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2020 Board of Directors
Yolanda Sampson - President
An ordained Christian minister who brings the gospel to lifethrough the art of puppetry, she is the Founder & President of GO Y.O. Worldwide, LLC, which creates and distributes products to educate and empower children to live out their Christian faith. Recently, she was featured in the Living Objects: African American Puppetry exhibition which brought together puppets, performing objects, masks, and video by over twenty different puppeteers from the late 19th century to the early 2000s at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. In 1992, Yolanda founded PuppeTainment Productions, a puppet ministry company. In 1995, she competed in the Ms. Black World Beauty and Modeling Pageant, winning the title using puppetry as her talent. She has produced and performed puppet shows for the national Anheuser Busch’s “Kings & Queens of Africa Storytelling Puppet Show”, “Everything Must Change” puppet show at The Harriet Tubman House in London, England, Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. and Fox Morning News to name a few. Back in 1995, PuppeTainment Productions released the acclaimed self-esteem/anti-drug use video “What Time Is It?” which was distributed by Blockbuster Video. Yolanda received a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and a Bachelor of Arts from Howard University’s School of Communications.
Sarah Olmsted Thomas - Vice President
Sarah Olmsted Thomas is a fifth generation performing artist. She is half of Alex & Olmsted, an internationally acclaimed puppetry duo that was awarded 2017 and 2020 Jim Henson Foundation Grants as well as a 2020 Regional and State Independent Artist Award for Performing Arts from the Maryland State Arts Council. Alex & Olmsted has toured the Festival of Wonder in Denmark, the Puppet Festival Chuncheon in South Korea, the Festival de Casteliers in Montréal, and Symphony Space in New York City, among others. Since 2012, Sarah has also been a company member with Happenstance Theater with whom she has devised 10 full-length productions (31 Helen Hayes Award Nominations, 5 wins). Sarah completed an apprenticeship with Bread and Puppet Theater, was awarded a Lisa Simon Scholarship to attend the 2017 National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and has been honored with 2 Helen Hayes Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress by theatreWashington. She is a proud NCPG member since 2018. B.A., Sarah Lawrence College.
Heidi Rugg - Secretary
Heidi grew up as a Navy brat and lived a nomadic existence throughout her childhood. She first began building puppets to fulfill the “visual aid” requirements for book reports in fifth grade. (If she could write a thank you note to Mrs. Norrington, her 5th-grade teacher, she would!) In 1997, Heidi founded Barefoot Puppet Theatre and now reverts to her nomadic ways, touring her works throughout the country with her family in tow. Working with a wide-variety of puppetry styles, she designs, builds, and writes for puppet theatre. She is passionate about puppet mechanisms, STEAM, playwriting for puppetry, and puppetry’s applications in education. When not on tour, she is pleased to call Richmond home and is working to establish a puppetry scene in the region with Puppets Off Broad Street, a nonprofit she helped found in 2014.
Leigh Lafosse - Treasurer
Leigh is an active duty military musician, serving the last 12 years as a clarinetist in the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own". She received her undergrad and masters from Texas Tech University and her doctoral degree from Indiana University, Bloomington. Actively involved in education and community, she most recently served as Association Director of the MD/DC chapters of Odyssey of the Mind, and enjoyed coordinating the State Tournaments as springboards to prepare the teams of creative kids for their acceptance to the World Finals. As a puppeteer, Leigh devised, created, built, choreographed, and produced a two-person puppet production of "Hamilton", that Lin-Manual Miranda sent a personal letter of regret for not being able to attend. She was also responsible for developing a puppet feature for the 2019 U.S. Army Birthday Ball, which included caricatured puppets of the Army Senior Leaders; an event that required her to escort the puppets through Pentagon security for likeness approval by the Secretary of the Army.
Vanessa Spring-Frank is a props artisan and puppet designer for Imagination Stage. She consistently develops her artistic techniques to encourage innovation for theatrical productions making each one unique and personal to the project. She is passionate about the creation of curiosities and excels at creative solutions to prop problems. Vanessa Spring-Frank has a BFA in Theater Design/Tech from Western Michigan University with a minor in Art History
Vanessa Spring-Frank - At Large
Alex Vernon - At Large
Alex Vernon is an actor, puppeteer, designer and automata engineer. In 2010, Alex made his living in NYC as a street artist by cutting freehand silhouettes in Union Square Park. In 2015, he was hired by the American Visionary Art Museum to repair and service the automata in their permanent Cabaret Mechanical Theatre exhibit. In 2017, the National Puppetry Conference awarded Alex the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center Scholarship during which time he studied Mechanisms with Jim Kroupa and Marionette Construction with Jim Rose. Since 2012, Alex has been a company member with Washington, D.C.’s award-winning Happenstance Theater with whom he has created 10 original productions. With Happenstance, Alex was nominated twice as Outstanding Lead Actor for the Helen Hayes Awards. In the Spring of 2020 Alex taught as an adjunct professor of Puppetry Arts at the University of Maryland, College Park: Jim Henson’s alma mater. Alex built a 6 foot mechanical horse puppet for the Washington Revels, 21 Wayang Kulit puppets for WSC Avant Bard’s Midsummer, and a transforming chair for Theater Alliance’s Mnemonic; a Bunraku-style puppet that also functioned as a weight-bearing chair. Alex is a proud member of the Fettig Project and often shares his build research with puppeteers around the world. www.AlexAndOlmsted.com
Sam Rugg - At Large
Sam has been involved with puppetry since 1996 when he met puppeteer (and wife-to-be), Heidi Rugg. Originally from the Windy City, Sam is known for his work behind-the-scenes with sound systems, stage design, and set construction. He has also been performing with Barefoot Puppet Theatre since 2005. A professional auto mechanic of 18 years, Sam brings a knowledge and love of power tools to the puppetry scene along with a deep appreciation for all forms of performance.