© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City Puppeteer Paul Mesner Invites Others To Put On A Show

Courtesy: Paul Mesner
KC Auction Company
The largest set in the auction is "The Mikado," based on the comic Gilbert and Sullivan opera. There are 23 characters in the set, and the Mikado puppet stands 93" tall with the rod.

Dozens of puppets and sets from Paul Mesner's collection will find new owners in an online auction.

Last year, the Mesner Puppet Theater departed from its longtime home in Hyde Park for a new location not far away.

Not everyone left, though. A host of characters beloved by children and adults stayed in the old building at 1006 E. Linwood Blvd. Oscar the Grouch remained. So did Cinderella and Jack, the boy who climbed the beanstalk. And many others, in the form of puppets, who stayed behind along with their sets.

For the past couple of weeks, some of those items have been up for auction through KC Auction Company. Pre-bidding started on May 12. The online auction will take place at 7 p.m. Monday.

“I’m not tracking it (the auction) too closely, because, to be quite frank, it pains me to get rid of all this stuff,” said company founder Paul Mesner, who's also the current owner of the building.

“I know these characters," he added. "You know, many of them, I gave them their initial chance to be on stage.”

hat back.jpg
Courtesy: Paul Mesner
KC Auction Company
Shadow stick puppets based on "I Want My Hat Back, a 2011 children’s picture book by author and illustrator Jon Klassen. The characters are fox, bear, turtle, rabbit, and the script is included.

Mesner retired in 2017 after a 40-year career in puppetry, though the company continues in his name. It is currently based in Midtown at the Plexpod Westport Commons, a coworking space at 300 E. 39th St.

“We built a lot of shows, and a lot of big ones,” Mesner said, remembering the years in the Linwood Boulevard building. “Two operas and one or two big stage shows to be on bigger stages, and that’s some of what’s left.”

He added, “It’s more than I can ever hold on to.”

There are 170 auction lots in all — rod, hand and shadow puppets, marionettes, and lots of set pieces and backdrops.

Life-sized figures, including Oscar the Grouch from “Sesame Street,” as well as characters from literature, like Harry Potter. Rod puppets, such as the "The Mikado," with a script included. And a range of backdrop sets, from painted trees, English gardens and castles, to children’s stories and fairy tales, such as “Strega Nona,” “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and “Rapunzel.”

Stega nona.jpg
Courtesy: Paul Mesner
KC Auction Company
The set for "Strega Nona," a puppet show based on the book by Tomie dePaola.

But, of course, Mesner said, he had to keep about ten shows — ones he performed often or built himself, or where the “puppet builders did excellent work.” Classics like “Just So Stories,” and “Wiley and the Hairy Man.”

“And some of these shows are ones I will never perform again,” said Mesner. “I just wasn’t ready to let go of some of them.”

Mesner said he’s hoping some of the sets will find new homes — in an elementary school auditorium, a library, a restaurant, or a haunted house.

“There are some really fun things for sale. I think you need to think outside the box,” he said with a laugh. “Some of these things could be Halloween decorations, Christmas decorations.”

And the Linwood building — once it’s cleared of props, sets and puppets – will be rented out again to provide a new generation with a place to create.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.