By Louisa Benatovich, ECS Student Reporter

EYWIC, the Ellicottville Young Writers’ and Illustrators’ Club, has been an up-and-coming activity on the after-school extracurricular scene. The club, which previously printed elementary and middle-school book reviews, drawings, and personal narratives in this very paper, has now taken a different route. The club currently hosts various workshops at the Ellicottville Memorial Library. This February – March, EYWIC created a special event workshop series. Over the course of five weeks, ECS 4th- and 5th graders learned about types of puppeteering from around the world.

“It was a pleasure putting the workshop together,” said Katie Benatovich, the club’s advisor. “It incorporated the Indonesian art of shadow puppetry called Wayang Kulit, Punch and Judy from the United Kingdom, Jim Henson’s Muppets (marionettes and puppets), The Lion King the Musical’s fabulous full body puppets, and Darci Lynne’s ventriloquism.”

Each Friday, the students took the bus to learn and create at the Library. With a partner, they designed puppets, wrote skits, and painted sets. Glitter, glue guns, and markers were their weapons of craft construction. “The purpose of my workshops is to provide an opportunity for children to experience storytelling in all its forms,” said Benatovich, who has facilitated other workshops in the past. “This time I chose puppetry. It gives children a chance to explore new avenues of creativity and refine other life skills, as well, such as public speaking, team building, conflict resolution, and problem solving.”

Laura Flanagan, head librarian of the Ellicottville Memorial Library, was delighted to host the workshops while it ran its five week course. “The Library strives to meet the needs of the community by offering a variety of programs and activities,” she said. “One of the programs that helps to meet this demand is the Ellicottville Young Writers and Illustrators Club. A unique collaboration between the library, Rotary Club of Ellicottville Foundation for Youth, and Ellicottville Central School, this program is a great educational event for the children in our community. We are grateful to all the people involved that helped make it a success.”

On Jan. 9, after hours of preparation, the 13 students were able to show off their newfound puppet knowledge by performing skits for their parents and community members. Just before the performance, the students were given the opportunity to answer some questions about their “Puppet Power!” experience. They were all excited to share.

Workshop participant Keira Baldwin, when asked how it felt to finally be able to perform, said it felt great because it was so fun making the puppets. She loved the fact that she could share something she enjoyed with other people. “I especially enjoyed making the wooden spoon puppets,” said Keira, “because almost anything from around the house can be used to give your puppet character.”

“It was a great opportunity to be imaginative and creative at the same time,” said Jordan O’Connell, another member.

Maitlin Brown and Alexa Liskow, skit partners, “had lots of fun working together. We wrote a skit about a family of four snails made out of feathers and jewels.”

Jackson Kruszinski loved the workshops. “It was an opportunity to show off our talents,” he said.

Jordan Folts, another puppetmaster, said, “My favorite kind of puppets were the shadow puppets because I could make my favorite animals like horses and cows.”

Harper Klein, Bianca Bush, Delaney Myers, Madisyn Winship, Makayla Potter, Faith Burlingame, and Chloe Carson also enjoyed such unique exposure to an art that touches people around the world.

Parents were also pumped that their progeny were playing with puppets. “Jordan loved the experience,” said Cheryl Folts, his mother. “He looked forward to this each week. I am very appreciative of this learning creation.”

Another parent, Nicole Jacoby, mother of Keira, enjoyed watching the show. “Keira loves any outlet through which she can express her creativity, and this one allowed her to express herself in many ways.”

The other parents and grandparents enjoyed watching their children and grandchildren thrive in such a supportive and imaginative environment. After the performance, participants were able to bring their puppets and backdrops home. Many were excited to think of new skits and share the crafts with their siblings and friends.

The Rotary Club Foundation of Youth sponsored the wonderful “Puppet Power!” workshop experience. Greg Cappelli, the president of the foundation, was pleased with its success, and looks optimistically to the future. “The Rotary Club Foundation for Youth has a mission to provide unique activities for youth in our district and EYWIC helps fulfill that mission,” Cappelli said. “We believe that EYWIC provides alternative programs that help round out experience for youth in our community.  We will continue to support similar programs going forward while we work to improve the quality and content.  We thank ECS and the Ellicottville Memorial Library for their support for these types of programs.”

“I’m very pleased with how it all worked out,” said Benatovich, as she was packing up the boxes of craft supplies. “I’m grateful that we live in a community where learning is so valued. I thank everyone who was involved; it would not have been possible without their teamwork and flexibility. I’m excited to plan the next workshop.”