KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A recent high school graduate who makes creatures out of foam and metal and cloth and brings them to life is our FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever this week. Cedwan Hooks is a puppeteer and puppet maker who has been entertaining audiences in theaters and churches for 10 years already. And this young master of make-believe is hoping to follow in the footsteps of puppet masters like his idol, Muppets creator Jim Henson.
The acclaimed Paul Mesner Puppets are delighting audiences once again this summer at the company's studio and theater in midtown Kansas City with productions like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Cedwan Hooks works in the narrow confines behind the scenery, skillfully operating most of the puppets and doing many of the voices. Cedwan just graduated from high school but he is already a veteran puppeteer in the Mesner troupe. It's his second summer working here and although Cedwan is young, the famous puppet master in charge trusts him completely.
"He's very steady," says Paul Mesner. "And he's quite mature for his age. And he's very dependable. But beyond that, he's really talented. He also is very funny. A great sense of humor himself. And he's very ambitious. He's driven to want to do the very best to get it right. That's what makes him a great person to work with."
Cedwan's been doing puppetry and making puppets of his own since he was in grade school after he was mesmerized by Barney the Dinosaur on TV.
"I stared at the screen forever trying to figure out how they did everything," says Cedwan with a big laugh.
He's fearlessly networked with master puppet makers getting them to share secrets of the craft.
"I'd say I had one foot in the costumed characters and one foot in puppetry," says Cedwan.
And he sharpened his performing skills doing his own puppet ministry in churches for years starting as a child.
"That's where I got my confidence," says Cedwan. "That's where I discovered a lot of the talents I had. Bringing the characters to life is my favorite part of the process. That's what got me infatuated with it, especially the art of puppet building."
Cedwan's skill and creativity with puppets and costume characters were on display in a big way this past year when Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, KS put on the musical Little Shop of Horrors.
"It's remarkable what he was able to accomplish with the puppets," says North High theater instructor Ben Bartlett. Bartlett supervised the show and confidently turned over to Cedwan the mammoth job of designing, making and operating the flesh-eating alien plant puppets.
He created four of them from a small hand-held to the giant one that had him and two other performers that Cedwan trained in it -- their legs moving as the stems. Cedwan did the mouth and voice and choreographed the movements.
"These puppets that he made were really characters that really came to life," says Bartlett. "It's really a testament to his talent and ability that he was able to do that."
Little Shop of Horrors was a tour de force for Cedwan, winning him the Starlight Theatre Blue Star Award for outstanding technical achievement in high school musical theater for 2011/12. Now Cedwan wants to step into the big time of puppetry and costumed characters -- TV shows, movies and theater, Disney theme parks and arena shows like Sesame Street Live -- creating and performing and captivating people just like a big purple dinosaur on TV did him.
"That would be a dream for me," says Cedwan. "That would be excellent. I would love to have my name known for what I do."
In addition to the Starlight Theatre Blue Star Award, Cedwan won a major scholarship to the Puppeteers of America National Puppetry Festival in Atlanta, Ga. where he got to train with the masters and learn some of their secrets and expand his networking universe. He's already starting to apply to audition with some of them.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.
Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.