Like many people, Ali J. Eisner is working from home. For the children’s entertainer, that means high-energy puppet shows and story times, brightening the day for housebound kids.
Eisner is an award-winning composer, director, photographer, producer, puppeteer, and writer for children’s television with two decades of experience. They came to the province to offer a series of puppeteering workshops. Now they’re in Halifax indefinitely thanks to the COVID-related travel bans.
“I’m in this AirBnB with 12 puppets in the Hydrostone,” Eisner says. “I was supposed to be here for five weeks working. And after two weeks all this happened and I decided to stick around because Toronto is Toronto, but also my instinct was just to stay put. Halifax is so warm and lovely.”
And that unexpected time in Halifax lead to the webcasts for kids. “I wanted to use this time creatively to connect with kids who are at home,” explains Eisner. “I want to be there with them and for them. It’s just tapping into a part of my creativity that’s always existed. The beauty of this time is people are creating a lot of online content that doesn’t need to be big budget. It’s intimate and beautiful and that’s the world the kids live in. They have like four crayons and a sock, not a big studio. It’s kind of a neat time showing us how the same we all are.”
It’s not just about entertaining audiences; it’s about connecting. “I don’t want them to feel separate from me,” Eisner says. “I would hope these hangouts would be a place of connection, where kids remember they can create their own wonderland. You can do a lot of incredible things from creating art if you’re in touch with yourself. It’s a good time for kids to look to themselves, lean on themselves and learn to be themselves when all the distractions are stripped away.”
At age 47, Eisner has been doing this sort of work for two decades, getting as much from it as they give. “Kids are 1,000 times cooler than adults,” says Eisner. “There are super creative and honest and authentic. That keeps me feeling hopeful and alive and joyful. My journey comes from my own drive to keep that alive in myself. This is kind of a neat time when we all have to hold a mirror up to ourselves.”
As a trans, non-binary artist, Eisner talks candidly with kids about subjects like identity, where parents may not be comfortable. “Parents were really excited to have somebody else entertain their kids for a while,” they laugh, “but it’s a good topic for somebody else to talk with their kids about. I didn’t know what I was going to do at first. I thought I was just going to read a story book but it went somewhere else and became a whole fun discussion.”