Pair of puppet shows by Artists with Autism will be performed Saturday

August 9, 2018

The Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism is presenting two original puppet shows created by local children with autism.

“The Spaghetti Problem” and “The Adventures of Captain Redbeard” are the culmination of the gallery’s seven-week workshop, allowing children with autism younger than 18 to create, design and perform unique puppet shows.

One goal of the workshop was to teach children with autism, who often struggle with social skills, to develop greater communication skills and become more comfortable interacting with others. After six workshop sessions held every Saturday, the workshop has definitely met that goal.

“From the first day, it was very difficult to get [some kids] to talk at all,” said Aleah Wunder, of Bradley, an intern studying art at Eastern Illinois University and a workshop instructor. “Now, they’re communicating more between each other and they’re more willing” to interact with their peers. As the workshop has progressed, the children became noticeably more comfortable with social interactions.

Performances of “The Spaghetti Problem” and “The Adventures of Captain Redbeard” begin at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at the Merchant Street Art Gallery at 356 E. Merchant St. in Kankakee. Admission is free.

The workshop’s two stories aim to entertain children and adults alike, while also teaching children with autism important lessons about life. Both stories teach children to be kind, take care of others and be mindful, Wunder said.

“The Spaghetti Problem” also teaches its audience about sibling rivalries and the importance of family.

The story involves two wizard siblings “eating spaghetti at a castle party,” Wunder said, “and one wizard sibling is being a little meaner to the other and they have kind of a bit of a falling out and eventually make up.”

“The Adventures of Captain Redbeard,” inspired by a sculpture previously created by gallery artist Drew Carriker, highlights the impact of love.

“Redbeard marries a mermaid and they eventually adopt three children,” Carriker said. “One of them has fish allergies, so they travel to a realm to retrieve a trident in hopes of curing his daughter from her allergies. But Redbeard has to fight a monster shark to get to the trident.”

Ten local children with autism, ages 7 to 16, participated in the workshop through various roles, from writing to puppet design to performing. All had a wonderful time completing their assigned roles, Wunder said. They are excited to see their story and its characters come to life on Saturday.

The Merchant Street Art Gallery was able to run the workshop thanks to a grant donated by the Kiwanis Club of Kankakee, a nonprofit service club dedicated to serving children and youth in the Kankakee County area.

Public attendance is encouraged for the event, and refreshments will be available. For more information, contact Janice Miller, gallery director, at jmiller_etc@yahoo.com or 815-685-9057.

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