Jean Enticknap, Founder of Thistle Theatre
Thistle Theatre’s accomplished and beloved Artistic Director, Jean Marie Enticknap unexpectedly exited the stage hours before 2022 arrived. As you might expect from a one-time Studebaker owner, Jean did not take the path well-worn. An accomplished puppeteer, theater director, party host, perfectionist, collector (salt and pepper shakers), green thumb (Christmas cactus), patron saint of lost causes (diehard Mariners fan), and lover of life, Jean was undone by heart failure on New Year’s Eve.
Jean was the founder and director of Thistle Theatre, her 30-year-old “Puppet Theatre for Families”, where she introduced tens of thousands of children to the magic of puppetry and storytelling with a repertoire of folk tales and imagery from cultures around the world.
Her love of theater began at Federal Way High School (’67), where she performed in school plays, followed by Highline Community College and Central Washington University (’73) where she earned her degree in Technical Theater. Then she was off to the University of Washington, graduating with a Master’s in Fine Arts – Puppetry in 1976.
Jean started her career in 1976 at Highline Community College, teaching classes in set design, makeup, children’s theater, and puppetry. During summer breaks, Jean served as the Artistic Director at Laughing Horse Theatre in Ellensburg, WA.
Jean decided to strike out on her own in 1991, founding Thistle Theatre to specialize in a tabletop style of Japanese puppetry called Bunraku. Puppeteers, dressed in black, operate handcrafted puppets from behind for realistic movement. Jean believed in multi-layered storytelling – using folk tales to entertain, delight, and teach children while also engaging and amusing adults, often with sly pop culture references or allusions.
Jean took joy in hiring and training puppeteers with no prior experience, teaching them her unique brand of puppetry, which was marked by exacting choreography to create lifelike movements and an expectation of perfection that could only be achieved through relentless rehearsing until it was right. The resulting artistry was a joy to watch, with many young audience members believing the animals on stage were real. Jean was actively working to transition Thistle Theatre to respond to today’s challenges; her past and present puppeteers are working to continue Thistle Theatre and her legacy, with upcoming shows and activities.