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NH puppeteer teams with locals, industry experts to bring cast of colorful characters to broader audience


Local puppeteer, ventriloquist and writer Lesley Smith and her puppet friend Sammy Snail have been bringing messages of peace and kindness to children around New Hampshire since the mid-1990s.

Now Smith and business partner Mark Abramczyk are hoping to take Sammy's message to a global audience of three- to seven-year-olds with the development of the web/television show "Sammy's New World."

Smith has pulled together more than 40 volunteers and staff, from local friends to Emmy Award-winning writers and directors, experienced puppeteers, cinematographers and artistic directors, to create the hilarious but lesson-filled scenes and stories that will take place in "Snailville" and "Busy World."

After nearly two years of planning and pre-production work, cast and crew members from New York, Boston and the Seacoast area are scheduled to come together the week of Sept. 21 at the New Hampshire Public Television studios in Durham to film the 22-minute pilot episode.

It is slated to premier in New Hampshire in October or November before being shopped to different networks both in the United States and internationally.

In the program, Sammy Snail travels between the safety and comfort of Snailville, the natural, peaceful, organic world where he lives, and Busy World, where animals move much faster, exhibit more selfish behavior and don't necessary want to work things out with each other.

Sammy Snail tries to shine his heart light and help others wherever he goes, and he learns lessons along the way from friends like Snag the scientist cat, Flooky, the princess bluebird, and Tony Rocco the rough and tumble rat, as well as several snail friends in Snailville.

Smith has been developing Sammy's character for 20 years since beginning her career in puppetry at the Children's Museum of New Hampshire on the Seacoast.

The actress and singer began using Sammy Snail to help engage students and "savvy adults" in learning helpful skills and goodwill and was soon asked to perform at private parties and school events.

"My interest in developing something for television started when I realized I had such a powerful character in Sammy and could use him for social good," Smith said.

She said puppets are the perfect medium to help teach children skills including conflict resolution and healthy choices.

Smith has had fun developing the series, and learning the art of performing puppetry for television from some of the masters of the craft, including Sesame Street puppeteers Pam Arciero, Ryan Dillon and Heath Asch, who are slated to travel to New Hampshire for the upcoming shoot.

But it's also been a challenging endeavor. It is not inexpensive to produce a puppet show, Smith said, and despite efforts to keep costs low it can extend upwards of $250,000 to produce a single television episode.

Smith recently wrapped up an indiegogo.com crowd funding campaign that raised $13,568 and continues to seek financial support through the Sammy's New World website. In addition, many of the 40 or so participants have volunteered their time and expertise. Smith has hired scriptwriter, Peter Hirsch, a six-time Emmy Award winner. His works include popular children's TV shows such as "PBS Arthur," "Between the Lions," "Peep," "Lomax: The Hound of Music" and "Curious George."

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