For Connor Asher, puppetry wasn’t confined to a fun childhood pastime. It became his passion and his craft.
The Great Arizona Puppet Theater’s newest puppeteer, Asher relocated from Chicago to Phoenix over the summer to pursue a career in the field. It is allowing him to expand his expertise and touch lives in the community through vibrant characters and stories.
“It’s been great. … I knew Nancy (Smith) from the Great Arizona Puppet Theater, one of the founders, and they had a position for a full-time puppeteer,” Asher says.
“It was perfect timing. Everything lined up really well. They were ultra-supportive of my decision and courteous with helping me get out here, and it very much aligned with what I was already doing. It just worked out really beautifully.”
The Great Arizona Puppet Theater is a nonprofit professional puppet theater that was founded in Phoenix in 1983. Its mission is not only to promote puppetry, but to celebrate and teach Arizona’s culture, legacy and environment through the art form.
Its puppeteers perform mostly for children and travel to share colorful stories at schools, libraries, and child care and community centers across the state and beyond.
“I would love to keep developing as a performer. One of the big, newer things here is just learning show after show after show, and trying to keep them all within your brain at the same time,” Asher says.
“So that’s a new challenge for me, keeping so many different shows in my head all at once. But I love that challenge.”
Asher is training for two of the theater’s touring shows — “Zoner and the Drip,” which tackles water conservation, while “Terrific the Tooth” teaches dental health.
“Something that I always find important are the characters and story, and if an audience member can walk away with one thing from a show, that’s magic to me,” he says.
In addition to performing, Asher assists in show preparation, including building puppets.
“We wear many, many, many different hats, which is one of the things that got me into this field in the first place,” he says. “That was one of the really exciting things: You’ll never get bored because there’s so many different disciplines that go into this.”
A year prior to his transition to the theater, Asher trained at the world-renowned Jim Henson Company. He was one of 32 puppeteers accepted from 2,000 applicants. In three weeks, puppeteers received intensive instruction in improv and puppet manipulation.
“I made it through there, and it was a great experience,” Asher says. “You have some of the best puppeteers in the world teaching, as well as improv teachers. Then we got to put on a performance at the end for the talent scouts and company employees.”
Asher was introduced to puppetry at a young age, growing up watching PBS kids shows like “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” He always knew that there was “something special” with puppetry.
He fell in love with theater after seeing his first live show. Asher shared this passion by staging performances in his basement for other kids in the neighborhood.
He was involved in different facets of the arts through high school. His interest in puppeteering ignited when he saw a documentary about the person behind Elmo.
“That was the first time for me, the curtain was officially pulled back,” Asher says. “I got to see, oh, that’s what a puppeteer is, and oh, these are all of the different things that go into this art form. Ever since then, that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Great Arizona Puppet Theater