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Destination: Carolina Puppet Theater ends Raleigh public shows, but still entertains young kids

Posted December 19, 2013

Thursday was a bittersweet day for Carolyn Johnson and Helen Dawkins as they set up the chairs and decorated the set for their last public performance at Comedy Worx as Kazoom Puppet Theater.

More than two decades ago, Johnson (better known as Ms. Poly) and Dawkins (better known as Ms. Ester) started entertaining kids, first as clowns and then puppeteers. Since 1997, the two opened as Kazoom at Comedy Worx. For most of that time, they were open twice a week every week with two weekday morning shows per day. 

The two have been delighting young audiences with their lively mix of songs, stories, puppets and side comments for the adults in the crowd ever since. And, for many kids, Bartlet, the puppet "superstar" of the show, is as real as Ms. Poly and Ms. Ester. The show includes an entire segment where Ms. Poly reads cards and pictures that kids have brought in for Bartlet.

While Kazoom is shutting down, Johnson and Dawkins' Carolina Puppet Theater (with Bartlet included) will still perform for audiences. Their schedule includes performances twice a month at Holly Springs Cultural Center, along with school performances on location or at Comedy Worx. But Thursday's final public show at Comedy Worx signals the end of an era. Carolyn Johnson and Helen Dawkins of Carolina Puppet Theater Carolina Puppet Theater ends 18-year run at Comedy Worx, but still plans public shows

Over the years, they've formed bonds with families and those who care for kids - nannies who have brought their various charges for years; moms, who went as a child and now bring their own children; kids with special needs, who still enjoy going a dozen years later in their teens.

"It's just the connections you make with the families," Johnson tells me of what she'll miss the most about not performing at Comedy Worx.

The decision to end the shows comes as Johnson and Dawkins work toward retirement. Johnson looks forward to spending more time with her grandchildren. Dawkins plans to spend more time with her family and looks forward to more time for her jewelry making.

At one point, the duo were working six to seven days a week - performing shows at Comedy Worx, schools, corporate events, store openings, birthday parties and more. They started scaling back their schedule at Comedy Worx about two years ago.

Through it all, the two have remained not only business partners, but good friends. Now, as they cut back on their performances, they joked they might just actually have more time to spend with each other.

Carolina Puppet Theater will perform at 11 a.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month at the Holly Springs Cultural Center. The show will be exactly the same at those performed in Raleigh. The shows themes are typically based on the time of year or holiday. Kids can still leave mail for Barlet. The shows are generally best for kids ages 2 to 7.

For field trips, schools can book the Carolina Puppet Theater at Comedy Worx with at least 70 paying people at $5 per person. Teachers are free. They'll also come to your school to perform. 

"We are only semi retired," Dawkins tells me. "We just needed a little more flexible schedule." 

For details about upcoming shows or to book them for your school, check their website. Watch my video interview with Johnson and Dawkins for more.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more ideas, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.

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