Puppet train pulling into West Liberty

By Chris Steinbach · Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Puppeteers from around the world know their way to West Liberty and some 80 or more of them are expected to arrive here for The Puppeteers of America’s Great Plains Regional Puppet Festival.

The festival, which has been billed as the Great Plains Puppet Train, will be held Sept. 20-23. Puppeteers from throughout the Midwest – along with Indonesia, California and Oregon – will put on 11 performances throughout the weekend.

“It will take place pretty much all over downtown,” said organizer Monica Leo, puppeteer and managing director of Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre. Locations where performances will be held as part of the regional festival will include the New Strand Theatre, United Methodist Church, West Liberty High School and Local Grounds.

The regional festival, which is being held for puppeteers from eight states and two Canadian provinces, will include Eulenspiegel’s Annual West Liberty Children’s Festival, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Ron De Voo Park. In fact, the children’s festival helped bring the regional event to West Liberty.

“They were looking for the quintessential American experience,” Leo said of the regional festival’s organizers. “How much more American can you get than a small town in Iowa?”

Leo founded Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre in 1974. It was incorporated in 1991 as a non-profit, tax-exempt arts organization. Since 1995, it has made its home at the Owl Glass Puppetry Center at 319 N. Calhoun St.

Among Eulenspiegel’s signature events are the West Liberty Children’s Festival, which is in its 15th year. This year, it will include a puppetry mini-festival, strolling performers, food, beverages, performances by local dance troupes and children’s games and activities. Performers will include Fever River Puppets and Corcoran Puppets from Wisconsin, Liz Schacterle from Minneapolis and Eulenspiegel Puppets with Mexican guest puppeteer Eli Portugal.

“Word has gotten out that this is a nice place to perform,” said Leo, who is a member of the Puppeteers of America’s Great Plains regional board. It was decided at the group’s last meeting, she said, to hold the regional festival in West Liberty.

“It’s because puppeteers who have come here to perform have loved being here,” Leo said.

And because so many people will be in West Liberty for both festivals, some of this year’s performers are likely to get a very memorable experience during their stay.

“Some of them are staying at the Presidential Inn in West Branch,” Leo said. She said others will be staying at hotels in Muscatine and quite a few will camp in campers or tents at the Muscatine County Fairgrounds.

“We want a nice weekend,” Leo said.
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