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Putting their best hands forward

Greenspring Players put on a show with master puppeteer Verna Finly

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April 16th, 2015
Greenspring puppets
Greenspring puppets

Recently, the Greenspring Players, the theater group at the Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., decided to try their “hands” at something new—a puppet show featuring the exquisite puppets of world-renowned puppeteer and Greenspring resident Verna Finly.

“I’ve had a lifetime love affair with the theater,” says Verna. “I was fortunate to enjoy a career making ventriloquist puppets. When I moved to

A handful of seasoned Greenspring actors, disguised behind black hoods, masterfully presented a parody of life at a retirement community. Verna created both the puppets and the script for the performance.

“Having firsthand experience on the subject is clearly an asset,” says Herb Bartlett, who played the part of George. “It’s always fun when you pick on yourself.”

“And puppets can get away with saying just about anything,” adds Verna. 

Brilliant idea

Greenspring Players program chair Eloise Stinger proposed the idea for the puppet show late last year. 

“It’s been almost ten years since the players presented a puppet show,” says Eloise. “Many of us who are newer residents did not know enough about Verna’s background and incredible talent. I thought it was time to honor her gifts. We booked the theater and invited the entire community.”

In addition to the puppet show, Verna mesmerized the standing-room-only theater with a live demonstration of the creation of a new soft puppet. 

“It was so much fun,” says Verna. “Where else can you come out on stage and put together a puppet head in front of a packed theater? It makes you feel so good.”

Preparing the puppets

All of the puppeteers, while actors on the Greenspring stage, had never before worked with Verna’s puppets.

“I really became attached to Rosie, the puppet I worked with,” says Eloise. “Under Verna’s tutelage, we all learned how to stand sideways to the audience, hold our arms extended and bent at the elbow, with our hands loose and relaxed, while making the puppets walk, laugh, and deliver lines.”

For Marcia Aberle, the most difficult task was learning to hold the puppet correctly.

“It was a physically demanding challenge,” she says. “It was not easy, but we all worked hard at doing it correctly. It was so much fun. Verna and her puppets are a gift to Greenspring.”

Perhaps the actor with the most difficult assignment was Herb, who assumed the role of George after the original actor fell ill. 

“I agreed to learn the lines and operate the puppet, with only three rehearsals left,” he says. “It was a great experience. In the end I got quite good and received several positive comments from other residents about how I operated the puppet and the timing of my lines. It’s funny, the actual performance was the first time I got all the lines correct.”

Community treasures

Verna is a mainstay with the Greenspring Players, above and beyond her work with the puppets.  She is currently making hard-to-find, unique props for the spring productions of “P Is for Perfect” and “Man of the House.”

“Verna is an artistic treasure at Greenspring,” says Greenspring Player Howard Wachspress, who also performed in the puppet show. “She designs many of the stage settings, costumes, and advertising posters for our various productions.”

Like Verna, the puppet actors are also heavily involved in a variety of Greenspring Players productions. 

Ginny King took a huge leap out of her comfort zone to play the part of Mabel in the puppet show. 

“I have been involved with the Greenspring Players for almost ten years but mostly with props,” she says. “When I heard about the puppet show, I thought it would be a fun experience, and it was.”

Marcia has worked on each show since moving to Greenspring almost nine years ago. 

“I’ve acted in five plays, done publicity, prompting, filled the role of stage manager, and even served as chair of the Greenspring Players board. This spring, I’ll be producing for the first time,” she says.

Both Herb and Howard are thankful to the Greenspring Players for providing them with a new creative outlet.

In the spring of 2009, after he was asked to work the stage crew for the production of A Solid Gold Cadillac, Herb found the acting bug had bitten him. Over the last six years, he’s acted in seven plays and a puppet show, and he directed two plays.

“I’ve learned a lot about the theater and have met and worked with about 60 people whom I might not have otherwise met,” he says. “I respect them all and enjoy sharing memorable experiences.” 

Now busy with rehearsals for the spring productions, Howard has enjoyed leading roles in eight productions, thrilling audiences as a business tycoon, gangster, theater director, and detective.

“I made my theater debut here at Greenspring at the age of 80,” he says. Acting is so satisfying and exercises the brain. We are all ‘theater’ people here.” 

To see Verna Finly’s presentation to the Greenspring audience, visithttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siTTeXEN34E.

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