When you think about your children learning the Bible, a puppet show is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But this is no ordinary puppet show. There are no sock puppets or mediocre musical accompaniments here. Walk into the newly-constructed children’s wing at First Baptist Weston, and you’ll see a state-of-the-art puppet theater, complete with a full set, lighting, props and puppets as professional looking as any you’ll find on or off Broadway. There’s even a fully robotic puppet named Wally. And all of that is on purpose. Why? To teach preschool-aged children about the Bible in an engaging way. The visionaries behind this dynamic show are William Long, Chace Long and Rachel Thompson.
William Long had a passion for puppetry from childhood. “I was glued to the TV every time Jim Henson’s Muppets were on, and I was doing puppet shows in my church.” When William was 16 years old he got the opportunity to audition for a professional puppeteer spot with Sid and Marty Croft. “They had an East Coast production team, and they put together puppet shows, and they put them in amusement parks up in the Northeast area. So I was working for them, at ages 16 and 17, making a lot of money. My friends were making $3.40 an hour, and I went from making $3.40 an hour to making $21 an hour in puppetry and then professional puppetry.”
After leaving his first love to enter corporate America, marry and start a family, William returned to full-time, Christian ministry eight years ago. He became the Director of Children’s Programming at First Baptist Weston. “I had the opportunity to come on staff in 2005 and work with a lot of good people. And the idea just hit me. Two years ago I was looking at the demographics for Weston, and roughly there are 100,000 people in Weston. What I was seeing from the demographics was that a very large percentage of Weston had kids under the age of 18. In fact, we work twice the norm of any city in the nation, and then I looked at that number, and a large percentage of that number was under the age of five. That was when God put it on my heart that we need to be doing something above and beyond the normal preschool Sunday school. I knew that we needed to do something really out there…I knew that if we were going to truly reach young families, we were going to have to step up our game and do something quality.”
Preschool Playhouse was born. He brought in Rachel Thompson, a certified kinder-music teacher and mother of three, as a live host, and his son Chace Long, who at age 14, has a passion for puppets, and as a freshman in high school is a puppeteer with his own production company. Chace became fascinated by puppets after watching The Muppets (2011) movie co-written and staring How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel. He designs and builds many of the puppets included in the show. He also builds some of the stage props, such as the treehouse, in the puppet theater. He also designed the hall of puppets on the wall in the children’s wing. Together, William, Chace and Rachel, produce weekly shows that combine learning, music, and fun for kids.
Eager to hear more about what goes into creating Preschool Playhouse and making it a huge success? Keep reading by clicking here for Part 2.
Find out more about First Baptist Weston, where this weekly show takes place, at 9:30 am and 10:15 am every Sunday by calling 954.389.4555. Adults are always welcome to attend the shows.