As a child, Nicola McEldowney was besotted with the 1990s PBS series “Storytime,” featuring a large orange puppet host named Kino and a constant procession of celebrities who dropped by the set to read children’s books.
An avid reader, McEldowney said she was profoundly affected by the show’s pairing of puppetry and prose, employed to instill a love of reading in young audiences.
Now 25, McEldowney offers a similar outlet to a whole new generation of children and adults, featuring literary classics and original works.
She travels widely to bring her one-woman puppet shows to a variety of audiences as part of Puppet Storytime Theatre.
While McEldowney had always been fascinated with puppets, she didn’t come to the work until age 21.
“I went to Columbia University and was studying abroad in France, where puppetry is a huge traditional art form,” said McEldowney. “While there, I had the chance to do a directed research project on anything I wanted. I chose puppets.”
Since then, McEldowney has brought performances of re-enacted traditional storybook tales, using puppets she creates to coincide with selected reading material.
“One of the first professional puppets I made, and probably my favorite, is a white whale I made for a presentation of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘How the Whale Got His Throat’,” said McEldowney, who owns about 150 puppets.
McEldowney said she’s been fortunate to participate in a variety of puppetry internships, ranging from a few days to a few weeks in duration, including intensives at places like Liliput Puppets in Paris and The Puppet Kitchen in New York, which designs puppet parts for Broadway shows.
“The first puppet I made was probably at age 5, that came in a kit with ready-made stitches around the sides,” said McEldowney. “I think I still have it in a box somewhere in the basement.”
McEldowney offers workshops in puppeteering — teaching everything from basic puppet-making for children to intensive classes in making and manipulating puppets on stage. Those sessions are offered for small or large groups and at birthday parties.
McEldowney is preparing to stage her original musical “Aisle Six” from Aug. 15 to 24 at the New York Fringe Festival where she will literally have her hand in everything — serving as a director, producer, performer and puppeteer.
“This show features human performers and a few puppets — but it is not for children,” McEldowney said. “People often make the mistake of thinking puppet shows are always for children. That is not the case. For this one, I wrote the melodies and I had a professional composer flesh them out into the full musical score.”
McEldowney returns to her home turf in Kennebunk this week to lead a puppet-making workshop for children ages 7-14 at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Kennebunk Free Library, 112 Main St.
Children will be taught to use their imagination and materials, such as socks, buttons and pipe cleaners, to create puppet characters. All materials will be supplied.
At 6:30 p.m., McEldowney will return to the library with her puppets to perform her rendition of Beatrix Potter’s “Tale of Two Bad Mice.”
Children of all ages are invited to find out what happens when two mice sneak into a doll house and try to steal the food they find there.
Preregistration is required for the workshop; the puppet show is open to all.
McEldowney draws continual inspiration from the work and says, “It’s unlimited. There is no point when you can say I’ve done it all because you know you have only just scraped the surface. Watching kids create puppets always reminds me of how unlimited the scope of this is. They never create the same thing twice.”
Both programs are free and wheelchair accessible.
For more information, call 985-2173, extension 5, or go to www.KennebunkLibrary.org.
Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: