No strings attached: Calgary puppeteer lending her skills for laughs, love

Michelle Warkentin has a troupe of 15 puppets she's putting to work to help Calgarians manage difficult times during COVID-19

Michelle Warkentin is putting her band of merry actors to work lifting spirits across Calgary. CONTRIBUTED

In a time where coronavirus isolation has us down, one vibrant Calgarian is doing her part to lift her community’s spirits.

Michelle Warkentin, a professional puppeteer for more than 25 years, has taken to Facebook to offer hopeful video messages from her felted friends.

“I was looking at my puppets, and they’re looking at me saying ‘we’re not working! What can we do?’” Warkentin said.

“I’ve lost jobs, but I have an opportunity to maybe help people. I can keep working and keep putting a smile on people’s faces.”

With about 15 puppets sitting idle in her basement, and time on her hands, Warkentin decided to lend her services for free.

“I think about being able to give back, and that feels good” said Warkentin.

Warkentin has produced 50 videos so far

Through three Facebook posts, and likely more to come, Warkentin has offered to provide short videos featuring her puppets.

“If somebody’s happier, or it breaks up the day a little bit, then that’s what it’s all about,” Warkentin said.

“Anything to lift the day a little.”

Warkentin has had plenty of engagement through her posts, and has produced about 50 videos so far. She’s filmed everything from birthday greetings to messages from loved ones, with each video lasting about 32 seconds each.

With the help of her husband, Warkentin films the short videos from home. She’s careful to put care into each one and takes time to understand what the recipient needs.

The videos have gone out to people of all ages, from children to seniors.

Through short songs and funny voices, Warkentin spreads joy through her puppets.

With everyone stuck at home and away from family and friends, the videos are a unique way to connect.

“It’s a lot of little messages that just kind of say ‘I’m thinking of you, this is a message from your loved ones,” Warkentin said.

“That’s what people are asking for – just to let others know that they’re loved, and their thought about, and they care about them.”

Video for a hurting former co-worker

Through one of Warkentin’s posts, Elle Purnell did just that. After a former coworker was laid off, Purnell had Warkentin produce a video to make her friend smile.

“She thought it was so sweet and cute, and thanked me profusely. It was sent late in the evening, too, so it was one of the final notes to end her day on,” said Purnell.

“The arts have unveiled their importance and impact on mental health since the pandemic hit.”

Warkentin’s video from September 2019. YOUTUBE

Purnell found herself beaming when viewing the commission, having ordered a video for an upcoming birthday as well.

While it’s an initiative that’s done so much for other people, Warkentin has found her own gratification.

“I can continue to be creative, and do what I love to do,” Warkentin said.

“It’s a rich opportunity to reach people I would never meet. I feel quite blessed.”

It’s a small world, after all

Through connecting on Facebook, Purnell discovered that she and Warkentin had a friend in common. Purnell had worked with him before she was laid off, and Warkentin had crossed paths with him through theatre.

“It just goes to show what a small world it is,” said Purnell.

If you’re looking for a video of your own, or for something kind to send a loved one, you can reach Warkentin through Facebook, or through her website.

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