The Puppet Showplace Theater

The Puppet Showplace Theatre: Connecting During COVID-19 

Community is critical to how Puppet Showplace Theater approaches its work. Prior to the pandemic-related cancellation of live performances and workshops, Puppet Showplace welcomed anywhere from 200 to 1000 people a week from young children up to adults. Losing that daily interaction has been “a big loss” not just for Puppet Showplace employees, says the theater’s Artistic Director Roxanna Myhrum, but for members of the community as well. 

“Puppetry is for everyone,” Myhrum says, noting that it unlocks the “human capacity to imagine and build worlds of infinite possibilities.” 

Dealing with the financial losses from the pandemic have been equally challenging. A series of grants, government relief programs, and contributions from over 1,000 individuals have kept the organization going and it has been able to continue paying artists, something that Myhrum is justifiably proud of, considering the substantial losses that individual artists have sustained over the last year

Once the organization stabilized its finances, it turned its focus on finding innovative ways to reconnect with its community. As they thought through ways to do this, the Puppet Showplace Theater team abided by one guiding principle: whatever they ended up doing, it would need to be true to the intrinsic values of theater. Primarily this meant figuring out how to hold live performances rather than simply offering recorded shows. 

Throughout last spring and summer, Puppet Showplace streamed shows live online, hosting performers at its historic theater in Brookline Village. Each show closed with an interactive question-and-answer, allowing for a deeper connection within audience-goers. Puppet Showplace also brought people together for safe-distanced live outdoor performances. The theater plans to expand this series during summer 2021. 

Puppet Showplaces’s family series now continues with live online performances approximately every month, and virtual tours and birthday parties are offered to schools and businesses. Other programs include the “Puppet Showplace Slam,” which is geared for teenagers and adults and features live short-form puppetry by performers across the country.  Since it has moved online, performances regularly draw over 400 people when in-person puppet slams could only accommodate 85 people. 

In June 2020, Puppet Showplace Theater also launched The Black Puppeteer Empowerment Grant and Creative Research Residency, which invests in creative research and early-stage production development by Black puppeteers. The inaugural cohort of artists included Tanya Nixon-Silberg of Little Uprisings who helped conceive the project. The program continued in 2021 with a grant from the Jim Henson foundation. Nixon-Silberg stayed on as the community curator for the project and a video of community sharing from participating artists is available on the Puppet Showplace website. 

Through all of this innovation, Puppet Showplace has been able to provide paid work for artists, entertainment for families and schools, and engage in deeply creative work with established and emerging artists—all during a global pandemic. 

“We’re fighting for survival,” Myhrum said. “We are fighting that fight on behalf of the public, because we want to be here for your kids, we want to be here for the future generations!”

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published this page in Connecting During COVID-19 Stories 2021-04-06 17:17:23 -0400

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