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Brookline’s New Puppet Master

Isabel Fine brings big dreams for tiny theater.

There's a new woman pulling the strings at the and she's got big dreams for one of Brookline’ s most recognizable cultural institutions.

Isabel Fine took the helm at the Brookline Village theatre two months ago, after several years of leading programs at Springstep, a music and dance center in Medford. She brings more than 15 years of leadership in the arts and says she plans to use that experience to build on the potential of her new organization.

“Even though it's 36 years old, it’s kind a like a bud of a flower, or a tree about to blossom,” she said. “ There is a really valuable resource here, and there's so many ways people can get involved—not just by coming out to a production but by participating in workshops or coming to a parade.”

As executive director, Fine will be running an organization that is well-known locally among families and schools—and even nationally in the puppetry community—but continues to operate on a bare-bones budget. The theatre spent less than $400,000 last year, Fine said, and has only two full-time staff and two part-time staff, plus help from college students. 

Despite that, the Puppet Showplace claims to be one of the most active theatres in the state, with several rotating performances each week. In additional to the children's programming, the theatre regularly produces adult “puppet slams” and non-puppet performances, including monthly improv shows and one-man acts.

But Fine thinks it can do more, particularly in the world of puppetry. She said she’d like to see the theatre leverage the reputation it already has to “really blossom into an umbrella resource of puppetry in the region, to have more formalized partnerships all through out that community and through the greater Boston community, and to be acknowledged and understood as a great resource.”

Fine said the would mean strengthening the relationships the theater already has with puppeteers around the country, and maybe even producing an international puppetry festival at some point. She’d like to see the theatre to be seen as “indispensable” in the puppetry community.

And in Brookline, Fine would like to build on the theatre's relationships with teachers and the schools to make its performances fit in better with their curriculums. In many cases, Fine said, that will mean better defining the educational value of their shows.

“I think puppetry as a genre has inherent educational value,” she said. “It's just not being articulated for them, and teacher and educators are so busy.”

Fine would also like to expand the theater's adult programming, including the frequently sold-out puppet slams, and experiment with more pilot programs, like a new “incubator” series. And she sees lots of opportunities to work more closely with Brookline's other cultural institutions, many of which are also struggling in the sluggish economy.

In the long run, Fine said she'd eventually like to see the theater on more solid financial footing, maybe even supported by an endowment. Because of the theatre's small size, she says a few relatively small gifts would make a world of difference.

“It might only take a few people to really make this pace on really solid ground and really blossom into what it can be.”

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