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Chicago Man Brings Smiles During Pandemic With ‘Lockdown Puppet Theater’

CHICAGO (CBS) — A local man is bringing smiles to his neighbors during the pandemic by giving them a break from routine.

On a leafy Chicago neighborhood street, Matthew Owens’ voice has been breaking the silence of social isolation. It comes from the Lockdown Puppet Theater on Owens’ own balcony, as CBS News’ Adriana Diaz reported.

Owens’ day job was crafting nature-inspired toys for zoo animals. He has offered his services to the Disney Animal Kingdom, San Diego Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, and other institutions, and had been working at the Brookfield Zoo. But he was furloughed and left with an excess of creative energy, so he dusted off an old hobby.

In April and May, Owens produced 35 puppets – initially with one puppet performing each night with a spotlight from the window of his apartment. Owens wrote that he started making more puppets – with a circus theme and later a murder mystery developing.

“It takes about a day to make each one,” Owens said of the puppets.

He sculpts the faces out of clay.

Owens’ wife Carla, a librarian, is also out of work.

“It’s really something watching him come up with the next new puppet, and wondering what the reaction is going to be,” Carla Owens said.

Owens’ address is a secret to avoid crowds, but they still coe.

“I have people who I don’t know at all have been stopping me on the street and thanking me for the puppet theater,” Owens said.

There’s a yodeling toad, and Shakespeare.

“We get to distract people from just how heavy the world can be,” Owens said. “You don’t have to ask too much of people to be thrilled.”

Owens has also designed puppets for the Tim Robbins feature film “Cradle Will Rock,” the world premiere of “Amistad” at the Lyric Opera, and numerous independent films. He has also made puppets and performed for Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale” with Chicago Symphony Orchestra members.

He is also a theatre performer and musician.

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