Mesner Puppet Theater
1006 E. Linwood Boulevard
Kansas City MO 64109-1840
Web and Phone Contact
Telephone (816) 756-3500
Mission Statement

Our Mission: Innovative storytelling that captures imaginations and inspires communities.

Our Vision: Collaborative cultural ambassadors telling stories through theater with puppets to educate and enhance communities.

Community Impact Statement: Theatrical experiences that encourage a sense of community and creates a place to explore feelings, thoughts, and ideas through artistic means. We present nearly 200 performances per year attracting an average of 30,000 audience members. Many of our attendees are experiencing theater for the first time.

CEO/Executive Director Mr. Mike Horner
Board Chair Mr. Darin Schreves
Board Chair Company Affiliation Lathrop & Gage
History and Background
Year of Incorporation 1987
Former Names
Paul Mesner Puppets
Financial Summary
Revenue Expense Area Graph

Comparing revenue to expenses shows how the organizations finances fluctuate over time.

Source: IRS Form 990

Net Gain/Loss:    in 
Note: When component data are not available, the graph displays the total Revenue and/or Expense values.
Mission Statement

Our Mission: Innovative storytelling that captures imaginations and inspires communities.

Our Vision: Collaborative cultural ambassadors telling stories through theater with puppets to educate and enhance communities.

Community Impact Statement: Theatrical experiences that encourage a sense of community and creates a place to explore feelings, thoughts, and ideas through artistic means. We present nearly 200 performances per year attracting an average of 30,000 audience members. Many of our attendees are experiencing theater for the first time.

Background Statement

Mesner Puppet Theater is a globally known professional puppet theater company. The company’s local season of plays attracts around 12,000 guests for its local season. In addition, the company tours nationally and internationally, and entertains an additional 32,000 children and adults at performing arts centers, schools and libraries across the country - in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Washington state, Utah, Kansas and Missouri – and, last year, Germany and India. The company believes wholeheartedly in the intelligence of its young audiences and includes deeper meanings and life-lessons in its productions so that each show is a learning experience as well as an artistic journey. 

Mesner Puppets regularly collaborates with local and national artists, musicians, fashion designers and crafts people to create puppetry with an engaging sense of humor. The company uses a variety of puppet styles, from finger puppets to rod and stick puppets, marionettes, shadow puppets, and bigger than life-sized puppets worn by performers.

Mesner Puppet Theater plays to a very diverse audience. The company provides free tickets to underserved schools, families and agencies like the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired, Operation Breakthrough, and Mattie Rhoades. About 80% of these tickets are provided to minority children, mostly African American. 10% of all tickets are provided at no charge. While the majority of audience members are children – parents, teachers, grandparents, and great grandparents also attend. We draw from all over the metro area and surrounding counties.

Mike Horner, Artistic Director has been a creative force with Mesner Puppets for over ten years, and Paul’s chosen successor. He is the principle puppeteer, as well as lead puppet builder and designer. Horner performs in Mesner Puppets' annual season of shows at the company's theater and tours nationally and internationally.

Paul Mesner, Support-in-Chief, puppeteer, author and performer became interested in puppetry at an early age. As a teenager he studied with Lee Ridge in Lincoln, Nebraska before starting his own puppet theater in Omaha. He toured his shows throughout Minnesota before studying at the prestigious International Institute of Puppetry in Charleville-Mezier, France. He moved to Kansas City where in 1987 he founded Mesner Puppet Theater.

Impact Statement

Accomplishments in 2016-2017:
  • Mike Horner was named Artistic Director.
  • First show presented at Crown Center to record breaking crowds.
  • During first year of Puppets in Education, 1,255 children received the program.
Goals for 2017-2018:
  • Raise $15,000 for prudent reserve
  • Expand Puppets in Education program
  • Identify alternative community sites for puppet shows
Needs Statement
  1. General operating contributions
  2. Experienced board members
  3. Volunteers
Service Categories
Arts Education
Areas of Service
MO - Jackson County
MO - Clay County
MO - Platte County
KS - Wyandotte County
KS - Johnson County
MO - Eastern Jackson Co
MO - Jackson County Urban Core
KS - Wyandotte County Urban Core
KS - Lawrence
Mesner Puppet Theater serves the entire Kansas City metro through its local season and local touring.  The theater also tours nationally and internationally.
CEO/Executive Director/Board Chair Statement
Serving on the Board for Mesner Puppet Theater for the last 6 years has been a rewarding and gratifying experience, as it’s given me the opportunity to peer behind the curtain and learn more about this fantastic organization. During this period, serving a number of years as Board President, I was truly fortunate to witness exciting organizational milestones including: celebration of the Theater’s 30th anniversary season, evolution of the annual “Puppets after Dark” fundraiser, a transition to Mike Horner as the Artistic Director, and Paul Mesner receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from ArtsKC.
The future of Mesner Puppet Theater is equally exciting, as the organization looks to development of new shows and formats, amplifying the educational and touring programs, and implementing a strategic approach to fundraising and development.
In the community, the look of wonder and astonishment on the audience members’ faces is a consistent reminder of the positive impact of puppetry arts. Among people of all ages, income levels, beliefs and abilities, I am continually amazed (and pleased) at how the mere mention of Mesner Puppet Theater brings a smile quickly followed by a story of a favorite show. Children of all ages are inspired to create their own puppets after performances. Other audience members take it a step further and get involved as volunteer production assistants or even puppeteers.
Mesner Puppet Theater serves as a cultural resource and substantial partner in the arts community of Kansas City. Through national and international touring, it also serves as an ambassador of this community, sharing Kansas City’s high quality talent and creativity with the rest of the world. The organization tells stories that inspire and educate. It advances the art of puppetry through innovation while acknowledging the history and tradition of the art form.

2017-2018 Annual Season:

  • The Dinosaur Show, 10/3-22/2017, Mesner Studio.
  • The Nativity, 12/1-3/2017, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral.
  • The Snowy Day and Other Stories by Ezra Jack Keats, 12/5-23/2017, Mesner Studio.
  • Rhymes, Rap, Miss Mary Mack (Marionette Show), 2/13-3/4/2018.
  • Go! Dog! Go!, Crown Center (tentative location) 6/26-7/1/2018.
Program Budget $202,559.00
Category Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Children's Theater Programs
Population Served Children and Youth (0 - 19 years), ,
Program is linked to organization's mssion Yes
Program Frequently Assessed Yes
Short-Term Success
  • Children are entertained.
  • Their attention span is lengthened. 
  • They learn something about the world around them. 
  • They make personal conclusions about issues like inclusion, bullying, self-respect, ambition and self-confidence.
Long-Term Success
  • Children are introduced to the magic of watching a story unfold onstage.  
  • They will be future audience members.
  • They are inspired artistically. 
Program Success Monitored By

We often receive comments from teachers, child care workers and parents that let us know if we were successful.

Examples of Program Success

Taking my 3-5 year old students to Mesner Puppets shows are precisely what they're supposed to be for their developmental level. A Mesner Puppets experience can be impulsively interactive and spontaneously stimulating, while still providing our students with an opportunity to experience live entertainment and work on their theatre-etiquette skills.  

Months after seeing a Mesner Puppets show, students will ask me if I remember the old lady and her silly dog from Old Mother Hubbard, or enthusiastically sing me a song they remember from the show. For me, this is the true test for gauging what is an impactful and engaging field trip experience; Have they carried the experience with them long after we've left the theatre? Are they applying the inevitable lessons reflected in the stories to their daily lives? Are they artistically inspired to create their own puppets, puppet shows, or art projects in general as a result of the opportunity? The answers are a resounding; Yes.
Alex Esprey, Resident Artist at St. Mark Child and Family Development Center. (He leads arts activities for this Head Start preschool and brings the kids to our shows.)

Puppets provide a link between learning and play that makes them great teaching tools. Mesner Puppet Theater is offering a new enrichment program to Kansas City metro schools using puppetry to address academic and social emotional issues. 

Puppets in Education consists of puppet presentations that focus on educational themes, life skills and age-appropriate social and safety issues, designed with active input from teachers to support the educational goals for K-3rd grades and preschools. Puppets in Education is presented in the classroom during the school day.

Program Budget $65,010.00
Category Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Children's Theater Programs
Population Served Children Only (5 - 14 years), ,
Program is linked to organization's mssion Yes
Program Frequently Assessed Yes
Short-Term Success

Goal: Output: 1,800 children, Pre-K through 3rd will receive the program in 2017-2018.

Outcome 1: Children will gain social emotional skills and better understanding of academic subjects.

Outcome 2: Teachers will gain a new tool to enhance learning and present subject matter through the third person of a puppet.

Measurement: Teachers complete a pre- and post-evaluation. Records of number of children and schools served confirm service goal.

Long-Term Success Increased social and emotional skills, developed at this very young age, will help a child throughout his/her life.
Program Success Monitored By

Measurement: Teachers complete a pre- and post-evaluation. Records of number of children and schools served confirm service goal.

Examples of Program Success

“This was a great presentation. It was a perfect topic for this age group and for our preschool program. Alex made the children so comfortable and really talked to them at their level. He was able to engage everyone! We are already hoping got schedule it for the beginning of our year in the fall. It would make a great introductory presentation to the concept of preschool.”

-Room 101, Village Church Preschool

“the presentation was very age-appropriate. It was a relevant topic that th students could relate to. The students were all engaged and really enjoyed the presentation!”

-Room 102, Village Church Preschool

“We enjoyed the performance. The children related well to Marcus, and seemed to understand the concepts that were introduced. Kids and puppets are a great combination, and it definitely worked! We now are enjoying our own puppets in the classroom-ones we have brought in, and ones we have made. Thank you!”

-Room 103, Village Church Preschool

Description Mesner Puppets works with the Kansas City Art Institute and other local colleges and universities to offer free internships to college level students.
Category Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Puppet Shows
Population Served Adolescents Only (13-19 years), ,
Short-Term Success Students will take away some knowledge about the art of puppetry - design, construction, costuming and manipulation.
Long-Term Success The students art education will be enhanced by their experience at Mesner Puppet Theater.
Program Success Monitored By This program is monitored by observation by the Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director.
Examples of Program Success Two students recently worked with Mesner Puppets to design a puppet making class for young school children.  They successfully implemented the program at Crossroads Academy.
Description Mesner Puppet Theater tours extensively across the U.S. every year, and frequently visits other countries to present puppet shows.
Category Arts, Culture & Humanities, General/Other Puppet Shows
Population Served Children and Youth (0 - 19 years), ,
Short-Term Success Children and adults will be impressed by the artistry of Mesner Puppet Theater.
Long-Term Success Kansas City will get attention throughout the country as the home of Mesner Puppets.  
Program Success Monitored By Success on tours is monitored by following the reviews of the shows, through return audience members and audience feedback.
Examples of Program Success
Mesner Puppets entertained 31,379 children and adults at performing arts centers, schools and libraries across the country - in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Washington state, Utah, Kansas and Missouri – and, this year, Germany and India.
A Review in the Seattle newspaper: "His work does not assume that children are stupid and need to be coddled. On the contrary it reveals the utmost respect for them as intelligent beings who can and will bother to listen and learn and enjoy. And enjoy they do."
CEO Comments

Mesner Puppet Theater is launching its 30th season as the region’s premier resource for entertainment and education through puppetry arts. I’m proud to continue the legacy of our company’s founder, Paul Mesner, in providing quality puppetry experiences for the Kansas City area. We are the only theatrical organization in the city producing and presenting puppet theater in a space dedicated for that purpose. Our Midtown facility is where families can see professional puppet productions, children can explore puppetry through educational programming and local artists, writers and performers can collaborate with us in creating our work. Our reach expands beyond our facility through performances in venues throughout Kansas City as well as touring shows presented at schools, libraries, museums, and festivals.

In addition to presenting our season of performances and touring shows, we are actively expanding our educational offerings in the form of post-performance workshops, summer puppet camps, weekend and after-school classes, and classroom experiences. We also actively provide puppet building and performance services to theaters, video producers and organizations seeking to incorporate puppetry in their work.

A unique challenge to Mesner Puppet Theater is that our core audience grows up quickly. Families might bring their children to our shows for 5 to 7 years but then move on to other activities. We are constantly working to introduce ourselves to families with young children through creative marketing strategies. At the same time we are exploring ways to engage older children and teens through our educational offerings. By creating puppetry experiences for a broader range of audiences, Mesner Puppet Theater will continue to expand it’s reach and impact in the community.

Executive Director/CEO
Executive Director Mr. Mike Horner
Term Start Mar 1987
Experience Mike Horner, Artistic Director, was recently promoted to this position in September 2016 after having been a strong creative force with Mesner Puppets for almost ten years. He is the principle puppeteer for the company as well as the lead puppet builder and designer. In addition to Mesner Puppets' local Annual Season, Mike tours the company’s unique shows nationally and internationally. Mike regularly creates puppets for other theaters in Kansas City, most recently for Hand To God at the Unicorn Theatre.
Co-CEO/Executive Director
Term Start 0
Compensation Last Year
Former CEOs
Mrs. Diane Barker June 2001 - June
Bill Prenevost -
Senior Staff
Title puppeteer/graphic designer
Experience/Biography Mike Horner graduated Cum Laude from McPhearson College in McPearson, Kansas with a major in German and a minor in communications and before relocating to Kansas City had been working as a graphic artist in Lincoln, Nebraska at the Lincoln Journal Star. He has been a puppeteer most of his life working with his parents in a church puppetry group and recently started his own puppet company before joining the Paul Mesner Puppets in November of 2006. He plays the accordion, ukulele, trombone and piano. He has worked as a volunteer for the Brethern Volunteer Service spending six months in San Antonio, Texas and two years in Hamburg, Germany living as a resident volunteer in a shelter for homeless refugees.
Title Operations Manager

Claus Wawrzinek, Operations Manager has been a volunteer with the Mesner Puppet Theater for over 20 years, assisting with stage setup, technical support for theater productions and general office needs. At the beginning of 2015, Claus took on additional responsibility as the interim leader for the administrative side of the theater operations, and was hired as Operations Manager in July 2016.

Title Marketing Director

Brenda Gray, Communications Director, is responsible for all public relations initiatives for the theater including media relations, social media, publications, advertising, touring schedules and assisting in fundraising duties. Brenda has a long career in communications and marketing, successfully assisting organizations build brand awareness and community enhancement. She earned a journalism degree from Wichita State University.

Title Education Coordinator

Alex Espy, Education Coordinator, has worked in Theatre for Young Audiences as a producer, director, designer, actor, and teaching artist. Kansas City directing credits include Alice in Wonderland for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Peter and the Wolf for the Kansas City Symphony. Alex has designed sets for Mesner Puppets, Theatre for Young America, and props for such Coterie shows as Shrek, Seussical the Musical and The Witches. Alex has also appeared in several Coterie shows such as Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Frindle. Other stage credits include Burn This at the Living Room Theatre and The Oldest Boy at the Unicorn Theatre. Alex served several summers as Artistic Director for the Boji Bantam Children’s Theatre at Okoboji Summer theatre, where favorite projects include James and the Giant Peach, Wind in the Willows, and Stuart Little. Alex is also a teaching artist throughout Kansas City, and was most recently Artist in Residence at St. Mark Child and Family Development Center.

Paid Full-Time Staff 4
Paid Part-Time Staff 0
Volunteers 80
Paid Contractors 1
Retention Rate 80%
Staff Diversity (Ethnicity)
African American/Black 1
Asian American/Pacific Islander 0
Caucasian 3
Hispanic/Latino 0
Native American/American Indian 0
Other 0
Staff Diversity (Gender)
Female 1
Male 3
Not Specified 0
Formal Evaluations
CEO Formal Evaluation Yes
CEO/Executive Formal Evaluation Frequency Annually
Senior Management Formal Evaluation Yes
Senior Management Formal Evaluation Frequency Annually
Non-Management Formal Evaluation Yes
Non-Management Formal Evaluation Frequency Annually
Plans & Policies
Organization Has a Fundraising Plan Yes
Organization Has a Strategic Plan Yes
Management Succession Plan Yes
Organization Policy and Procedures Yes
Nondiscrimination Policy Yes
Whistleblower Policy Yes
Document Destruction Policy Yes
  • Jewish Community Center
  • Theater in the Park
  • Mid America Freedom Band
  • Kansas City Civic Opera
  • Unicorn Theatre
  • Gorilla Theater
  • Kansas City Museum
  • Kansas City Jazz Museum
  • Gem Theater
  • Kansas City Department of Health
  • Poison Control Center
  • KUMC
  • Kansas City Art Institute
Theatre Communications Groups - Constituent Theatre2007
Citation for Excellence in Puppetry UNIMA-USA2000
Citation for Excellence in PuppetryUNIMA-USA1992
Distinguished Service to Education AwardUMKC School of Education1996
Citation for Excellence in Puppetry UNIMA-USA2008
Artist of the Year, Paul MesnerMissouri Arts Council2015
Feature story about Mike HornerAmerican Theater Magazine2016
Government Licenses
Is your organization licensed by the government? No
Board Chair
Board Chair Mr. Darin Schreves
Company Affiliation Lathrop & Gage
Term July 2015 to June 2018
Board Co-Chair
Board Co-Chair Mr Jim Hubbell
Company Affiliation Mid-America Regional Council
Term July 2011 to June 2018
Board Members
Ms. Susan Bernstein
Ms. Sharon Cheers Attorney
Ms Amy Hamm Theatre League
Ms Amy Highfill S & A Financial Services, Inc.
Mr. Jim Hubbell Mid-America Regional Council
Mr. Oscar Monteroso
Ms Bethany Nesbitt Theater League
Ms. Jan Schoonover
Ms Patti Shostak Community Volunteer
Mr Darin Shreves Lathrop & Gage
Ms Stacey Winkelbauer Commerce Bank
Ms Amy Winterscheidt Hallmark Cards
Ms. Janet Zwillenberg Early Childhood Teacher Temple B'nai Jehudah
Board Demographics - Ethnicity
African American/Black 1
Asian American/Pacific Islander 0
Caucasian 11
Hispanic/Latino 1
Native American/American Indian 0
Other 0
Board Demographics - Gender
Male 3
Female 10
Unspecified 0
Written Board Selection Criteria? Yes
Written Conflict of Interest Policy? Yes
Percentage Making Monetary Contributions 100%
Percentage Making In-Kind Contributions 100%
Constituency Includes Client Representation Yes
Standing Committees
Board Development / Board Orientation
Development / Fund Development / Fund Raising / Grant Writing / Major Gifts
CEO Comments

I am proud to serve as Board President at a critical time in the Mesner Puppet Theater’s 30+-year history, when founder Paul Mesner has just retired and artistic director Mike Horner is leading his first season of performances, tours, and workshops. This transition presents challenges and opportunities, but I am confident the Board will rise to meet them for three main reasons.

First, the Board is engaged. The Theater has a small and lean staff, so the Board is very much a “working” Board. Members assist with administration (e.g., interviewing prospective employees and performers), performances (e.g., identifying performance and touring venues), and fundraising (e.g., planning the Theater’s annual benefit).

Second, the Board is collaborative. Internally, the Board adopted a cloud-based file management system to promote coordination and integration; this effort’s success has prompted the staff to follow suit. Externally, ongoing efforts include leveraging individual Board members’ community contacts to both strengthen the organization (e.g., participating in an employer’s secondment program) and reach new audiences (e.g., networking to reach new school districts).

Third, the Board is diverse, in every sense, and it provides tangible benefits. The Board’s religious diversity has led to performances of both “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” and “The Nativity.” The Board’s geographic diversity has led to classroom performances ranging from the Overland Park suburbs to the Kansas City urban core. And, the Theater’s physical space and location have led to neighborhood partnerships, including with the annual Troost Fest and the nearby Operation Breakthrough.

For all of these reasons and many more, I am proud to help the Mesner Puppet Theater continue its strong tradition of presenting puppetry arts to audiences throughout Kansas City and beyond.

Fiscal Year Start July 01, 2017
Fiscal Year End June 30, 2018
Projected Revenue $564,750
Projected Expenses $562,714
IRS Letter of Exemption
Foundation Comments
  • FYE 6/30/2016, 2015, 2014: Financial data reported using the IRS Form 990.
  • Foundation/corporate revenue line item includes individual contributions.
Detailed Financials
Revenue SourcesHelpThe financial analysis involves a comparison of the IRS Form 990 and the audit report (when available) and revenue sources may not sum to total based on reconciliation differences. Revenue from foundations and corporations may include individual contributions when not itemized separately.
Fiscal Year201620152014
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
Government Contributions$24,119$47,651$39,853
Individual Contributions------
Investment Income, Net of Losses$0$0$0
Membership Dues$554$2,305$3,971
Special Events$17,363$13,787$19,213
Revenue In-Kind$0$0$0
Expense Allocation
Fiscal Year201620152014
Program Expense$243,631$242,378$258,630
Administration Expense$119,661$169,966$165,046
Fundraising Expense$33,140$43,822$47,921
Payments to Affiliates------
Total Revenue/Total Expenses0.961.020.98
Program Expense/Total Expenses61%53%55%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue18%18%18%
Assets and Liabilities
Fiscal Year201620152014
Total Assets$21,664$36,935$33,852
Current Assets$980$16,475$6,096
Long-Term Liabilities$1,125$1,849$6,046
Current Liabilities$0$0$0
Total Net Assets$20,539$35,086$27,806
Short-Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201620152014
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities------
Long-Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201620152014
Long-Term Liabilities/Total Assets5%5%18%
Top Funding Sources
Fiscal Year201620152014
Top Funding Source & Dollar Amount --Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation $15,000Hall Family Foundation $35,000
Second Highest Funding Source & Dollar Amount --Missouri Arts Council $14,278Individual Donor $20,000
Third Highest Funding Source & Dollar Amount --Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund $10,000Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation $20,000
Capital Campaign
Currently in a Capital Campaign? No
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years No
Organization Comments


Organization Name Mesner Puppet Theater
Address 1006 E. Linwood Boulevard
Kansas City, MO 641091840
Primary Phone (816) 756-3500
Contact Email
CEO/Executive Director Mr. Mike Horner
Board Chair Mr. Darin Schreves
Board Chair Company Affiliation Lathrop & Gage
Year of Incorporation 1987
Former Names
Paul Mesner Puppets