Educator and Advocate

by Puppet Nerd

The arts and church were important to Edna Bland growing up on Long Island. The puppetry part would come later. She first majored in music education but had a talent for organization and business, which had her change her major to music business.

After college, she moved to New York City and worked for Sony Music Entertainment, where she helped develop Sesame Street’s 35th Anniversary box set. Bland then worked for the New York Emmy Awards as the director of projects. She was one of the producers for their Silver Circle Awards, where she met Caroll Spinney, who was an award recipient.

Edna (not one to be shy) told him of her childhood dream of wanting to live on Sesame Street as Gordon and Susan’s daughter. Spinney invited her to the set, and the experience was a life-changing moment. She fell in love with puppetry.

She was thrilled and mesmerized by every detail that she observed. Spinney said that if she was serious, she could visit the set whenever she liked. Spinney and Loretta Long (Susan on Sesame Street) became mentors. She later toured with Loretta Long promoting reading literacy.

Poppy the Yellow Dog, Edna Bland, and Princess.

Bland began attending festivals produced by One Way Street and Creative Ministry Solutions, advocates for creative arts ministry. She fondly remembers the time when she discovered how much of an impact puppets can make on a person’s life. At an outdoor event, Bland was performing a lip-sync song with a puppet.

After the performance, an audience member approached her to share that the puppet reminded her of a doll she had as a child, and she felt the performance helped heal her of a childhood trauma. Those words showed Bland the power of puppetry, and she resolved to do performances that were educational and inspirational from that moment on. To learn more, Bland joined Puppeteers of America (PofA), UNIMA-USA, and the Puppetry Guild of Greater New York, where she served a term as vice president.

Church lady, Sister Edwina puppet, with Edna Bland. Photos courtesy of Edna Bland

Some of her specialty puppets include Princess, based on Edna herself (and fabricated by Debra Fator), and Sister Edwina, a church lady adorned in a fancy hot pink satin outfit with a pillbox hat based on her mom, which was featured in the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry exhibit Living Objects: African-American Puppetry. Even though she is knowledgeable in a variety of puppetry genres, Bland primarily works with arm-rod puppets and has created more signature characters, including Freda Readabook, a pink bear named Rosita Maria Oso, a preschool purple monster girl named La-La, and an African American storyteller called Baba Griot

Bland relocated to Florida in 2005 to continue her work with helping youth discover and hone their artistic talents in theater and puppetry. Since 2011, she has served as theater arts director at Millennium Middle School, a performing arts magnet in Sanford, Florida.

She teaches the only puppetry arts elective class in the country based on an arts integration curriculum, which she designed. “Miss Edna” is the creator of Lovely Day Creative Arts, a company that focuses on educational and inspirational projects, as well as Sock n’ Sew Puppets, which makes puppetry kits for schools and local community projects.

Bland, an advocate for puppeteers of color, describes herself and fellow African American female puppeteers as “Black unicorns,” stating that they are a unique and rare breed of performer. Her commitment to puppetry arts and education includes continuing the lineage of African American puppetry, sharing diversity, and introducing the art form to the next generation. 

Miss Edna had the privilege of meeting the great visual artist and children’s illustrator, Ashley Bryant, who gave her permission to perform a version of his much-loved book, Beautiful Blackbird: An African Folktale. 

Edna Bland was elected to the PofA board of directors in 2020, and she serves as chair of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Lots of photos and videos of her engaging work can be seen on her website:

Written by Steve Abrams

Puppetry Journal Editor at the POA

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