Our Troupe

Since 1987, Freshwater Pearls has delighted thousands of admirers both young and old in libraries, schools, festivals, museums, historic sites and other venues.

Our troupe includes the wife/husband team of Diane Rains and Stu Janis; our little dog-actor, Kian; and a lively cast of hand, shadow and rod puppets.

Based near Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, Freshwater Pearls tours throughout the Midwest.

[black and white pearls]Where did Freshwater Pearls Puppetry get its name? Therein lies a tale...

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Diane Rains
Diane designs, constructs and gives movement to our puppet characters.

Both Diane and Stu are active members of The Puppeteers of America (PofA) and UNIMA, and Diane was formerly Editor of the T.C. Puppet Monitor newsletter of Twin Cities Puppeteers (an affiliated PofA guild.) She is a past President of the guild. In 1994 she was Publicity Director for the PofA Mini-National Festival in St. Paul and was Artistic Director for the PofA's 2005 National Festival. She was the PofA's Great Plains Regional Director in 2004-2006. Diane is also the U.S. contact for The Worldwide Friends of Punch and Judy. She is Webmaster for that organization and its Punch and Judy Worldwide Web Ring, and co-editor of the online journal, Around the World With Mr. Punch.

Diane is an active animal trainer and a founding member of True North Training Group. She holds a Master of Science degree in Wildlife Management with an animal behavior specialty.

Stu Janis
Stu, a masterful player of the hammered dulcimer, provides musical accompaniment for our shows and interacts onstage with the puppets. Outside of Freshwater Pearls, Stu performs in the folk music duo, Greenwood Tree. Greenwood Tree plays traditional Celtic and British music in a style both brisk and lyrical. The duo has made five great recordings.

In addition to his artistic activities, Stu is a statistician with 3M.


There are several performing puppeteer families around the country. But Freshwater Pearls is perhaps the only family troupe consisting of Mom, Dad, and Son Who Happens to Be A Dog! This adorable 6-1/2 lb Papillon will play the part of Toby the Dog in Professor Freshwater's Punch and Judy Show. And though Kian is small, the cute factor is huge! With a built in eyepatch, this little guy will be the world's first pirate Toby dog — Cap'n Toby Two Patch. Ar!

Kian is still a puppy, but he is already training for life on the puppet stage. And he loves it! We use only reward-based, positive reinforcement training methods.

Live "Toby Dogs" used to be a standard part of a traditional Punch and Judy show, but the practice has become less common in the 21st century. We are among only a handful of troupes in the world reviving this tradition.

The name "Kian" is Irish. It means both "clever" and "enduring." We know he's clever! May he also be enduring.

[Young Kian]

Koiratähti ~In Memorium  

Our first beloved Toby Dog, Koiratähti, died on August 14, 2007 at age 4-1/2. She was beset by intense health problems, and our life with her was challenging. But it was also infinitely rewarding, and we don't regret a moment. We loved her truly, madly, deeply. She was a remarkable, resilient individual, a talented puppet show actress, and our precious canine daughter. We will never stop missing her, and we will never forget her.

Here's Koira's remarkable story.

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