Not long ago children’s television consisted of local programming with real people and puppets rather than network shows with computer-generated characters. In the Cleveland of the 1980s, that program was Hickory Hideout. Producer Bob Noll developed the WKYC-TV3 show starring Wayne Turney and Cassandra Wolfe. For 10 seasons the duo performed skits with their puppet friends and a rotating cast of human actors that included songwriter Matthew James Murphy and actress Kathryn Hahn when they were kids.
Wayne S. Turney “We thought of it as a calling,” Turney says of Hickory Hideout. Today, Turney is an associate professor of the arts at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa. He was still working as an actor — commuting between rehearsals for The Imaginary Invalid at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and performances as Grampa in You Can’t Take It With You at Great Lakes Theater Festival — when he learned about the job. “We don’t have a football team; we have a theater,” Turney says. “Why would you not want to go to this place?” Turney teaches fundamentals of directing, stages a Shakespeare tour that visits area senior and junior high schools and acts with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. He most recently appeared in its production of Antony and Cleopatra as both the drunken Lepidus and the Clown, who brings Cleopatra the asp. “That was a creepy little part,” he says. “Great fun.”
Cassandra Wolfe “Hickory Hideout was where my passion to do theater in education happened,” says Wolfe. Following Hickory Hideout’s nine-year run, she became the director of Kaiser Permanente’s educational outreach program, working with Cleveland-area actors to produce live stage productions to educate young kids about traffic safety and teens and adults about drug abuse and AIDS. After leaving Kaiser, Wolfe became an educator for Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Solon. “I was raised Catholic, so this was a change,” says Wolfe, who now lives in Sagamore Hills and is completing her master’s of divinity at Ashland Theological Seminary. She says she was drawn to the Presbyterian ministry’s call for women to be part of the clergy. “I am not so much in theater anymore, but it has helped me in my preaching. If you can learn in a dramatic setting, people remember that.” For her next act, Cassie hopes to serve in an older adult ministry, helping people in retirement communities with spiritual and wellness issues during the final stages of life. Hickory Hideout featured many supporting puppets, created and performed by puppeteers Nancy Sander and Linda Wells, including Know-It-Owl, Mrs. Goatsly, Bucky Beaver, Angora the Cat and Smelly Bob. But the stars of the program were Nutso and Shirley, and they’re still delighting kids today.
Nutso Squirrely Nutso and Smelly Bob have answered their own higher calling. Accompanied by Sander, they can be seen at Grace Presbyterian Church in Lakewood presenting the Junior Sermon. Nutso and his associates also work with Sander as part of her entertainment company, Puppets with Pizzazz.
Shirley Squirrely Shirley and Wells went into retirement from puppeteering several years ago. Shirley spends her days in a glass case at Wells’ home but has been known to perform the occasional birthday party or summer event.