A theater kid at heart, TJ Hanretta grew up with a love for the art of performance. It seemed only natural that she would pursue a theatrical career, but that wasn’t always the case. “I declared theater as my major when I went to college, but by my junior year, I let myself be convinced it was impractical and gave up on that dream,” Hanretta recalls.
Several years later, Hanretta moved to Hong Kong, where her children attended an international school that allowed students to focus on an area of interest. When her daughter chose to focus on theater, Hanretta was fully supportive. “At first, I was a volunteer parent helping with costumes and props, but when a position came open in the school’s theatre department, I stepped into that role,” she tells us. “I had several opportunities to create or work with puppets, and I became obsessed.”
Hanretta ended up finding the perfect outlet for her creative energy in puppetry. “My husband and I always encouraged our kids to follow their dreams – I felt like it was time for me to walk the talk and follow my own dreams again. So, after our daughter graduated, I quit my job at the school and began working with schools and theater programs to build puppets and props,” Hanretta explains.
In 2019, her husband’s work brought them back to the United States, and the family settled in Chattanooga, where Hanretta’s love of puppetry has grown into a successful business. “I entered the entrepreneurial program offered by LAUNCH Chattanooga and incorporated Playful Evolving Monsters LLC in August of 2020,” she shares. Hanretta and her team have taught online classes on puppet-making and other theatrical topics, and Playful Evolving Monsters has since become increasingly involved in Chattanooga’s performance art scene. “Our giant puppets are hired around Chattanooga for various festivals, receptions, fundraisers, and the like,” says Hanretta.
It truly is never too late to follow your dreams, and Hanretta is the proof. “People think that play and art are frivolous and impractical. The truth is, if we’re not fully employing and enjoying our creativity, regardless of our profession, we’re not living to our full potential,” she says.