Donations keep Brookline’s beloved puppet theater afloat
Generations have turned to Brookline’s Puppet Showplace Theater for entertainment, and for nearly 50 years the theater has delivered on its promises.
That is, until a recent embezzlement scandal left Puppet Showplace nearly bankrupt and threatened to bring down the curtain for good.
The theater, which offers children and adults the opportunity to learn puppetry through workshops and lessons, has been a center of entertainment in Brookline since its founding in 1974. Puppet Showplace has also provided space for puppeteers of all kinds. the country to perform and perfect their art.
However, this precious and historic institution may be threatened with permanent closure, after the embezzlement – coupled with the financial hardship inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic – left the theater bank account emptied.
The theater found “financial irregularities” in his bank statement in early October, which led to the discovery of his fully depleted bank account, according to a declaration published by the organization’s board of directors. As a result, Puppet Showplace fired its general manager.
Roxanna Myhrum, artistic director of the theater for 10 years, said the board has put in place a emergency fund which has received nearly 800 donations from people not only in the community, but across the country.
âIt’s hard to be in a situation where you’ve dedicated a decade of your life to taking care of something and then all of a sudden you realize that it could all be gone,â said Myhrum, who is became moved as she reflected on the situation. “So just having people commit, whether they give $ 10 or $ 1,000, that meant so much.”
The theater has reached the minimum amount ($ 50,000) of donations it needs to stay open until the New Year, but Myhrum said the theater hopes to double that amount in order to stay alive in 2021.
In addition to the emergency fund, a GoFundMe page was created by resident teacher artist Honey Goodenough, who said she felt inclined to act because the theater means too much to those not only in Greater Boston, but across the country, to be closed.
“We cannot let this incident of fraud take away this cultural institution that has served so many families and children for 46 years,” Goodenough said. “We cannot let that take away from these beautiful families and children.”
The GoFundMe page is separate from the Emergency Fund because it was more of a way to reach those beyond Brookline, Goodenough said. The fund’s goal is to reach $ 47,000 by June.
Wayne Martin, an Emmy-nominated Boston puppeteer who has performed at the Puppet Showplace several times over his 54-year career, said there’s an intergenerational element to theater that makes it special.
“Children who have grown up [watching the shows] are now bringing their children [to shows] and even their grandchildren, and it would be a shame to lose that tradition, âsaid Martin.
Myhrum said people would be surprised how many adults love puppets as much as children, and part of the magic of the theater is in the performances that include everyone who is watching.
âFor me, one of the things that makes a really good puppet show is when it talks to everyone in the audience, including parents, grandparents, teachers, the very young. children. [and] middle [school] children, âMyhrum said. “I really think of puppetry as an art form for all ages.”
Martin echoed a similar sentiment, stating that the real “thrill” for him at a performance is knowing that he entertained the adults in the audience.
“Parents will sit their kids up and think they can run away and go shopping, and at the end of the show there are as many adults – if not more – as kids watching the show,” he said. he declared. “That’s when I know I’ve done my job.”
The puppet was introduced into American culture in the 18th century by immigrants from Italy, Britain and France, according to the National Museum of American History. At the turn of the 20th century, people traveled from all over the country to see puppets of all kinds – including hand puppets and hand puppets – in performances that made them laugh and cry.
John McDonough, of the Pumpernickel Puppets traveling puppet theater in Worcester, said he remembered performing in the early days of Puppet Showplace alongside founder Mary Churchill, who became one of his biggest influences.
He spent his childhood watching puppet shows, and it ignited his passion for the art of performance.
âI grew up pretty poor when I was a kid, and I saw my first puppet show and it changed my life,â he said. “You never know when a spark will go off for a child who will change the direction of their life.”
He cautioned that theaters like Puppet Showplace are not a common feature in communities across the United States, and most people don’t have immediate access to these kinds of performances.
If the theater was unable to weather its financial crisis and was forced to shut down, Goodenough said Brookline’s children would be devastated. She worked closely with the kids throughout her time at Puppet Showplace, and even in the midst of the pandemic, the theater was still able to run Zoom classes and social distance classes.
âThey look forward to coming to see puppet shows every week and there is no other institution like ours that validates children’s imaginations like we do,â she said.
This is not the first time that the theater has faced a rough patch, and it may not be the last. McDonough said he saw times when the theater was booming and other times he wondered if they could keep the doors open. However, for the past 46 years, theater has remained a constant in Brookline Village, he said.
âI’ve seen businesses come and go, even buildings collapse and get up again, but the Puppet Showplace is still there,â he said.
Goodenough is optimistic the theater can overcome the current situation as it has done everything possible to minimize costs, and slowly staff have started to resume event bookings – including Zoom nights and the annual Puppet Showplace vacation. Slam, held earlier this month.
âWith the support of the community, we can stay strong,â she said.
If the puppets were to lose their home in New England, Myhrum said she feared the area would no longer have proper access to this centuries-old art form.
âWhen you actually have a puppet center, it becomes a public good for this essential part of human culture and expression,â she said. “It is the portal for residents of Greater Boston and often throughout New England to access this vital global art form that has been practiced throughout human history.”
Alex Corey is a Boston University journalism student working as part of a collaboration between the Brookline TAB and the BU News Service.