Articles about Jan


From- Tallahassee's People

With an array of puppet characters, songs and stories born of her own imagination, Jan Kaufman teaches small children morals, manners, good eating habits and other lessons the fun way she dramatizes them.
It's easier to get hard, distasteful lessons across this way, especially if you act them out with the children themselves, says the multi-talented woman, who writes and produces her own skits and sings the songs.

The stories are built around such themes as friendship, running away from home, and losing something that belongs to someone else. To illustrate, a fumbling, bumbling little boy named Willie drops his friend's magic rope down a well, and the friend fumes until Willie agrees to try to retrieve it.

He goes down, down, down until he enters the Land of the Lost. After overcoming many hardships, disappointments and frustrations, he returns with the rope and a lesson in taking care of other people's things.

As she tells the story, she encourages dialogue between the young audience and the characters. After Willie's friend insists on sending him for the rope, he asks the children what he should do.

"Go down and get it" they yell.

"But, it's dark down there."

"Take a flashlight."

"It's cold down there."

"Take a coat and mittens."

From scraps of cloth, felt, Styrofoam, rubber and plastic, buttons, wigs and assorted other materials, she creates the costumes for such characters as Bad-habit Rabbit, who eats nothing but candy and cookies; Winston ston the Cat, with a real, cool-cat swagger; the Singing Lady, who croons everything from pop music to opera; and Yellow Bird, who is similar to Sesame Street's Big Bird, but who got there first. The Madam, with exaggerated eyelashes, painted lips, ample bosom and flirty smile, is for adult entertainment only.

Considering that the puppets can't talk or sing, it's up to Jan to provide the sound - and provide she does, with a creditable accent of most any locality from Australia to Mexico, and a voice equally suited to jazz opera.

Sponsored by the Tallahassee Arts Council, she does shows for the county schools and the City of Tallahassee, as well as for private clubs and businesses and community functions. She also holds puppet workshops. A born clown herself, she helped start Clown Alley and trains clowns and puppeteers for the FSL' circus.

Jan's husband, Dr. Roger Kaufman, FSU needs assessment and planning professor, has been invited by governments in Australia, Venezuela and Chile to visit them as a consultant on problems facing their countries. Jan usually is invited to hold puppet workshops during these visits. She says it's easier to communicate with people of different cultures with puppets than with formal talk.

"It's a simple but wonderful way to help people understand one another," she said. "And if we understand one another, we're not going to go to war with them, are we?"

"Puppets Lend a Hand"

"I hope you can understand me. I talk with an accent," says a puppeteer from the United States by way of an introduction.
Jan Kaufman was in Dunedin with her husband, Prof. Roger Kaufman, a professor from Florida State University who had been invited by the Otago Polytechnic to help develop Strategic planning methods. Mrs Kaufman used the visit to hold a two-day workshop in Dunedin on some of the uses of puppets. These went beyond entertainment.

Mrs. Kaufman introduced "Harold" then slid her hand inside his furry rabbit body and adapted her voice to enable him to "speak". Harold said he had arrived in Dunedin the day before and was finding the "end of the world" much hotter than he had expected. He was having a good time, though, and was looking forward to the workshop where he could explain how puppets like himself helped people.

Mrs. Kaufman said that in the United States, Harold and other puppets helped children who had been abused and made it easier for people in rehabilitation programmes to work through alcoholism or drug addiction. Puppets were stimulators and made it easier for people to confront and work through difficult issues, she said. She started using puppets as a teenager. She was shy and introverted and found it good to have, a "friend" who could say things she was afraid to.

She started giving puppet performances at birthday parties, in television advertisements and attended puppetry conventions. She went on to gain tertiary qualifications in arts and drama, education and human behaviour and combined what she had learnt with her love of puppet performances.

Mrs. Kaufman had found puppets could get her son to follow instructions without confrontation. For example, if she asked her son to have a bath, he would resent his play being interrupted and would probably refuse. But if a puppet approached him and said, "What are you doing"? and then, "I want to play, too", the boy would make room for the puppet. Soon, however, the puppet would get bored and decide to "go and take a bath" then ask the boy "do you want to come, too"? Without argument, the boy would get up and follow the puppet to the bathroom.

Everyone knew a puppet was "not real", Mrs. Kaufman said. "But you accept it for the time it's happening." This could be compared to the belief people at a cinema had in the events affecting characters they saw in a film, she said.

Through her husband's work as a strategic planning consultant, Mrs. Kaufman has taken puppets to business conferences where new corporate directions are discussed. People at such gatherings often adopted a veneer of controlled calm and avoided addressing underlying issues of concern, Mrs. Kaufman said. She described how a puppet could break this veneer by making the most "outrageous" statements and ex- pressing a number of fears and worries about how "unfair" the new plans were. This "opened the way for more honest consultations to take place.

In schools, puppets brought alive lessons which might otherwise seem dull and hard to understand. "If I was talking about history or science and the concept was going to be difficult, I might explain it, then ask kids to make paper puppets and talk about what they'd learned through them." Puppets which worked best for people were often those they had made themselves. "There's no right ,or wrong way about how to make or perform a puppet", Mrs. Kaufman said. They could be the most complicated marionettes or rod-controlled hand-puppets, or just simple finger or shadow puppets. They worked In all cultures, every language and communicated with people from any socio-conomic or intellectual background, she said.

"Puppets can be wise, silly, old, young.. they're ageless."