Good Neighbors

Free Entertainment, No Strings Attached! Artist Brings Smiles To Neighbors With ‘Lockdown Puppet Theater’

Yodeling toads, a joke-telling clown and an organ grinder with a very active monkey all make up the cast at the best show in town – and you don't even need a ticket.


Without much in the way of live entertainment these days, a Chicago-based artist and performer is doing what he can to bring smiles to people during the pandemic.

Matthew Owens worked as an artist for the Brookfield Zoo before he was furloughed when zoos closed due to the coronavirus. Owens' job, believe it or not, consisted of making nature-inspired toys called "enrichment devices" for the animals to play with in their habitats.

Considered one of the best at his craft, Owens has done projects for zoos in San Diego, Cincinnati and Atlanta. He's even made installations for Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Matthew Owens and his wife Carla have been hosting puppet shows outside of their apartment window in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. Screenshot: KTVN-TV

Since Owens has been out of work, he decided to bring back an old hobby to keep the creative juices flowing. For the past few months, he's been making puppets and has been holding nightly shows outside of his apartment window for passers-by in Chicago.

"I felt my neighbors were in need of something," Owens told the Chicago Tribune. "So, I made a puppet, just one, and put it in a tree with a spotlight shining on it from my apartment window."

Owens calls his project the "Lockdown Puppet Theater," and while he doesn't give out his address to avoid large crowds from gathering, word is starting to spread about the impromptu performances.

Owens has made around 35 puppets since the lockdown started. He says it takes about a day to make each one, and he carves the faces out of artist's clay.

"It's really something watching him come up with the next new puppet, and wondering what the reaction is going to be," Owens' wife Carla, who's a librarian and is currently out of work herself, told CBS News.

Owens has made almost 40 puppets since he's been in lockdown due to the coronavirus. Toshi Szpyra/Facebook

So far, Owens has created a devil, a yodeling frog and a downtrodden Shakespeare. He has been working on a circus theme and there's also plans for a murder mystery in the works.

"We get to distract people from just how heavy the world can be," Owens said about his productions. "You don't have to ask too much of people to be thrilled."

Neighbors have been catching the shows as they're walking, or jogging, by. Others have caught on to the schedule and bring folding chairs or stand at a safe distance to watch the performance. Everyone who comes to watch wears a mask.

Owens doesn't give out his address to keep his show's audience at a minimum. Screenshot: KTVN-TV

Even though Owens didn't plan on holding puppet shows out of his home, he's happy to bring joy to others during such a difficult time.

"I have people who I don't know at all stopping me on the street and thanking me for the puppet theater," Owens said.

We love stories of people using their creativity to bring happiness and hope to their communities – especially now when spirits are low. In the words of Jennifer O'Brien, one of the Owens' longtime neighbors, "Where else can you see and hear a yodeling toad singing about sushi?

How can you start something good?

Inspired by Owens' Lockdown Puppet Theater?


Why not channel your own creativity into doing something kind for your community. You can make chalk drawings, perform a song on your porch or offer to take socially-distant portraits of families as a keepsake for this incredible time in history.


There are plenty of ways to use your skills to bring smiles to others during the pandemic. You just have to get creative!


Let's #StartSomethingGood together!

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