Puppeteer donates collection to Heschel School
TORONTO — Meshka the Kvetch, Shlemiel, Shayna Blumka, the rabbi, and baby Heshele Peshele have a new home as of last week.
Young children at the Toronto Heschel School watch intently as Ann Thomas, at left in top picture with Meshka puppet, and Leslie Robbins-Conway, with puppet Shayna Blumka, perform for them last week. Robbins-Conway donated her collection of puppets and props to the school. [Frances Kraft photos]
The (almost) life-size puppets were created by set designer Joanna Dabrowski and are part of the collection that storyteller and puppeteer Leslie Robbins-Conway has donated to the Toronto Heschel School.
Robbins-Conway, a founder of Jewish Storytelling Arts in Toronto, has lived in Owen Sound, Ont., for the past 11 years. She visited the school last Friday morning to perform for students, all of whom were in costume for Purim.
The puppets and props will be displayed and used, Heschel principal Gail Baker told The CJN.
Robbins-Conway, a teacher by training, has been a professional storyteller for more than 30 years. Her performances also draw on her musical and vocal training.
These days, she and her partner, Paul Conway, put on “country supper storytelling concerts,” including one that is Shabbat-themed. As well, Robbins-Conway teaches at Owen Sound’s Beth Ezekiel Synagogue.
Robbins-Conway had been looking to donate her collection, but nothing seemed like an ideal fit, until she saw an edition of the Lola Stein Institute’s Think magazine that arrived as an insert in The Canadian Jewish News a few months ago. The institute was started in association with the school.
The issue of the magazine happened to be about using arts in the school, Robbins-Conway recalled.
At her performance for junior kindergarten, senior kindergarten and Grade 1 students, Robbins-Conway – aided by the puppets and her friend, Ann Thomas – performed Meshka The Kvetch, a cautionary tale about a woman who complains so much that people start to avoid her and her exaggerated descriptions began to become reality.
“That is totally the funniest,” whispered one young child.
Robbins-Conway also narrated a story acted by Baker and facilities manager Greg Austin for the younger children, and she performed for older students later in the morning.
Judith Leitner, Heschel’s director of arts, said the school already has a lot of puppets because of its arts-based learning. “We use the puppets to help teach,” she said. “It creates a whole different learning environment.”
The gift from Robbins-Conway is “a huge honour,” she added.