By Anne Hampson Boatwright

Nancy Riggs, a former actor, is director of Piccadilly Puppets Company, which puts on shows for groups around Atlanta and the U.S.

Nancy Riggs knows a thing or two about the theater.

She’s worked for decades as an actor, director and, for the last 15, a puppeteer. The Buckhead native and Westminster graduate holds a college degree in acting and has played a wide variety of roles.

Now she feels her niche is in comedy, especially comedy for children.

“I love to make people laugh and with kids you get an immediate response,” she said. “If it’s not funny, they’re not going to be polite and laugh anyway.”

Riggs recently marked the first anniversary in her role as director of Piccadilly Puppets Company. She took over the company following the death of its long-time director, Carol Klein, in June 2011.

Piccadilly Puppets began as a small, nonprofit theater company in 1969. It now performs for schools, churches, community venues, private parties, and festivals in Atlanta and around the Southeastern United States.

Shows are designed for diverse audiences and strive to be as creatively educational as they are entertaining.

Edwin Link, director of program management at Young Audiences of Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that brings curriculum-based arts programming to schools, said Riggs’ work is “a testament to her passion for sharing the power of art with children.”

Making the transition from acting to directing wasn’t easy for Riggs. She had only weeks to prepare after Klein picked her as a successor to lead the company. Klein died just six weeks after her diagnosis of lung cancer.

Klein ran the puppet company out of her home and with no overhead costs.

“There’s so much to learn from bookkeeping to marketing to board management,” Riggs said.

The company had amassed a large inventory of files, puppets, props, workshop supplies, sound equipment, archival video tapes of performances, and a stage booth. Riggs decided to streamline things by giving away unneeded items to local teachers.

Riggs brings her own personal style and skills to the business and has focused on utilizing the Internet more than her predecessor. She recently revamped the website, posts regularly on the company’s Facebook page, and sends e-fliers to announce performances. She has given a benefit performance at Jerry Farber’s Side Door, a show bar at Landmark Diner in Buckhead, in Klein’s memory. She donated 100 percent of the show’s proceeds to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done as a company,” Riggs said.

Riggs hopes to move her shows into churches. Puppet ministries appear to be on the rise and are a creative means of teaching spirituality, she said. Riggs is also working on writing an environmental show about water. She hopes it will debut in the spring.

“Live theater is just exhilarating,” Riggs said. “Even if something goes wrong, and you have to fix it on the spot.”

Bringing a story to life and delighting audiences is her way of giving back.