Puppetry with objects unlocks the imagination and opens the mind


Guest contributor Caroline Reck is the founder and artistic director of the award-winning
Glass Half Full Theatre, which has created some of the most creative, educational, and emotionally moving theater productions I’ve experienced in Austin (or anywhere). I can’t wait to see their latest work, Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella Story, and you’ll understand why whey you read Caroline’s inspiring post below.

A few weeks ago, my young daughter and I were lying on my bed, reading a story. I wanted her to nap. She wanted to talk to me about the patches in our ceiling plaster, where a leak in the roof had caused some discoloration and peeling sections. I always avoided looking at those patches, a reminder that despite having our roof repaired, I had yet to chip away the plaster and repaint the ceiling. But Clementine saw something else. Unaware of my angst about those patches, she told me, “Mama, I love your ceiling! It’s so beautiful. There’s a mama fish, and a baby fish, and that one’s a bear. They’re taking care of each other, in case the bear isn’t a friendly bear . . . oh, no, it’s OK . . . the bear is smiling. . . .”

I was reminded, once again, of how important imagination is in creating a sense of positivity, of possibility, of aspirational thought. I shouldn’t have to be reminded. I’m the founder and artistic director of Glass Half Full Theatre, an Austin company, where my job is dreaming up ways to help audiences look at life in imaginative and optimistic ways, through puppetry and other live theater forms.

But it is so easy to let the everyday drudgery pull you down, make you forget your natural imaginative urges, and I see it happening to kids at younger and younger ages. Many factors contribute to children using their imaginations less often: screen time supplying ready-made images and predictable stories, exhaustion from long hours at school and aftercare, overscheduling of overly structured activities. As an educator, artist, and mama, I’m always looking for ways to promote imagination in children’s lives, and I particularly like to do bilingual work, so it’s accessible to kids whether English or Spanish is the language they are most confident in.

I wrote a play that was originally produced in 2015 at ZACH Theatre, in collaboration with Teatro Vivo, and is currently touring to schools in the Greater Austin area. It’s called Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella Story and features the character of Belinda, a young girl banished by her uncaring stepfamily to the basement. Undeterred, Belinda befriends the objects around her, inventing characters with her unbridled imagination.


The show opens with Belinda giving voice(s) and movement to a two-headed desk lamp. Kids in the audience lean in. They’ve never seen this before. They are intrigued. They want to figure out what’s happening. Sometimes audiences of children will talk aloud at this point: “What’s she doing? How is she doing that?” but they quickly settle into a fascinated silence as the lamp characters (Gustavo and Ernesto) set up the backstory.

Belinda is stuck in the basement, preparing for a party that’s happening upstairs later on. She begins to recount the story of Cinderella, using a napkin with a napkin ring for Cinderella, an upside-down teapot for the Fairy Godmother, and a set of kitchen funnels for the stepfamily. She (and we) notice the parallels between the story of Cenicienta and Belinda’s own life, but it takes the duration of the show, and the unexpected opportunity to meet her hero, real-life poet Gary Soto, who’s upstairs at the party, for Belinda to gain the confidence to recognize her own self-worth in the world outside her imagination.

We’ve been touring this show to Austin-area campuses for the past year. I sit near the audience in the auditorium to run the sound cues, so I get to experience their youthful reaction to unbridled imagination being validated onstage. Their eyes get brighter. Their focus is intense, different from the glazed look children get when they are watching digital content. They are watching and listening, piecing together the story. Teachers and parents report to me that after the show, their kids start making up stories using brooms and straws and other objects they find around them. Kids who don’t speak Spanish experience the unique opportunity to follow along with the parts that are in Spanish, without being left out, because the action provides the links to understand what’s happening onstage. Tapping into their imaginations improves their ability to approach ideas with an open mind.

I still haven’t fixed the ceiling in my bedroom, but I also don’t avoid looking at it anymore. After all, my daughter finds it beautiful. She peers into the constellation of peeling drywall and sees a family of fish taking care of one another. I see the blooming artistry in her eyes, and I can’t remember why I disliked those patches in the first place.


Cenicienta: A Bilingual Cinderella Story, by Caroline Reck and Rupert Reyes, is being presented at the Sin Fronteras Festival at UT Austin January 23–24, 2019, and is currently available to tour to schools in the greater Austin area. For information on the Sin Fronteras festival, visit here. For information on bringing Cenicienta to your school, please visit here.

Caroline Reck

Teaching improv

Carrie Carter recently wound up her work as an intern at The Hideout Theatre’s summer camps and teen intensives in downtown Austin. She graciously agreed to share some of the lessons she learned there as a young improv teacher.

When I first found my internship at The Hideout Theatre’s youth program, I thought it must be too good to be true. When I told my friends about it, they agreed.

During the school year, I attend Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. I study English and Educational Studies and am in the teacher’s licensure program for early childhood education. I love all of my classes, my professors, and fellow students whom I have the privilege of learning beside. The thing I love most about Mount Holyoke, however, is that the learning goes beyond the classroom. Education spills over into the organizations, traditions, and relationships one finds there.

Mount Holyoke is where I stumbled into improv. My best friends said, “You can totally do this, and if you don’t know how, we’ll teach you.” They allowed me to be brave, and I trusted them. So, lo and behold, they did teach me how to do improv. I trusted them because it was their best friends who taught them how to do improv. It is this chain of teaching each other that makes Mount Holyoke a wonderful place.

The college encourages this not only vocally but also financially. By that I am referencing Mount Holyoke’s Lynk Universal Application Funding Program, in which the Career Development Center agrees to fund students for an internship that pertains to their future career. Without this program, I would not have been able to study this summer at The Hideout Theatre. I wanted to make sure that in this blog post I expressed my extreme gratitude to the school that I attend.

So, I found this amazing internship, one that somehow encompassed two things I love—teaching and improv—and it turned out to be way harder than I ever expected. Before starting I thought, “I’ve worked at plenty of summer camps before: day camps, art camps, even an eight-week sleep-away camp. I’ve also done improv and am pretty okay at it. How hard can this be?”

Well, just because you are good at two things individually—no matter how many principles they share—doesn’t mean you can do them both at the same time. I found myself in a situation that I had never been in before: I had been “trained” in my program at school to follow the guidelines of what students are required to learn by the state when making lesson plans. But when teaching improv, that of course doesn’t exist. Where was my checklist of what the children must learn? What if I taught the principle of being obvious before I taught students how to agree with each other in the “Yes, and . . . ” lesson?

Teaching improv made me realize how reliant I had become on structure, and how it may have been squelching the growth of both my students and myself as a teacher in the classroom. When I went in, I found myself asking students questions and then answering them myself if they didn’t understand after a few moments. It is so obvious to me, now that I reflect, how silly and counterproductive that is—but, again, I had become caught up in the “checklist” that teachers often begin to follow religiously, and had forgotten about the needs of the students right in front of me.

There are a lot of “unknowns” in teaching. Your students might understand what you are teaching themin the way that you have written down on your lesson plan, or they might grasp the concept in ways that only they truly understand. Working with improvisers who are also educators this summer taught me how to dive into all of these “unknowns” and get comfortable with them. Whether you are doing improv yourself, teaching improv, or teaching something completely different, you never know what will happen next. And isn’t that the most fun part?!

Carrie Carter

Why Shakespeare now?

A scene from ImprovEd Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Guest contributor Andee Kinzy is the director of ImprovEd Shakespeare, a playground where kids and Shakespeare explore the past, the present, and the future—improving upon our own introductions to Shakespeare education.

Shakespeare, ugh. For many of us, the name conjures up feelings of dread. We’re reminded of the fact that we just never understood the archaic language, and if anyone drags us to see a Shakespeare show—it’s usually time to catch up on our sleep.

So if we, ourselves, are not excited about Shakespeare, why should we bother introducing Shakespeare to our kids? It can wait ’til high school, right? Wrong.

You should be introducing your kids to Shakespeare now. Think about it: the entire world is new to your children. As they’re growing, they are adding new experiences to their knowledge on a daily basis. If you can get Shakespeare in their hands before they reach the age of “coolness,” he’s just another new experience. There’s nothing scary or intimidating about new experiences when your purpose in life is to experience everything.

A scene from ImprovEd Shakespeare’s As You Like It

What about the language, you ask? I say, they’re learning new words every day. What about the adult themes, you wonder? Sure, there are some Shakespeare plots that should be left for later years. But for the most part, Shakespeare is following story themes that are ingrained in human psyche. In fact, much of the so-called “children’s fare” shares some of the same plots. The Lion King? Hamlet. Beauty and the Beast? Gaston is a bit like Lady M riling her husband up to kill the king. And let’s not forget Gnomeo and Juliet.

Okay, so this is all great and good, but how are you, a Shakespeare-phobe, going to add yet another of those things-to-make-you-feel-guilty-because-you-haven’t-exposed-your-child-to-it-yet to your To Do list? There’s too much, already!

Fair enough. And in the case of full disclosure, I have to admit that my organization, ImprovEd Shakespeare, exists to help solve your dilemma. So you could check us out online. But even that takes time, so here are three easy ways to add Shakespeare to your life:

  1. Pull up some of those famous quotes you hear all the time (everyone knows at least part of a Shakespeare quote) and ruminate on your daily happenings: “To be or not to be cooking dinner tonight?” “All the world’s a stage, and you, my little imp, belong on it.” “Out, out, darn spot!” The internet abounds with famous quotes, but if you’re feeling the need for more, these can get you started.
  2. Every time you use a word given to us by Shakespeare, say, “Thank you, Shakespeare!” Here are a few common ones: belongings (“Don’t forget your belongings! Thank you, Shakespeare!”); eventful (“Well, that was an eventful day! Thank you, Shakespeare!”); eyeball (“Ow! There’s something on my eyeball! Thank you, Shakespeare!”). Need some more suggestions?
  3. Check out some Shakespeare stories from the library: Tales from Shakespeare, by Marcia Williams; any of the Shakespeare for Kids books by Lois Burdett; Bruce Coville’s Shakespeare books; or a different Tales From Shakespeare, by Tina Packer.

Before you know it, you and your kids will be bedazzled (Thank you, Shakespeare!) by the bard and ready to welcome his fun into your lives.

A scene from ImprovEd Shakespeare’s King Lear

Or, if you live in Austin and are ready for more Shakespeare, check out a full-length production. Present Co. is performing The Tempest in October. Use one of those books from the library to introduce the story beforehand.

And, of course, there’s always our ImprovEd Shakespeare productions. One sure-fire way to get your kids excited about Shakespeare is seeing his work performed by kids, for kids. This November we present Henry IV (Part 1!). For more information about performances and Shakespeare for kids, visit our website or follow us on social media.

A scene from ImprovEd Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Andee Kinzy