Looking Back: Puppet Power 2002-2016

The PUPPET POWER conference explores the theory and practice of how puppetry arts promote positive social change. It provides inspiration, modeling, peer mentorship and alliance- building as well as hands-on training in all facets of using puppets.

Produced biennially by W.P. Puppet Theatre Society, conference themes have included, multiculturalism and diversity, literacy, therapy, social action, intergenerational communities. Past international keynote speakers include Carrie Marshall – Scotland, Judith O’Hare – Boston, Gary Friedman – Australia and Martin Robinson from Sesame International, New York. Many local, national, emerging and professional presenters have also been part of Puppet Power.  The two-day conference draws around one hundred, local and national attendees, from three demographics: Helping Professionals i.e.: teachers, social workers, therapists, health care; Artists looking to extend their practice by making connections; and Thought leaders, idea generators and students.

Martin Robinson, Sesame International, says, “If you can make a difference in the world – how can you not do it?”

WP Puppet Power The Fearless Face of Puppetry 2013 on Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013. — Jenn Sieppert

In 2001 WP Puppet Theatre faced this very challenge and, as a result, launched PUPPET POWER.

PUPPET POWER is a conference series on Applied Puppetry – the power of puppetry beyond performance. The power of puppetry used to examine the social issues of our time. The power of puppetry put in the hands of the people. (Or the hands of the people put into puppets!)

Like Joseph.
He made a wooden spoon puppet representing his mother, when all the other kids made puppets of themselves. Joseph is one of a busy family of six children. He wishes he could have more of his Mum’s attention.

Like Donna.
She stepped out of her fear to grow as an artist and as a person.

Like Barb.
Who guided 60 grade two students to make over 100 puppets, all with their own individual personalities, and produce movies such as “Nicolas Makes Fun of John” and “No Standing on Chairs in the Lunchroom”.

WP Puppet Power The Fearless Face of Puppetry 2013 on Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013. — Jenn Sieppert

PUPPET POWER, a two-day, biennial, international conference, is a friendly blend of keynotes, hands on workshops, peer mentoring, exhibits, and panels, as well as professional puppet shows to model best practices in the art of puppetry.

The hundred or so people who attend from Calgary and around the world include teachers, therapists, social workers, and activists – people who use puppets as part of their job. Artists attend who might want to expand their practice. Thought leaders and idea generators attend because the conference is unique and fun. The convergence of ideas and unusual ‘puppet people’ spark creative, entrepreneurial ideas.

For our first conference in 2001 Matthew Bernier spoke about puppets used in therapeutic interventions.

Highlights of the next five conferences included:

2002: Puppets as a Therapeutic Medium saw Mickey Aronoff present “A Soul in the Palm of your Hand” as the keynote.

2003: Embracing Multiculturalism featured an exhibit of Kathy Foley’s puppets, a performance by Puppetmongers and a workshop by Chinese Theatre Works.

2005: Puppets Promote Literacy had Judith O’Hare present The Literacy Connection as keynote.

2007: Puppets as Agents of Social Change featured Gary Friedman speaking on Puppets in Apartheid and a giant puppet parade in which the puppets themselves presented a Manifesto based on the UN Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

2013: The Fearless Face of Puppetry had Martin Robinson as our keynote and master class presenter, and Trish Leeper talked about the impactful “Tale of Teeka”.  Relive the weekend’s events in our Photo Gallery!

2016: Connecting Generation featured Karrie Marshall of Creativity in Care (Scotland), Eric Bass of Sandglass Theater (USA), and many others.  Check out the Photo Gallery!


Students participate in making jointed shadow puppets during Lynn Jefferies master class during WP Puppet Theatre's Puppet Power The Fearless Face of Puppetry on Sunday, Mar. 10, 2013. — Jenn Sieppert

Over the years PUPPET POWER has galvanized our participants and they’ve said:

“It was great to get out of the box of regular items and use other items. Workshop was too short! I had so much fun.” 

The motivation in this conference was great and gave me a green light to put in practice the dormant ideas in my head. “ 

“I expected to get Ideas, Inspiration and networking and YES that’s what I got. Empowered is how I feel. “