Internationally recognized puppeteer, Paul Mesner, established Mesner Puppet Theatre (MPT) in 1987 to create Innovative storytelling that captures children’s imagination and inspires communities. In 2006, Mike Horner joined the organization as lead puppeteer and builder developing a cannon of shows the company still tours today. During this time, the organization received 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 United States and is considered the ‘Academy Award” of puppetry. In their first 30 years the company impacted nearly 2 million young people through glove, rod, hand, marionette, and innovative object based puppetry.
In 2016, the company’s first education director, Alex Espy, an experienced preK educator and theater for young audiences director was hired to build an education department. Just as this new work was beginning, Paul Mesner retired from the organization after a 30 year celebrated career. For the following three years, the company struggled to understand who it was and what it could become. In December of 2019, the board restructured the organization and hired Meghann Henry, an experienced arts non profit leader, arts integration specialist, and theater for young audiences director as Executive Artistic Director. Henry was charged to lead the organization into its next evolution through assessing the communities needs, utilizing the talents of Horner and Espy to their highest potential, and creating financial stability.
In March of 2020, the arts world was rocked by closures due to Covid-19. The leadership seized this time to research and conduct a community needs assessment of educators, librarians, art centers, and youth social workers in Kansas City to guide the organization’s strategic vision. This work highlighted the need for learning through play and arts integration strategies to support the social-emotional development of 0-8 year olds coupled with a call for innovative ways for the very young and their parents to access professional arts as a form of family engagement.
In response to these findings in 2021 the board revised the mission statement; “to inspire play and cultivate connections through puppetry” and the staff restructured programs to achieve the company’s vision "to inspire our community to celebrate the arts as essential for early childhood development while becoming a national leader in the field of puppetry and arts integration for the very young."