Life After The Slammer: A journey of inspiration, insight and oddity. 


For just over five years Geraldine was involved in bringing creativity, hope and inspiration into Maryland prisons and jails, first as a volunteer and then, for almost two and a half years as a chaplain at the Maryland Correctional Training Center – Maryland’s largest men’s prison.

Since then she has been catapulted into the world of professional storytelling and speaking, traveling throughout the US and as far away as New Zealand bringing programs that cause people to laugh and think. She has performed everywhere from people's living rooms to being a featured performer at the National Festival in Jonesborough, TN - the jewel in the crown of the storytelling world.

Join Geraldine as she writes about her life after hanging up her chaplain's hat and taking to the storytelling road.

Entries in Blue Sky Puppet Theatre (2)


The Teaching Artist Institute Seminar Begins!

Last year I wrote about my visit to a puppet maker’s house that appeared to have stepped right out of a fairy tale. 

Good things spring out of visits to once upon a time land. 

 While I was at Michael and Judith Cotter’s home (owners of Blue Sky Puppet Theater) I picked up a brochure for a course called The Teaching Artists Institute (TAI) administrated by Young Audences/Arts For Learning.  

I read that TAI is a professional arts-in-education program for teaching artists and classroom teachers.  Both learn what the other needs to flourish.  Their collaboration ends in a minimum four day residency for the artist in their teacher-partner’s classroom that would hopefully lead to many other similar residencies. 

It sounded good. 

The deadline was imminent. 

I applied on the last day and at the last hour and it has filled the first few months of 2011 with learning and delight!

At the beginning of January, twenty five amazingly talented artists from the fields of music, dance, art and theater (which includes poetry and storytelling) gathered in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for a 3 day intensive seminar launching a six month course to learn how to present their craft in schools incorporating both academic standards and 21st Century Skills.  Partner-teachers joined on the third day

21st Century Skills intrigued me. 

Last November I saw the documentary Waiting For Superman. This film outlines the problems inherent in the American public school system resulting in a increasing inability to produce enough educated graduates that can adequately compete with their peers from other nations.

A considerable percentage of students from failing schools end up in prison with no qualifications.

This was real to me. 

Many of the men under my care while I was a Chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland came from such schools.  One of the benefits of the prison system, in Maryland at least, was that it was compulsory for high-school dropouts under 25 to get their GED (or at least attend classes.)

21st Century Skills was developed as a response to the nation's educational crisis.

A group of top educators and business people joined forces to decide what skills young people needed to succeed in today’s world. 

They narrowed the selection down to creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and social and cross cultural savvy.

TAI leadership were delighted as they realized that many teaching artists were already naturally incorporating these concepts into their classes.

The seminar teaches participants to be aware of the standards and skills and shape the work they are already doing in a way will have the greatest impact in the classroom and in students’ lives.

One of the wonderful things about the course was that from the first hello there was a joyous sense of collaboration between the teachers of the course – all professional teaching artists – and the artists themselves.

Teaching sessions sizzled with creativity and rocked with laughter. 

Professional collaboration was entered into. 

Friendships forged.

On the third day the teacher-partners were introduced into the mix and another layer of mutually beneficial collaboration began.

The TAI course consists of the retreat followed by several Saturdays working on the new residency, including one day recently where we got to see segments of other people’s work.  The residencies themselves will happen in April and graduation will take place in June.

I will be going into the absolutely delightful Elizabeth Braden’s 8th grade language arts classroom at Southern Middle School in Severna Park, MD teaching students to tell folk tales and personal stories as well as how to listen to others and how to best connect with an audience.

Such fun!

I have learned so much through TAI!  Besides academic concepts I have discovered the joys of beat boxing, steel drumming, collaborative dance, vaudeville mime including juggling and plate spinning, play writing and deaf theater and I have been knit into a supportive network of teaching artists. 


There is hope for America’s school system.

It is called arts-integration.

It results in students imbibing urgently needed 21st Century skills almost by osmosis – and certainly with laughter.

Creativity is a powerful tool.

And that is no fairy tale!







Blue Sky Puppet Theatre

Last week I stepped into a living fairytale.

Or that’s what it felt like when I went to a house in University Park, Maryland that resembled an illustration for a children’s story.

In my mind this is how the tale started.

"Once upon a time there was a cottage on the edge of a big city that was made out of decorated gingerbread.  It belonged to a puppet maker and his wife.  Ten years before, the puppet maker discovered he was a wonderful painter and his vibrant artwork was now displayed throughout the house. 

People were amazed when they saw the paintings because they were so beautiful!

The puppet maker had a mobile puppet theater and he went round to schools and libraries, churches and country clubs putting on shows.  His theater became so successful that he hired other people and formed teams so that he could reach more children.  He loved his job because he really enjoyed making children happy. 

In his spare time the puppet maker created a giant xylophone made out of recycled materials that sat in his garden so that the neighborhood kids could come and make music. He and his wife loved to hear the children laughing and creating new songs right outside their kitchen window…."

 Do you see what I mean?  It sounds like the beginning of fairytale – but it happens to be true.

I met Michael Cotter, puppet maker and owner of Blue Sky Puppet Theater and his wife Judith at SpeakeasyDC, the storytelling club that I love in Washington DC. 

He very kindly offered to pass on his knowledge of the business side of an arts venture both to me and to author and fellow storyteller Julie Kraut , who is also a SpeakeasyDC regular.

I had seen one of Michael’s productions on a hot July day under a tent at the back of Strathmore Mansion.  It was the “Barker of Seville”, and I had been entranced by the creativity of the show and the enchantment on the face of the children in the audience. 

So I was delighted to take up his offer of an intense learning experience at his University Park home. Over the almost three hour seminar Michael poured out the lessons and secrets he had gleaned from twenty five years of running his puppet business that has been successful enough to provide a comfortable living for his family and to put three children through college.

In a nutshell the information mirrored the story of the rich Greek farmer who on his death bed passed on the secret of his great success to his sons.  “Every day you must walk over the land because the owner’s eyes must see everything.” 

For a puppet master, and a storyteller, that translates to - balance the creative side with the business side.  If one is to thrive they both must thrive.

By the end of the session I was enormously impressed with the professionalism, precision and creativity that Michael uses in running his puppet empire.  All the shows are primarily excellent entertainment as well as being a first class educational tool. 

And  they are fun!

The company travels regularly to a two hour circumference around University Park (which is near Washington DC) and goes further on request.  So if you need a fabulous puppet show, contact Blue Sky Puppet Theater.

 I left with facts, figures and strategies swirling around my head and encouragement warming my heart. 

What a gift!

Thank you Michael for so generously passing on your knowledge!

I was proud of myself when leaving the house for two reasons.

  • I successfully resisted the urge to bang on the outdoor xylophone.
  • I didn’t break off a gingerbread shingle and nibble on it all the way back to Frederick.

 I’m saving both those pleasures for my next visit!