After 39 Years, Kansas City Puppeteer Paul Mesner Passes The Torch

Aug 30, 2016

Master puppeteer Paul Mesner in his midtown office.
Credit courtesy: Paul Andrews

Mesner Puppet Theater announced leadership changes to the organization Tuesday.

Founder Paul Mesner will be handing over the reins as artistic director to longtime puppeteer and associate artistic director Mike Horner. The company has also created the new position of Education Director, and artist, set designer and director Alex Espy will be taking on that role. 

"It's exciting to be taking on this new job though also a bit intimidating when one of the most passionate and hard working puppeteers in America hands the torch to you — you'd better be ready to step up," said Horner in a press release. Horner has worked with Mesner Puppets for 10 years as a puppeteer, as well as building and designing puppets. 

Paul Mesner's puppetry career started as a teenager in Nebraska. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and shortly after, in 1988, launched the first season of Paul Mesner Puppets.

He told KCUR that stepping back from the organization, and from puppeteering, has been on his mind for a while. "Some of that joy in doing that is tempered by the reality that you've done it for 39 years," he says. 

Mesner says he plans to stay with the organization full-time through July 1, 2017, but in more of an advisory capacity. "I want to make sure that I step away enough so Mike (Horner) and Alex (Espy) have enough sense that this is theirs to run now. And I'm here for advice, and I'm here for ideas, but I also don't want to linger if I'm in the way."   

File photo: In 2013, puppeteer Mike Horner operated a puppet on the set of 'Martha Speaks.' Mesner Puppet Theater announced Horner has been named new artistic director.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The company is thriving, says Mesner, and he thinks Mike Horner will provide a new perspective. "He brings a different point of view and tons of fresh ideas, and just different methodology to the work," he says. "Our audiences will now see something different. I think he'll do a great job."  

"The idea of having three or four months completely off with no performance really is very appealing to me. Kind of like a sabbatical," Mesner says of the future. "I've put all my efforts into creating things for the puppet theater world, but there are other interests of mine. I would love to explore some of those.

"I love to write, and I love to still make things. I love to garden, I like to cook. I have lots of interests that I've kind of only been able to just touch the surface of, and if I had more time I might be able to jump into one of those in more detail."

Still, he says, he will always come back to puppetry because he loves it so much.

Mesner Puppet Theater will host an Open House reception to mark the leadership transition on Thursday, Sept. 8, 4 - 6 p.m. at Mesner Puppet Studio, 1006 E. Linwood Blvd., Kansas City, Missouri. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.