Puppets of the Kingdom
- Thursday, September 08, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of Solo Zone, a monthly series focusing on believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God’s glory.
Okay. So maybe it’s not the first thing you think of when exploring career paths or evangelism methods.
But you have to admit: puppetry gets peoples’ attention!
The same Cookie Monster and Kermit the Frog we all saw on television were what helped capture Edna Bland’s imagination back when she was a child on New York’s Long Island. Not only the innovative colors and fabrics that helped define each character, but also the beguiling way puppets could engage one’s imagination.
“There is a great mystery to making an inanimate object come to life,” Bland enthuses. “Children and adults alike are fascinated with the art form. And how well one can make that object more life-like and likeable is the difference between a person manipulating a puppet and a puppet master.”
A puppet master?
“I discovered that puppetry was a skill God gave me. One day, during a puppet workshop, I took a class that taught us how to use rods. I just picked up the rods and began manipulating the puppet, as if I had done it for years,” she recalls, drawing a distinction between hand puppets and The Muppet Show kind. “That was the first time I’d ever touched a rod puppet. Something inside me confirmed this was something I was naturally good at, and I wanted to pursue it.”
Can You Tell Me How to Get . . .
Bland’s modesty doesn’t tell the whole story. At one point early in her career, she was working for the New York Emmy Awards and got befriended by Carroll Spinney, Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Spinney invited Bland to the famous show’s set in Queens, where he personally mentored her in voice development and puppet manipulation.
Although she never got to join the Sesame Street team, her friendship with Spinney opened her eyes. Bland threw herself into the puppetry world, joining the New York City Puppetry Guild, and establishing herself in her craft.
Eventually, during an entertainment industry event, she met her longtime heroine, Loretta Long in, of all places, a ladies' room at Madison Square Garden. Ever since she was a child, Bland, who is African-American, had admired Long and her Sesame Street character, “Susan,” since there were few black females in children’s programming then. Despite all of Bland’s visits to the Sesame Street set back in Queens, however, the two had never connected before.
“We ended up going to lunch and instantly bonded,” Bland recalls. “Later we worked together touring around promoting reading literacy, including an appearance on Atlanta’s PBS television station. It reminds me of that verse in Jeremiah 1:5 where the Lord speaks about how, before we were born, he set the course for our lives. It’s amazing how someone I admired as a child, I would grow up and work alongside, and she would mentor me.”
More Than Just Child’s Play
Indeed, Bland’s puppetry has become more than a hobby or even a job. The Lord has been able to use her to bring people in her audiences to himself. More often than not, it’s adults she finds being ministered to as much—or more—than kids.
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