Edna M. Bland (“Miss Edna”) is a puppeteer, certified educator and teaching artist who has dedicated her life to helping people discover their gifts and talents in the area of theatre arts.
As a puppeteer, she was mentored by Caroll Spinney (“Big Bird”), and Dr. Loretta Long (“Susan” from Sesame Street) and was a puppeteer in Jane Henson’s Nativity. She served as the Vice President of the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York and President of Pinocchio’s Marionette Theatre in Florida.
Bland is the creator of Lovely Day Arts, a company that focuses on educational and inspirational projects, as well as Sock n’ Sew Puppets, which makes puppetry kits for schools.
As an educator, Bland created the only puppetry arts elective class in Florida. She has also established and been a consultant for youth puppet teams around the country.
Bland has studied at the Kennedy Center’s CETA and VSA programs, Lincoln Center Education’s Teaching Artist Program and at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, England. She is a workshop presenter for national arts organizations and was a guest speaker at all three of her college alma maters (Five Towns College, Nyack College, and Full Sail University). One highlight of her career was conducting a creative arts ministry workshop in Rome, Italy.
Prior to her career in education, Bland worked for the New York Emmy Awards and Sony Music Entertainment, where one of her noted achievements was contributing to Sesame Street’s 35th Anniversary box set.
Bland has an M.F.A. in Entertainment Creative Writing, an M.S. in Entertainment Business, a B.S. in Organizational Management, and an A.A.S in Music Business.Artist statement
My puppetry lineage actually started when Caroll Spinney ("Big Bird" from Sesame Street) introduced me to the art form. Mr. Spinney invited me to the set of Sesame Street and as a result my life was changed forever.
During my numerous learning sessions on the Sesame Street set, I was encouraged to pursue a career in puppetry, not only as a woman but specifically as an African American woman. At that time there were not any professional black female Henson puppeteers and there still aren't any to date.
Dr. Loretta Long, (“Susan” from Sesame Street) once stated that in all her years of working alongside many puppeteers, I am historically one of the first professional African American female puppeteers in the country that she had met. As a result, I was on a mission to search out more puppeteers like me only to find out that we are few and far between. There were and are still a select few Black female puppeteers besides me that work as professionals in such areas as theater, libraries, and in religious organizations. After some research, I discovered that most Black female puppeteers were introduced and ventured into the art form in their youth but only perceived it as a hobby or used it in mission work. In my case, it was the opposite as I pursued puppetry as an adult.
In addition to the Henson Muppets, I can recall my first time experiencing the Crowtations and visiting the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, where Bruce Cannon is the Artistic Director. Both occurred in New York's Central Park. Occasionally I saw ventriloquist Willie Tyler on television in the 70s on Laugh-In and The Flip Wilson Show. Also, after learning of Kevin Clash and Noel McNeal, both Henson puppeteers, I was even more determined to pursue puppetry.
Thus, since I come from a rare breed of performers, I feel that is my responsibility to not only continue to support puppetry as an art by passing it down to the next generation as an educator, but to also continue the lineage as an African American puppeteer to share diversity and help to preserve a heritage less it go extinct due to the lack of performers. My hope is that as I introduce children to puppetry as a theatrical art form, mixed with my external characteristics, that a spark will become a fire as it has for me so that they can continue this unique legacy. How did you learn your craft?
I was mentored by Caroll Spinney (“Big Bird” and “Oscar The Grouch”) from Sesame Street, who allowed me to visit the set to observe the puppeteers and learn about character development, character voices, acting on film, and other elements of puppetry. I honed my skills as a member of the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York, where I eventually became Vice President. I continued developing my skills through Creative Ministry Solutions, where I learned such elements of puppetry as double-rod manipulation, choreography, characterization, puppet and prop construction, and how to start and maintain a puppet team.
Edna M. Bland Location
Sanford, FL Date of birth
1964 Years active in puppetry
1994-present Types of puppets performed and built
Hand puppets; hand-and-rod puppets; shadow puppets; marionettes Representative productions
Writing, producing, and performing The Same Underneath, Dream of Choice, Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Life, Who Is Your Hero? Website
Lovely Day Arts ; Sock n’ Sew Puppets YouTube channel