Puppeteers visit

Megan Zalzala · Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Puppets and puppeteers alike took over downtown West Liberty on Friday, Sept. 15 and Saturday, Sept. 16 for the 21st annual Children’s Festival, part of Fiesta West Liberty.

On Friday night, puppeteers met to act in a puppet slam--a series of short sketches using puppets.

The performers returned downtown on Saturday to put on longer shows to the delight of the rapt audiences at the Children’s Festival.

They not only performed shows, but some took to the streets with their puppets and interacted with the kids in attendance.

Monica Leo from Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre in West Liberty started the Children’s Festival over two decades ago.

“I've always loved outdoor festivals,” said Leo. “Our Board (in 1997) decided to create a festival. We brainstormed how to focus it and decided to highlight something many small towns are lacking but that we have in spades: children.”

What started as a small event has grown exponentially over the decades.  

“It was much smaller to start with--with one puppet show (ours) and some other entertainment: storytellers, musicians, a magician,” said Leo.

“About 10 years ago or so, Bill Koellner and Tom Brooke offered to take over the fundraising, and they were so much more successful than we were that we suddenly had enough money to invite puppeteers from all over the country to participate,” she added.

This year, puppeteers came not only from across the country, but the world as well.

The Children’s Festival had a variety of participants this year: Fever River Puppets from Wisconsin, Esteban Pereyra from Argentina, Wolfe at Door Puppets from Arkansas, Corcoran Puppets from Wisconsin and Cloud of Dust Theater from Colorado.

And while the puppeteers came from far and wide to perform in West Liberty, over and over the common theme came up of sense of family and love of this community.

“This is a one of a kind, comfortable, cozy festival among friends,” said storyteller Duffy De France. “It is amazing that it has been going for over 20 years. It shows that the community is supportive, welcoming and helpful.”

Jan Wolfe, from Wolfe at the Door Puppets, echoed those sentiments, “This is my 3rd time at this festival. It is such a wonderful feeling-- the way everyone here supports puppetry.”

Over the years, the festival has become renowned in the puppetry community.

“Puppetry is a small world, and we keep in pretty good touch with each other. I've seen most of the puppeteers we invite perform at one time or another, or someone I trust has seen them,” said Leo “Now, with Facebook, it's even easier. Esteban Pereyra (our Argentinian guest) found me on Facebook and asked to come.”

This is Pereyra’s first time performing in the United States. He was very impressed with West Liberty.

“West Liberty is very warm, very kind,” said Pereyra.

He was looking forward to his performance at the festival. “I’m looking forward to the laughing, kids laughing. This is why I create my puppet shows; to connect cultures.”

It seems that while the children look forward to the festival every year, the puppeteers eagerly await and enjoy it equally as much.
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