2017 Summer and Autumn Updates!

As afternoon shadows lengthen, temperatures drop and foliage of gold falls around us, Winter is close at hand.

The Kids on The Block Puppeteers survived a wild summer ride of shows, venturing across the Waterloo-Region and out even as far as the Greater Toronto Area to accommodate invitations!

In all, The Kids performed 26 shows to numerous day-camp and public library audiences, sharing their positive messages with well over 850 children, parents and counsellors.  KOB also had the pleasure of presenting, once again, at the Kitchener Non-Violence Festival ~ an annual summer event we are always pleased to support.  Most requested topics during the summer included: Blindness, Emotional Disabilities, Deafness, Feelings, Teasing and Bullying.

The Kids on The Block and their sponsors at The Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region wish to thank the Waterloo and Kitchener city council’s who helped to line up and fund most of our summer shows, as well as all the camp volunteers and staff who accommodated our visits.

With the new school year in full swing, our puppeteers and puppets have been active in local schools during the past several weeks, with bookings already rolling in for 2018!

We have exciting new plans in the pipeline for next season, including a new brochure, the addition of some  fun,  live musical components to our performances and the development of a few new puppets who may be joining the Kids soon!

Teachers and community groups looking to have Kids On The Block out for a show between December 2017 and June 2018, contact us to book your shows soon!  Calendar dates are booking up quickly!

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2016 / 2017 School Season Comes To An End

The 2016 / 2017 school year has come to an end but the Kids on The Block are now already in full swing ~ with a busy few months ahead.   Between summer-schools and city day-camps, there is still some time for our puppeteers to breathe, wipe their weary brows, rest their arms, kick back with an ice-cream cone and reflect upon what an incredible year 2017 has been so far!

During the winter/spring season we presented at 15 different schools and 7 diverse community locations (including pre-schools, places of worship and festivals) reaching an estimated 2800 people!

Popular topics since January were Teasing, Bullying and Behavioural Disabilities.  Our old favourite, Renaldo Rodriguez, was also present at almost every show to discuss the importance of positive attitudes and answer questions about his blindness.

Mandy and puppeteer Heather McDonald teach American Sign Language to students at a Waterloo School.

KOB would like take the time to thank our volunteers Heather MacDonald and Liz Reuss who brought their smiles and skills to so many shows over the past year.  We look forward to seeing Heather back on stage next season and wish Liz all the best as she moves on to new volunteer activities after 10 years as a dedicated Kids on The Block puppeteer.

Thank you Liz for all your dedicated work over the past several years! All of us Kids on The Block will miss you.

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Mark Riley and Mom (1987)

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Not The Wold As It Is…The World As It Should Be (1982)

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They Call it Puppet Love: ‘Kids’ Creator Starts Anew (1992)

Renaldo, Mark and Melody (circa. 1977)

August 18, 1992 | By Mary Maushard

Barbara Aiello needed to fall in love again. She’d been jilted. Cut off from a commitment and legally separated from her offspring of 15 years.

After a business partnership soured last winter, Ms. Aiello was forced to sell her interest in the Kids on the Block, a Columbia company she founded to develop, make and sell a troupe of child-size puppets to help real children deal with real-life problems, such as disease and disability.

Ms. Aiello was crushed. She had nurtured more than 40 puppets and sold thousands of them to schools and organizations that performed her scripts and spread her message.

“The Kids on the Block were my identity,” she says. “I created them.”

But now, encouraged by friends and family, Barbara Aiello is doting on a new generation of puppets — the Next Door Neighbors. The “neighbors” are not the new Kids on the Block. They’re adults and teens who learn to deal with social instead of physical ailments — violence, drugs, troubled families and isolation.

“Puppetry in and of itself is a powerful tool for all ages. It’s a good vehicle for social issues,” opening people up to situations they can identify with, Ms. Aiello said.

It’s also a comeback for Ms. Aiello, who relinquished all rights to her old puppets and scripts when her partnership broke up. She feared she would be out of puppetry forever, but friends urged her to get back into the game.

“A number of people who knew me through my puppets really kicked me in the pants,” she said.

Since the buyout agreement with her former partner did not contain a “no compete” clause, the one-time schoolteacher took her profits from the sale and an idea planted by her daughter and formed Barbara Aiello and Associates, Educational Consulting Services.

She converted the basement of her rural Westminster home to an office and set to work making “a puppet I could fall in love with all over again.”

Helping her was Carroll County designer Teresa Warren.

With Ms. Aiello’s experience, Ms. Warren’s expertise and suggestions from Kids on the Block fans, the two women created the “Neighbors.”

Ms. Warren and three seamstresses make the puppets, which (( are 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall.

Ms. Aiello is not involved in making the puppets as she was with the Kids on the Block.

The “neighbors” quickly caught the attention of some day campers one recent afternoon at the Towson YMCA. The youngsters, squirming and wondering before the performance if it was “a long show,” were soon attentive and responsive.

Helen Oakley, an elderly puppet who is the lead “neighbor,” asked the youngsters for help in settling a dispute they had just witnessed in the McCord puppet family.

Hands quickly shot up.

“Talk nicely to each other,” said one child.

“Ignore each other,” said another.

“Put up your stuff so your brother doesn’t get it,” suggested a third.

“Apologize,” offered another.

Each time Helen asked for help, she got more hands than she could recognize.

“We always get this kind of response,” said Adele Asaro, one of two puppeteers who worked with Ms. Aiello at the Kids on the Block and has rejoined her.

Ms. Asaro, who brings 11-year-old Sam to life, adds: “They [the children] really talk about a lot of important things. The puppets are wonderful . . . for communicating. I believe I make a difference.”

The “neighbor” programs follow a similar format to the Kids on the Block performances. They’re 40 minutes long, geared for anyone 8 years old or older and include opportunities for the audience to get involved.

“When a hand goes up, a barrier comes down,” Ms. Aiello said.

Ms. Aiello can identify with some of the subjects her puppets discuss. They grew out of her own family difficulties, she said.

At dinner one night, Ms. Aiello’s 14-year-old daughter, Rosanna, talked about the problems her family faced after her mother and stepfather (Ms. Aiello’s husband, Richard Dolph, was marketing director of the Kids on the Block) sold the old puppet business.

From that discussion came the idea for puppets who deal with family problems. The scripts follow three themes: basic family issues, such as self-esteem and conflict resolution; alternatives to violence, and protecting the environment.

Some themes are common to all families, such as talking and listening to each other. Some themes address diversity — racial and ethnic ties, traditions and myths. But permeating all the scripts is the idea that “we can’t isolate ourselves,” Ms. Aiello said.

Joining Helen are two puppet families, the McCords, who are white, and the Tylers, who are black. Also in the puppet cast is Franceene Foster, a teen who asks Helen to help her deal with her crack-addicted mother.

The puppets and their programs are based in reality. “They are not composites; that takes the real edge away,” she said.

Ms. Aiello and her research assistant and fellow puppeteer, Cheryl Leonard, spend months developing scripts.

They begin by interviewing not only experts, but also the people the puppets will portray. For the programs on violence and family values, they talked with young people in Baltimore and Washington and their suburbs.

Ms. Aiello wants to sell the puppets and the programs to school systems, community organizations and other groups that can use them to teach the messages and behavior the puppets convey. With scripts, guidebooks and follow-up activities, the puppets cost from $2,400 to $3,400 a set, she says.

The fee includes training sessions for those who will be making the puppets come to life.

Groups that can’t afford to buy puppets can contract with Ms. Aiello’s company for performances. This summer, the Next Door Neighbors have been performing at the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theater as part of an exhibit sponsored by the American Psychological Association.

Ms. Aiello and her husband are just beginning to market the Next Door Neighbors.

“We know we’re on to something,” she said.

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