Black Cherry Puppet Theater
By Jessica Porter, Young Audiences Program Director
Tuesday morning in Baltimore began with a somber tone. As community members cleaned up our streets, led peaceful demonstrations, and opened their doors to their neighbors who needed a place to go, reflect, and process, something beautiful began to happen.
Early on in the day, I was struggling to find ways to productively volunteer. Despite our initial frustrations, the Young Audiences staff worked collaboratively with each other and with our artists to identify ways to positively affect the lives of quite a few people in meaningful, creative, and important ways throughout the day.
Young Audiences’ musician Kevin Martin volunteered to provide his Steel Drum Experience program, with children and volunteers who were spending the day at The 29th Street Community Center. Our very own Chief Innovation Officer Pat Cruz and several Young Audiences staff partnered with puppeteer Michael Lamason to get arts activities, such as mural painting, puppet making, and a free puppet show, off the ground at Black Cherry Puppet Theater.
This doesn’t even touch on the powerful work our artists were doing on their own! In a 10-minute span of the local news Tuesday evening, I saw at least four different artists I’ve worked with in some capacity during my time at Young Audiences right in the epicenter of the healing taking place in our city. Having long been active members of the communities in which they live, many of our artists are poised to lead the change that our city deserves.
When Kevin called me to say he was on his way to the 29th Street Community Center, I decided to come along. There were only about a dozen students at the center, and probably just as many volunteers, but seeing the smiles on those kids faces was the hope that I needed. I could tell the experience provided a much needed spark for the other adults too. The students chose to name our band “Monkey Kids.” Though we had only 40 minutes together, at the end we performed a rough rendition of the Toots and the Maytals’ song “Monkey Man”–and everyone walked away beaming.
Across town at Black Cherry Puppet Theater, more than 30 kids and parents gathered to draw, paint, and create their own puppets before a free puppet show mid-afternoon. This was a true community effort, as artists donated their time and volunteers contributed food and labor.
We’ve all got a lot of work to do in order to see the change our city needs, but I am more confident than ever in the transformational power of our work, and thanks to my experience, I am once again hopeful for our city’s future.