DerRic Starlight may not be Jim Henson, but for students and staff at Princess Alexandra School on Oct. 4 the distinction hardly mattered.
“I think the show was well-received,” said principal Carolyn Carroll. “The kids were certainly very enthusiastic.”
Starlight stopped at Diamond Jenness Secondary School, Chief Sunrise Education Centre, and even did an evening show at the Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre, before unpacking his bag of puppets at Princess Alexandra. The show – focused on delivering an anti-bullying message – brings together puppets beloved by all ages from ‘The Muppet Show’ and ‘Sesame Street’, as well as Starlight’s own creations.
“It’s the beginning, the middle, and the end,” Starlight told The Hub when asked about the highlights of the show. “It’s Kermit, Elmo and Granny. That’s when you know you have them.”
About a decade ago, he actually worked on ‘The Muppet Show’ as a puppeteer.
A member of the Tsuu T’ina First Nation outside of Calgary, Starlight himself was bullied in school as a result of his passion for puppets. He told the audience – held rapt by his renditions of Miss Piggy, Grover and Cookie Monster – how he had been teased for playing with dolls until his grandmother suggested the next time he take out a puppet and put on a show. The strategy worked and Starlight said by Grade 6 he was one of the most popular kids in school.
“Nothing has really changed for kids being bullied,” he said. “Communities are the same across the North. They all share the same problems.”
While the first half of the show featured familiar characters, the second half was devoted to Starlight’s own Aboriginal puppets. They included a young woman dancer, the Warrior and Granny – each with their own message. The dancer taught the children to not be shy, while Warrior told them to be proud of who they are. Granny’s song was perhaps the most popular and told the assembled students to follow their dreams.
“With all the youth tours, we always try to find good role models,” said Peter Daniels, organizer of the tour, and youth and volunteer officer with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. “Personally, I’m focused on the bullying. It’s always been there, but there seems to be an epidemic of it now.”
Other tours have featured a rapper who spoke to kids about lifestyle choices and saying no to drugs and alcohol, while an upcoming tour in November deals with self-esteem issues, according to Daniels.
“They’re all based on getting in touch with youth about all positive aspects of life,” he said.
As for how well the message against bullying sank in with students, Carroll said she thought it was effective on many levels.
“It was there, and delivered at their level, but not drilled into them,” she said. “I think it will also open the door for more discussion about bullying in and outside the classroom, too.”
— Sarah Ladik