Puppetmongers learn new tricks to reach broader audience

Based in Leslieville, Puppetmongers Theatre has connected with artists in Seattle, abroad

Brother-sister team David and Ann Powell are proving the best community puppet shows are the ones where there are no strings attached.

Coming up to their 50th anniversary, the duo isn’t thinking about how the pandemic has tied up their Leslieville puppeteering business, Puppetmongers Theatre, but rather they are looking to continue their legacy beyond.

“We know a lot of puppeteers around, and what we’re finding is that because of the rent levels of Toronto, space is a big problem,” David Powell said in a March interview.

Puppetmongers has been able to maintain a studio space since they started in 1974, and they plan to find out how to bequeath a puppetry space, with all the tools of the trade, for fellow puppeteers to perform shows and hone their craft.

And with everything moving toward digital, they’ve been able to connect with puppeteers from all over the globe.

“Early in the pandemic we created a number of the workshops we usually do in schools as little videos and just put them up for free on our website for families and schools,” the Beach resident said.

“In fact, we just got an email from a group of puppeteers in Seattle. They had seen the videos and wanted us to do an online, face-to-face workshop with their members about a particular type of puppetry.”

The pandemic has presented many challenges for the duo, having their video equipment stolen in a break-in during the summer, as well as little revenue coming from workshops to cover operating costs, but Powell said they’re making due.

While they’ve been applying for operating grants, they’ve been putting together Brick Bros. Circus, which is available online from March 10 to 24 through Canada Helps.

They’ll also be showing an updated version of their first show in 1974, The Miller and His Wife, April 14–28, through their website.

Powell is optimistic they will be able to perform in-person within the year.

“What is interesting, because we’re having to learn to do things online and virtually, is when we’re back to regular programming, we’ll also be able to add that level of virtual online,” the 68-year-old said. “We’ll have a larger geographic reach.”

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