The preschoolers were expected to giggle.
But in a room also filled with senior citizens, the laughter was almost indistinguishable between the two groups. That's because Puppet-Dance Productions had come to Owen Brown Senior Citizen Plus, a senior day-care program, to tell stories and teach lessons.
"Taking part in it made me feel like a little kid again," Vivian Moore, 85, said, laughing. "It really takes you back to your childhood."
The puppet show for the young and young at heart is part of the many programs the production company offers. Shirley Johannesen Levine, founder of the Columbia-based Puppet-Dance Productions, said the program uses storytelling, poetry and puppetry to reach as broad an audience as possible.
"The puppets really act as a stimulus," Levine said. "There is often an attempt to include children from nearby schools so there is an intergenerational experience."
Levine was a mother with young children in 1975 when she started the company in her Columbia home. Her house is now filled with puppets and marionettes resting and waiting to come to life.
"And what is your name?" Levine intones in her best dragon voice as she manipulates Plumduff, a green dragon that lives in her family room. "That's a nice name."
For years, Levine has conducted workshops and shows in Maryland schools, including participating in artist-in-residence programs funded by the Maryland Arts Council. An admitted right-brain type, Levine said she recognized the need for a partnership with someone who was more grounded to balance her company.
Enter Carol Lowe, a neighbor and friend of Levine's who is an educational consultant for the production company. Lowe also has learned how to work the puppets and the stories and poetry that are part of the performances.
"Carol's background is in education," Levine said. "Together we make a strong team."
Lowe said the company works hard to educate students, using artistry to supplement curriculum. The senior shows sometimes do much the same thing, Lowe said, aiding the centers' programs while providing an enjoyable activity for participants.
"This is a chance to just be playful," Lowe said. "It's an audience you don't really focus on. We think in terms of children, and we forget that there is a child inside of all of us."
This week at Owen Brown Senior Citizen Plus, tykes ranging in age from 2 to 5 from Lornwood Children's Center sat with the elderly. Members of each group grasped colorful "fish" made of shoulder pads and sticks as they helped Levine and Lowe act out the story of the "The Glitter Fish."
"Oh, look, that's so cute," said 70-year-old Virgie Bryan of Columbia as Levine brought out a chicken puppet named Henrietta. "I like everything about the show, but I especially like that the children come."
Vivi Provine, director of the senior program, said that about 80 percent of the participants have dementia and the puppet show helps to encourage their mental stimulation.
"This really brings back memories for them," Provine said. "We've had [Levine] here before, and she is just wonderful."
Vivian Moore said she comes to the center several times a week. Watching the performance and playing a part in "The Little Blue Aliens" portion of the show was the highlight of her day, she said.
"Oh, we had such fun," Moore said. "Such fun."