Arts organizations across the country have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, especially performing arts organizations that rely on revenue from in-person performances. But for Brookline’s Puppet Showplace Theater, stopping programming was not an option. “We heard from audience members and from puppeteers how important these performances were during this difficult time,” said Artistic Director Leslie Burton. “We had a mandate from our community to continue doing this work, even if we couldn’t do it in person.”

Knowing puppeteers would suffer professionally, financially, and creatively from performance cancellations and venue closures, especially those from underrepresented communities, Puppet Showplace Theater launched a grant and artist residency program for Black Puppeteers in 2020 under the guidance of former Artistic Director Roxanna Myhrum. Through this initiative, Black puppeteers from across the country come together to develop new creative works with support from a community of professional artists. Today, the program is poised to welcome its third cohort of puppeteers, with alumni from the first two cohorts facilitating workshops and serving as mentors. “As an art form, puppetry has not been made available to as many artists as it could,” said Leslie. “This residency is the only program like it in the country that we’re aware of. We’re proud Roxie started it and are committed to carrying it forward.”

During this time, Puppet Showplace Theater also continued to provide performances. To do this safely, the organization began offering virtual performances and outdoor shows for the first time in its history. Though both of these ventures involved developing new procedures and learning new skills to deliver programming, the rewards were well worth it. “People told us over and over how vital access to the arts is, and how powerful it is to come together in a cultural space and have that shared experience,” said Leslie. “Brookline and the puppetry community really stepped up and helped us continue delivering programming, and we’re committed to growing these spaces so everyone can enjoy this experience.”