Puppet theater fundraises for Imagine This! show with Kenilworth students

Some of the students whose puppet shows were performed recognize the student puppet makers from after school group Peer Puppeteers at the 2016 Imagine This! puppet show. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater is looking for community support as it aims to fund its annual Imagine This! puppet show in collaboration with Kenilworth Elementary School.

Kenilworth students write original stories and then compete for the opportunity to have their stories developed into professional live productions at the puppet theater.

Some years, funding is harder to secure in order to run the program to its full potential, theater director Nancy Smith said. This year the theater is short of funds by about $1,500.

“The program is free for the school,” Smith said. “We apply for funding from various funders, and if we don’t get the grants we applied for, then we don’t have money to do it.”

The theater applies for these grants in the spring from corporations and foundations and generally must wait until the fall to know how much additional funding it will receive.

The theater has turned to its Facebook page to ask for donations. As of Nov. 2, the theater has reached the halfway point to meeting its goal “to have $1,500 in donations doubled,” meaning each donation will be matched.

The necessary funding helps cover the costs of production ranging from paying puppeteer salaries, to material costs and the Kenilworth School’s afterschool program.

“The puppeteers get to come to the campus and they need help building the materials for these puppet shows,” Kenilworth School principal Anthony Pietrangeli said.

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Students get to work with the puppeteers to build the puppets, background scenery and stage crew material.

“It increases the amount of students involved and expands the reach of the program,” Pietrangeli said.

During the week of Imagine This!, the theater does not generate much income from other sources. The professional puppeteers volunteer at the school instead of performing elsewhere, and the theater does not charge the school to view the shows.

“The theater either can say, ‘Well, we don’t have money, so we won’t do it or we’ll try to raise the money and see how much of it we can absorb as a loss,’” Smith said.

Other community ties have come into play to help the program gain more exposure and opportunities to receive donations.

The president of the Roosevelt Action Association said the theater would be an official stop on its neighborhood’s annual Historic Home Tour.

“People will be able to look into the auditorium and walk in and out of the puppet show as they wish,” president Andie Abkarian said.

The school and theater have worked together for nearly 10 years to bring student productions to life.

“They love it, we love it, so we just keep doing it,” Smith said.

The two historic buildings that house both the school and the theater are located down the street from each other.

“We started thinking about things we could do to be more involved with the community and with our neighborhood school,” Smith said of the program’s origins.

Pietrangeli said the theater is an “outgoing community member” and that the partnership is mutually beneficial.

“This idea of being neighbors and helping each other out just made a lot of sense as a win-win opportunity for the students … and their families,” Pietrangeli said.

Pietrangeli said students benefit from the purposeful writing activates they do in the classroom as part of the program.

“In the classroom, it really builds some authentic engagement from the students during these lessons because the excitement is there,” Pietrangeli said.

He said the students are always excited and that the winning student writers get to enjoy their moment in the spotlight as local celebrities.

“That sense of pride, you can see it spilling off of them,” Pietrangeli said.

Smith said the theater heard from students who felt connected to the program over time because they either had won the competition or knew someone in the school community who had won.

“We’re at the same school year after year,” Smith said. “There’s a real community connection.”

Contact the reporter at Sabine.Galvis@asu.edu.