers and performers who previously worked with “Sid the Science Kid,” the Jim Henson Company, Nickelodeon and Disney; Pam Gray, a professional doll maker and artist who designs the puppets; and Emma Appelmann, a recent graduate from the Hofstra University film school, Bethune believes if they can find local sponsorship, LMNOPuppets can make “Sesame Street”-quality productions in Longmont.

“Think of us like ‘Sesame Street’ if 123 Sesame was a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains,” he said. “Being on those sets just teaches you how to do it. It’s like ‘oh that’s how they did that, great, now I can do it myself.’”

As more of a writer, Mills also said that working with major kids’ productions taught him to write dialogue in a non-condescending tone so the show is funny and engaging for kids and adults alike.

“What I really liked about Jim Henson in particular, was that he never talked down to children or made the characters very babyish,” he said. “It was always about engaging the audience, whoever they were, so it’s enjoyable for all, including the parents. You don’t want them to roll their eyes and say ‘Ugh, why do we have to watch this again,’ because when the parents are engaged, that gets the kids even more into it.”

While the focus of LMNOPuppets has switched to being more of a video production company, that doesn’t mean Bethune and his team will stop doing live performances.

Friday, during Longmont’s tree lighting ceremony, LMNOPuppets put on a show for the 500 people in attendance. In that performance, Mr. Steam from the S-Team “video chatted” with his friends from around the world to see how they celebrate Hanukkah, Diwali and Kwanzaa.

With pre-recorded “video chats,” Bethune was able to incorporate both video and live performances into the show, something he hopes to be able to continue as he grows LMNOPuppets with a series called “Puppets on Main Street,” where he uses one of his characters to talk with people on Main Street in Longmont.

“I love watching (Bethune) do his ‘Puppets on Main Street,’” Gray, said. “He’s standing right next to the puppet but the kids never look at him for the entire interaction. They buy into it so quickly, and not just little kids. The first time we went out,we got more high schoolers than anyone.”

On Dec. 8 , Bethune will be at the Winter Wonderland from 3 to 5 p.m. doing “Puppets on Main Street” before the Longmont Lights Holiday Parade.

With the goal of introducing as many kids to the magic of puppetry and performing as possible, LMNOPuppets also will offer after-school film classes for middle and high school students at the LMNOPuppets Studio, 324 Main St.

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24

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