Resilience During the Pandemic: The Center for Puppetry Arts Continues Its Storytelling Magic
By Beth Schiavo, Executive Director of the Center for Puppetry Arts
On a daily basis before we closed our doors in March, I would grab my second cup of coffee and walk by our field trip cafeteria at the Center for Puppetry Arts. Peeking in, I would see tables filled with excited elementary school students and feel an enormous sense of gratitude for the Center and its artists.
Now our theaters are dark, and the cafeteria tables remain sanitized for the day when we can welcome our patrons, young and old, back into this magical space. Thankfully, our Center leaders and our puppeteers were not satisfied to simply wait the darkness out. Within 48 hours, we were delivering free content on Facebook Live and were quickly reminded that storytelling through the art of puppetry is simply magical, and puppet characters speak to children in a unique way when compared to animated videos or cartoons. Children across the United States and across the globe in 89 countries tuned in daily to see Mr. Jeffrey make a puppet using items found at home on our Make It! series and would join King Raisin each morning for a few minutes of optimism before facing another day sheltered in place.
The Center for Puppetry Arts is the largest organization of its kind in the world, combining theatrical productions with a museum, educational outreach for teachers and students, and digital learning for schools. Prior to the pandemic, we entertained and educated over 170,000 patrons a year, six days a week with puppet performances, our popular Create-A-Puppet Workshops ™, and our Worlds of Puppetry Museum that includes our Jim Henson Collection, a Global Collection and a rotating collection of special museum exhibits.
We were excited to reopen our museum doors on July 10th and have been pleased to interact with visitors from around the country looking for a safe, happy place to visit with their families. With CDC and the Georgia Department of Health safety protocols, mandatory masks, timed ticketing and reduced capacity limits, we feel confident that our patrons can visit free of worry that they are being unnecessarily exposed to the risks for which they have become all too familiar. We are pleased to invite everyone to visit us while the crowd sizes are low and controlled.
These days, instead of walking by the cafeteria and hearing the squeals of laughter, I can walk up the stairs to our third-floor digital studios to watch a live, interactive puppet show by our Artist-in- Residence, David Stephens, broadcast to children and their families around the world. If I peek into our second studio, I see Ms. Sara or Mr. Jeffrey delivering a curriculum-based puppet show and workshop to children in day and virtual camps. If I am lucky, I can also catch Mr. Brian sharing Stories of Color: Tales from the African Diaspora.
Until we reopen our theaters to share our award-winning performances, we at the Center will do all we can to keep telling stories and engaging families in a meaningful way. It is not easy performing to a screen, but the alternative of staying completely dark is not an option for our artists. I hope you can join us during this time on your screen of choice and visit our museum exhibits confident in your safety. As with most arts organizations, we also are in dire need of donations to bridge this gap to normalcy and are so grateful for those that have already supported us during this time. We look forward to seeing everyone soon and wish all strong health and happiness.