Virtual Puppetry Residency



Virtual Puppetry Residency (VPR) is an online program for those interested in practicing the art of puppetry. The six-week program is designed for adults of all skill levels. Similar to a traditional artist residency program, VPR aims to build a community of participants from a variety of backgrounds. Each week, participants from around the world respond to various prompts, including creating short puppet shows and then performing them on Zoom for critique and discussion. While engaging in the program, participants are encouraged to work on one or more independent projects.  The program is directed by Pittsburgh artist and puppeteer Tom Sarver. For more information, please Email tomsarver


Virtual Puppetry Residency announces:

Open House: online public events celebrating World Puppetry Day

MARCH 20th and MARCH 21st, 2021


Pittsburgh, PA: Virtual Puppetry Residency (VPR), an international arts program developed by Pittsburgh-based artist Tom Sarver, will be holding a series of online events to celebrate World Puppetry Day, 2021. On March 20th and 21st, resident artists in the third season of the program will present samples of their work. Live and pre-recorded puppet shows will be presented, as well as short interviews with artists from around the world. The event will be divided into three programs (Children’s, All-Ages and Adult programs). Viewing of the Open House events is free and available through the project’s Facebook page.

This is the third season of VPR, a six-week program developed for puppeteers of all skill levels to improve their craft and performance concepts. Sarver initiated the program in May of 2020, after the COVID-19 global pandemic cancelled in-person puppetry events and education. The program, run online, features weekly critiques, guest speakers and a final showing of works created in the residency.

Experimentation was a theme for season three, and participants pushed the boundaries of what can be accomplished in showing work online. Works shown at Open House are intended to show the sense of play and discovery achieved during the workshop. They are short sketches (2 – 5 minutes) designed specifically for online viewing. Fifty current VPR residents join the program from The United States, Canada, Brazil, Guyana, Argentina, Kenya, Croatia, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, The United Kingdom, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Ukraine, and Italy.

Previous events for VPR include International Puppet Slam on July 18th, 2020 and International Puppet Festival on December 20th, 2020.  VPR is administered by Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media with support from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and private donations.

Virtual Puppet Residency


Tom Sarver –

Project Facebook Page:

Open House Programs:

Saturday, March 20th, 10 AM EST – Children’s Show (rated G equivalent). Fun, uplifting shows for children and families.

CHILDREN’S PROGRAM – Start time: 10 AM EST, Saturday, March 20th.
1. Entangled Puppetry, “The Shepherd and the Selkie” Canada.
2. Dina Kaplan, “Abiyoyo” Illinois. 
3. Lindsay Shields & Acting Political, “Do You See Me?” New York.
4. Fedelis Kyalo, “Gee-rafee and the hanging pot” Kenya.
5. Charlotte Oliver, “The New Forest Baby” United Kingdom.
6. Monique de Oliveira Pereira, “The Blue Macaw” Brazil.
7. Jess Rassp, “To Be a Wild Vulture” Maryland. 
8. PUPPETtree, “Trevor Tree has a Black Hole” North Carolina.
9. Greg Carrillo, “The Witch, The Wizard and the Dragon’s Egg” Canada.
10. Anji Goude, A Scorpion and Two Frogs” Greece.
11. Debbie Beale, “Drew and The Monster” United Kingdom.
12. Kelly Fielder, “Special Delivery” Arizona.
13. Crooked Square Puppetry, “Anomalous Blob” New York. 
14, Kasandra Vargas, “Beautifully, Wonderfully You” California.
15. Kelvin Chan, “Life of a/one Match” Hong Kong. 
16. Monique de Oliveira Pereira, “The Rescue” Brazil. 
Virtual Puppetry Residency, 2021

PUPPETtree, Arborist Guy Meilleur and co-puppeteer Karen Cantor (North Carolina), will present Trevor Tree has a Black Hole, in the 10 AM Children’s Program on Saturday, March 20th. Photo courtesy of PUPPETtree.

Saturday, March 20th, 2 PM EST – Adult Show (mature audiences). A variety of shows and creative experiments in puppetry. Some works may address serious social issues.

ADULT PROGRAM – Start time: 2 PM EST, Saturday, March 20th.
1. Catherine Welsh Aceto, “Dog Day’s Night” Pennsylvania. 
2. Droomtheater, “Hamlet Forever” The Netherlands.
3. Elyse Jacobs, “Inside Out” United Kingdom. 
4. Ada Dorrego, untitled, Argentina.
5. Michelle O’Shea, “Imini’s Worry List” Canada.
6. Fiona Wright, “The Dreamer and the Light” Scotland.
7. John Harrop, “The School Disco” Spain. 
8. Brzezinski & Schap, “Body Stories: Segments” New York and Massachusetts. 
9. Fine Fröhlich, Transit-Theater-Berlin, “Inside My Brain” Germany. 
10. PUPPETtree,“Trevor Tree has a Black Hole” North Carolina. 
11. Tamara Prusak, “Little Dreamer” Argentina. 
12. Belle Erikson, “Death and The Stag” Pennsylvania. 
13. Jayne & Hannah Sweet, “The Adventures of Geordie and Zeus” Pennsylvania. 
14. Marta K and Marta B, “Wizard: a sketch” Croatia.


Virtual Puppetry Residency

John Harrop of Bat-i-Burrillo Teatro de Títeres, Sevilla, Spain will recreate a childhood memory during the 2pm EST Adult Program on Saturday, March 20th.

Sunday, March 21st 2 PM EST – All Ages Show (PG Equivalent). A variety of shows for all ages. Announcements will be made before shows if content is not appropriate for children.

All-Ages Program – Start time: 2 PM EST, Sunday, March 21st.
1. Sue Scarborough, “Could be Classic Theater” North Carolina.
2. Jo Jo Vagabondi, “Tales I was told to tell” Wales.
3. Dina Kaplan, “1967” Chicago.
4. Leonka Balduk, “New Beginnings, Scene from the Ugly Duckling” The Netherlands.
5. String Theatre, “The Traveling Doll” London.
6. Darlene Fedele Thompson, ““Bridgey’s Room”, Pennsylvania.
7. Faith-Ann Chester-Inniss,“Puppets in Protest” Guyana.
9. Sara Jane Munford & Susanna Brock, “Paper Duet”, New York.
10. Nadia Parisi, “Ruggiero Libera Angelica dall’Orca Marina”, Italy.
11. Sherri Roberts, “REUNION”, Pittsburgh.
12. Central Alabama Performing Arts Guild Puppet Players, “Jabberwocky” Alabama.
13. Genna Beth Davidson, “My Parsnips!” Connecticut. 
14. Amy Oestreicher, “A seed grows with a little help from her friends,” Connecticut. 
15. Lily Schwarzbaum, “The Falcon”, Canada.
16. Patrick Amber, “Eddie the Elf”, Greece.
17. Parisa Shaeri, “Creation”, Iran.
Virtual Puppetry Residency, 2021

Nadia Parisi of Atelier La Lucciola, Palermo, Italy, will be presenting a new work, Ruggiero Libera Angelica dall’Orca Marina, in the 2 PM All-Ages Program on Sunday, March 21st. Photo by Alessandro Prestipino.


Children’s Program, VPR International Puppet Festival, December 12, 2020. 


Announcement! January 5, 2021: SEASON 3 – PROSPECTUS 

Applications are now being accepted for the third season of Virtual Puppetry Residency (VPR). Adults of all skill levels are invited to apply to this free, online program that focuses on the development of short puppet shows for online performance. The third season will focus specifically on the creation of shows that are performed live. The program takes place over six weeks. It involves attending critique meetings and two Saturday guest artist sessions. A goal of the winter 2021 VPR will be to create works to perform at a March 21, World Puppetry Day online event.
VPR is a project of Pittsburgh-based artist and puppeteer Tom Sarver. It is supported by Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and private donations. The program is facilitated in a manner that focuses on building a community of resident artists and puppeteers who share feedback, skills, and support with one another as they work to realize their personal visions. Participants are asked to attend a weekly critique meeting to show progress on their work and to review the work of others. Two Saturday guest artist presentations will focus on specific types of puppetry. In addition to weekly community sharing/critiquing sessions, participants should be able to dedicate independent personal time each week as “studio time” to write, build and practice their shows. Participants are asked to develop a work for public presentation at the end of the residency. This is strongly encouraged, but not required.
The program is open to participants worldwide and is conducted in the English language. Participants must have access to the internet and a device (computer, smartphone, or tablet) that can accommodate Zoom (using both audio and video). Other program communications are done through Email and a private Facebook group. Participants are free to explore the puppetry method of their choice. They may create their own puppets or use puppets that they have acquired. Shows may be developed for children, all-ages or mature audiences. Experimentation is encouraged.
The Winter 2021 session of VPR begins on Saturday, February 6 with a 10 AM EST introductory meeting (about 2 hours). Tentative dates for visiting artist presentations are Saturday, February 20 and Saturday, February 27 (both at 10 AM EST). Participants must attend at least one sharing/critique meeting per week. These happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 8 AM EST and 2 PM EST. Those participating in a final showing on March 21 will need to attend a rehearsal meeting within the week prior to the event.
In the past two seasons of VPR, participants have joined from fourteen countries. The first season of the project culminated in an online puppet slam. The second season ended with thirty participants showing work in an online International Puppet Festival.
More information can be found on the project Facebook Site.


To apply, please email the following information to Tom Sarver:
1. In 100 words or less, please write about your interest in puppetry. Please also include your level of experience (beginner, hobbyist, actor, visual artist, professional puppeteer, etc.).
2. Where do you live (city, region, country)?
3. In 100 words or less, please write about why you would like to participate in this residency. Will you be able to commit to the weekly meetings, Saturday sessions and independent studio time for the six weeks of the program?
Application deadline is Tuesday, January 19, 2021 at 5 PM EST. Thirty participants will be selected. Notifications will be emailed by Monday, January 25 at 9 PM EST.


Press Release: November 27th, 2020

Virtual Puppetry Residency announces virtual event:

International Puppet Festival, December 12, 2020

Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh-based artist Tom Sarver, with support from Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media and PA Council on the Arts, presents a virtual puppet festival of works created by participants in his Virtual Puppetry Residency (VPR) program on Saturday, December 12, 2020. The online festival will feature works by thirty-two artists from around the world and will consist of a Children’s Show, an All-Ages Show and an Adult Show. Viewing of the shows is free and available through the project’s Facebook page or via Zoom.

This is the second season of VPR, a six-week program developed for puppeteers of all levels to improve their craft and performance concepts. Sarver initiated the program in May of 2020, after the COVID-19 global pandemic cancelled in-person puppetry events and education. The program, run online, features weekly critiques, guest speakers and a final showing of works created in the residency. After the first season of the program, fifteen participants presented their work in an event titled, International Puppet Slam. This took place on July 18, 2020. With twice as many participants in the second season of VPR, the culminating event has been expanded to a festival. Sarver will host the event live, with a mix of live shows, pre-recorded shows and live interviews with performers.

Tom Sarver is an artist, educator and puppeteer.  He was a core organizer of Pittsburgh’s Black Sheep Puppet Festival (1999-2008), Puppet Happening (2011-2015) and The Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh (2016-2019).


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Catherine Welsch Aceto of Pittsburgh, PA will be presenting The Tempest, Part 1 (Pandemic Edition). Image courtesy of the artist.

Lockdown F.

Professional puppeteer Fedelis Kyalo participated in the residency from his home in Kenya. He will be presenting a new work, Lockdown in the Village. Image courtesy of the artist.

Virtual Puppet Residency Contact:

Tom Sarver –

Project Facebook Page:


Festival Performers:

Tara Alexander – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Jen Bain – Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Debbie Beale – United Kingdom

Robin Bongers – Netherlands

Greg Carrillo – British Columbia, Canada

Theresa Casciato – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Kelvin Chan – Hong Kong

Peter Court – South Africa

Anji Goude – Greece

Paul Greggs – Portsmouth, Virginia

Kim Gregory – Salem, Virginia

Clara Isenmann – Germany

Tyler Jacobs – Fredricksburg, Virginia

Nanna Krøyer – Copenhagen, Denmark

Fedelis Kyalo- Kenya

Jamie Lee – Chicago, Illinois

Darlene Lowe – Lexington, Kentucky

Marriolle, The Puppet Builder – Romania

Charlotte Oliver – Brighton, United Kingdom

Lois Parker – United Kingdom

Aparna Patrao – Goa, India

Ela Portnoy – United Kingdom

Sherri Roberts – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tom Sarver (festival host) – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sue Scarborough – Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

Brandon Shannon – North Carolina

Caitlin Strongarm – United Kingdom

Rachel Sutherland – London, Ontario, Canada

Daniela Terson de Paleville – Indiana

Elise Timm-Bottos – Montreal, Canada

Eszter Tünde Virók – Hungary

Catherine Welsh Aceto – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

These Artist Residency Projects were administered by Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media and supported by the Arts in Education Partnership of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. PCA&M serves Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, and Washington counties as part of the AIE Partnership. Additional support has been provided by Pegasus Puppetry and Arts (UK) and a private donor.

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International Puppet Slam – July 18, 2020


The following participants of Season 1 presented work at the International Puppet Slam on July 18th, 2020:

Debbie Beale – United Kingdom

Robin Bongers – Netherlands

Roos Buskes – Netherlands

Kelvin Chan – Hong Kong

Kirsten Ervin – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Cindy Franklin – Denison, Texas

Jade Fuda – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Paul Greggs – Portsmouth, Virginia

Marriolle, The Puppet Maker – Romania

Sam Milford – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Conni Mulligan – North Carolina

Charlotte Oliver – Brighton, United Kingdom

Lois Parker – United Kingdom

Tom Sarver – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Damian Sheridan – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Kirsten Ervin’s show, Bus Stop was performed live at the slam.


Kelvin Chan worked on a folded paper piece during the residency. Story of Hong Kong Orchid Tree Flower. 


Roos Buskes performed live from Netherlands.


Lois Parker performed live from United Kingdom.


Robin Bongers created Making Friends for the puppet slam.


Charlotte Oliver performed live from Brighton, UK. She created a small crankie show titled, Betty Bee’s Adventure.


Cindy Franklin created Hound Dog’s Dream for the slam. This was her first time writing a script, building a puppet show, editing video and exploring green screen.


A  prerecorded show by Tom Sarver.


Jade Fuda created Jangles for the slam. This was her first shadow puppet production.


Gus and Bobby Won’t Go Back to School by Sam Milford.


Hidden in the Flowers by Debbie Beale.


Marriolle the Puppet Maker developed this piece during the residency. She is from Romania and the piece, A Tale of Two Hats is about her parents.


Kindness by Paul Greggs.


Lois Parker created this video, The Fridge, during the residency.


Conni Mulligan presented a show in two parts. Part II was presented live during the slam.


Belly Dancing and Zoom by Lois Parker.


Weatherwood Studios Presents by Damian Sheridan.


A reflection on Virtual Puppetry Residency by Lois Parker.

Widening horizons- from making objects to animating worlds

I joined this programme without any clear idea of what it would entail. I had decided to learn to control a marionette I had bought on holiday about three decades ago by learning how to build one myself. An online course on building a marionette from the Stan Winston School of Character Arts meant I arrived for the first session with a completed figure, strung and on a controller. I hadn’t gone beyond getting her to walk awkwardly as if she had spent too long on a horse for the first time. 

I have a series of audio interviews where people discuss their relationship to belongings that I need to do something with. I had an incomplete idea of using puppetry to provide the visuals for excerpts from these interviews, since having a full-scale sound piece with original artefacts in a gallery seemed unlikely.

I have a problem directly restating words others have said, as I have a horror of words being in my mouth that I don’t agree with. It makes singing in choirs a challenge. It’s left over from a fundamentalist evangelical missionary childhood. I also know that puppets are used therapeutically to enable children and adults to enact issues they cannot confront or tell directly. Objects can carry enormous psychological and sociological weight, for example wedding rings, religious ikons and statuary, or a child’s first lost tooth. Puppetry seemed a possible way of working with challenging material.

I recollect having left the first session with my preconceptions about puppetry completely disintegrated. I realized I had not thought with any rigor about the nature and possibilities of performance. Roos Buskes continued her story off stage, so it felt like a whole life was taking place and we were just glimpsing a portion. That made me realize I had seen ‘proper’ puppetry as being inside a box, like a Punch and Judy show or a traditional theatre presentation. 

The visible presence the puppeteer, without any pretense that they were not there, was another moment of insight. The hands, the whole body, even when the hands being more visible than tiny puppets, all were unimportant in this compelling space of the animated object.

Kelvin Chan animated a leaf as part of his exquisite piece on Bauhinia and that, along with Tom Sarver’s seeming use of anything at hand, challenged my views of what constituted a puppet, and how much the puppeteer could trust the viewer to complete the experience. Allowing the space between the puppet and the viewer to come alive in unique ways for each person is a fascinating potential part of this puppetry process.

The session with Zach Dorn was illuminating in his use of direct camera feed to present work to a large audience from a tiny and largely static set. He also discussed the possibility of working with the most banal of topics. I have an interest in how minute happenings can illuminate large issues.  I am also keenly interested in the crystallization of experience in a vertical rather than horizontal way, where you plunge deep into the beingness of an experience rather than attending to a linear story. There is something about this small /large, planned/ impromptu, separate but engaged method of working which has significant possibilities.  

This programme was engrossing, challenging and frustrating. I can now see how much I need to develop my ideas and skills. I am very grateful to Tom for running this experience so adroitly, managing novices and highly experienced puppeteers with a programme of activities. And on a final note, for sheer joyfulness of performance, the youngest participants Delthia and Odessa are worth holding in memory.




Tom Sarver, 2020

This Artist Residency Project was supported by the Arts in Education Partnership of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. The Arts in Education Partner serving Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, and Washington counties is Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media.