Puppet institute encourages kids to use their imagination

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- It may be one of the Kansas City metro's best kept secret for kids.  A place where they can relax, create and learn about a slice of forgotten Kansas City history.

The Puppetry Arts Institute is tucked away in the old Englewood district of Independence.  From the outside, it doesn't look like much.  There's a couple of old puppets in the window.  But don't judge this Kansas City treasure by its modest exterior.

"When they walk in here they know immediately that this is for them," explained Diane Hauke, the institute's director.

To the kids, it's the entrace through a doorway to possibility.

"Einstein said that creativity was more impt than intelligence," Hauke said.

If that's true, then the institute is pure genius.  The walls are lined with marrionettes from a different era -- a time that's eagerly revisited the moment little fingers make their first brush stroke.

"We listen to what the children say when they are painting their puppets and they want to have a purple whale or a girl with pink hair, we say that is fine," Hauke said.

Puppeteers come from around the world to put on shows here.  Kraig Kensinger will perform "Pinocchio" later this month.

"This is the French can-can girl.  She is in the circus and Pinocchio falls in love with her," Kensinger explained.

From Batman and Robin to the big bad wolf to Harry S. Truman, Hazelle Rollins would have been proud.  She wasn't your typical woman of the 1930s.  When she graduated from the University of Kansas during the Depression, she couldn't find a job.  However, she could make puppets.  So she created Hazelle Puppet Factory right in her own home.

Between 1935 to 1975, her company would become the largest puppet maker in the world.  When Rollins sold the company, the company began to fail.  Finally in 2000, the institute acquired the left over pieces and parts to the puppets.  Now children come in to the building to relax and breathe new life into the old relics.

"We encourage them to give the puppets names to give a voice to their puppets and give it a personality," Hauke told FOX 4 News.

Their opportunity to shine comes inside the puppet theater.

"We want them to use their imagination," Hauke explained.

To learn more Puppetry Arts Insitutes' performances and programs, go to http://www.hazelle.org

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