Dear George,

WestView readers know how fortunate we have been all these years to be the readers for George Capsis, editor, whose passion has been to run a newspaper…but they may not know about your talent and generosity as a mentor.

In 2013 I wrote a thank you letter to you about how your advice changed my professional life—gave it a re-boot—but I wouldn’t let you print the letter. It was too personal.Well, I have changed my mind.

Over the years I have learned how you have similarly mentored in your own inimitable style so many other reticent writers and artists. And now I want your readers to know about your mentoring side. And I am detailing here the creative variety of measures you came up with to further my goals.

Before I met you I had an active life as a puppeteer who variously toured day care centers, created puppet pageants with children in schools on the Lower East Side and the Bronx, and produced repertory seasons of pre-school puppetry at The Little Synagogue, Barnes & Noble, the School on 11th Street and Greenwich House Music School.

But all those connections had faded by the time I finally got into Westbeth Artist Housing.

I wasn’t doing much of anything when I tried to put some PR in your newspaper in 2009 about a single show I was going to try out at Westbeth. I was late sending it in so I walked it over and met you. And you then began guiding me in your own inimitable way. You pushed me to write a letter to the Hudson River people, gave me someone’s name, almost dared me to do things. I did meet the man, a lovely man.

The venue he could offer me then wasn’t right. You told me to write a letter to your paper WestView about an idea for Puppets on the Pier to complement your idea of a Farmer’s Market there. I did. You told me to send you a picture of children loving my puppets. I did. You told me to write an article about Sicilian puppets with pictures to build up my presence in the paper. I did. (St. Vincent Hospital’s demise knocked that article out of the paper.)

You egged me on to check out Chelsea Piers and court them for the stroller audience in early morning. I did, saw the basket man (nice man), saw the manager (very nice man), saw someone in the bookstore who thought puppets for children would not draw people since yoga for children had not.

MENTEE PENNY JONES and her puppetry. Photo courtesy of Penny Jones.

Though the idea of puppets at Chelsea Piers, or the many ideas for the Gansevoort Pier, did not take off for various reasons, you kept the ball rolling for me when I might have given up. You challenged me to have something going on in case one of your ideas caught fire. I realized that if I actually did succeed in getting someone’s attention as a result of your suggestions, I had better have some place where they could see my work. So I had better somehow manage to have a repertory season at Westbeth, not just a show on some particular date. So I signed up for a series of dates in our Community Room and got neighbors to help me set up and take tickets, etc.

A few children came—and as time went by they told their friends and more came and became regulars. Twelve years went by as we built up a solid reputation in the neighborhood of puppetry for younger children, and became repeaters in the Hudson River Park summer series.

Recognition grew and honors came. New York 1 featured our puppet workshop/studio for a half hour show in their NY Arts scene. I curated a solo exhibition of my puppetry in the Westbeth Gallery, and was subsequently invited to share in someone else’s show. I was celebrated as a Westbeth Icon complete with an evening event in tribute, including a film about my life as a puppeteer. I received the Marjorie Batchelder Mcpharlin Medal for Puppetry in Education from the Puppeteers of America. I am featured in the Museum of the City of NY Puppets of New York exhibit running from August 13, 2021 to Feb 2022.

And finally, after this long year and a half of Covid, we have returned with our repertory theatre performances at Westbeth. The first show (vaccinated and Covid distanced), was a sell-out. The mailing list families, originally including babies, now two years older, remembered with joy every audience participation detail, anticipated with enthusiasm the after show workshop, and plan to return for the next show.

George, if it hadn’t been for you doing the opposite of what my parents did with me as a child (their philosophy was hide your light under a barrel. Wait for others to find you. Don’t show off. Quality will out anyway. Wait your turn!), none of this might have happened. I might have just shriveled up and retired. But you gave me a boot back into the spotlight and I am forever grateful to you for it.

On the basis of the success of our repertory seasons (which I would not have attempted if you were not in the background nudging me), I had the nerve to sign up for that entire four room gallery show with puppets from adult orchestral productions, school shows—everything. Some people said it was their favorite exhibition of all of them throughout the years, that the variety of styles, the creative energy, was mind boggling.

When I signed up for that gallery show (wondering if I had enough to fill it) few people at Westbeth knew me even though I had moved in 20 years before. Standing in the middle of the gallery, I would look around at all the work (some of it in storage for over 40 years) and would be amazed at what I had accomplished. I was almost moved to tears to see those old friends, my creations, missing for so long.

And you, George, I have to thank for being the mentor and pusher, as you have been for so many others—the nudge who managed to give part of me back to me just in those few short meetings so long ago.

—Penny Jones

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