Arts Education

Arts Education Artists-in-Residence

The Midwest Trust Center welcomes What If Puppets (formerly Paul Mesner Puppets) as the first Arts Education artists-in-residence.


3 members of the Mesner Puppet Theater

“Inspiring play and cultivating connections through puppetry.”

Over the past three decades, What If Puppets has captivated nearly 2 million people through its productions and educational programming. Audiences delight in the craftsmanship of the puppets, which range from glove puppets to marionettes to innovative shadow and object-based puppetry. MPT uses humor and heart to present stories that connect to the complex social-emotional experiences of young audiences.

They hold the distinction of receiving three Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA-USA) Citations of Excellence. The UNIMA-USA award was created by Jim Henson to promote high quality puppetry in the U.S. and is considered the “Academy Award” of puppetry.

In 2020, as the arts world was rocked by closures due to COVID-19, the leadership seized the opportunity to research and develop a strategic vision. A community-needs assessment was conducted, revealing the need for learning-through-play and arts integration strategies to support the social-emotional development of children ages 0-8. There was also a clear call for innovative ways to access professional arts as a form of family engagement, particularly for the very young.

In response to those findings, the board revised the mission statement in 2021: “To inspire play and cultivate connections through puppetry.” The staff restructured programs to achieve the company’s new vision: “A Kansas City community that celebrates the arts as essential for early childhood development through a company that is nationally recognized as a leader in puppetry and arts integration.”

Energized by the company’s vision, they now move forward to fulfill their mission as “What If Puppets,” inviting audiences to play with them and discover how puppetry and the arts contribute to community.

As part of their residency, the company will perform “Cirque du Wiener Dog” December 7-10, 2022, in Polsky Theatre. They will continue to offer their Educator Resource, “In the Workshop,” featuring webisodes for students, arts integrated lesson plans for educators, and much more, empowering educators to cultivate social-emotional skills through art, storytelling, and puppetry. This year their artist educators will also work with staff and students at the Hiersteiner Center at JCCC to support social-emotional learning.

The organization is currently led by Producing Artistic Director, Meghann Henry, Mike Horner, Director of Puppetry Arts, and Alex Espy, Director of Education. This team’s knowledge and experience in theatre for young audiences, puppetry, and arts integration is ensuring MPT’s history of excellence will continue while they evolve to meet and inspire today’s audiences.

View Performances

Reserve Your Seat at an Upcoming Mesner Puppet Theater Performance


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