Fundraiser aims to bring puppet shows to hospitalized kids

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Fresh from bringing island kids and parents together for a special Family Day show on Feb. 15, local musician and puppeteer Jesse Thom is kicking off an important initiative that will transport his art to those who need it most.

Thom has launched a new program called Well Played: Puppet Shows for Hospitalized Kids. Community fundraising support is being sought so children in hospitals near and far can have a unique puppet show created just for them.

“It’s a project that was born very gradually, but it seems so obvious now that it’s what I’m meant to do,” Thom told the Driftwood.

Thom and his family moved to Salt Spring around six years ago, and since they’ve been here his career as a puppeteer, performer and children’s author has taken off. He has enjoyed support both from the local community and from further afield; he’s been touring steadily and received a kind note of encouragement from veteran children’s entertainer Raffi.

“I’ve been getting the best fan mail from kids from all over,” Thom said.

“I’m really grateful to tap into the magic of this community. Island people have really found that balance between life and creativity,” he added. 

The heartwarming antics of Thom’s puppet characters are well known through his acclaimed show Some Bunny Loves You, an experience that draws deeply on audience participation and Thom’s training in clowning and improvisation. 

With all the fun, light-hearted aspects of his work, though, his creative journey draws on a deep well of human experience and emotion. Thom’s connection with bunnies actually began at age five when he lost his older brother Alex to leukemia, and then wrote a story about a bunny with “bun…kemia” that he read to his entire school.

“A lot of my creative direction has come out of Alex’s death — embracing grief, learning to embrace impermanence. There’s something about appreciating life that really comes to fruition when you’re willing to experience loss like that,” Thom said. 

Well Played: Puppet Shows for Hospitalized Kids is a new venture, but a natural extension of his personal history and his work. He formed the idea after receiving an invitation to create a puppet show for a young girl who was badly hurt by a falling tree during a windstorm last year. Having spent so much time in the hospital with his own family as a young child, it was a familiar environment.

“It was so much fun creating something for her and it sparked the thought of how I could do more of that,” Thom said.

Early fundraising for the Well Played initiative secured enough to support three months of shows for kids in hospitals. Thom and his puppets hoped to go to Ontario first to perform for a little boy with leukemia. He hopes to raise enough to support an entire year of such gifts. 

One-time donations can be made to Thom’s GoFundMe page at: https://www.gofundme.com/puppetlove. Also very helpful, if people are able, is to make a commitment as a monthly patron (which comes with extra perks) at https://www.patreon.com/jessethom.

If someone has a hospitalized child in mind who could benefit from a puppet show, they can contact jesse.thom@gmail.com.

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