Short celebrates 25 years of running puppet show

CJ Warson · Wednesday, August 9, 2017
For years visitors to the Muscatine County Fair have enjoyed the Chris Short’s Puppet Personalities Show.

This latest fair was no different; however, this time around the show celebrated its 25 year anniversary since the owner, Chris Short, took it over from his grandfather.

“My grandfather started when he was a kid, as a hobby, and then turned it into a business,” Short said. “So when I was my son’s age I started helping out.”

His thirteen year old son, Cole, was helping him at the fair with puppeteering.

Actually, the puppet show has been coming longer than the 25 years that Short has been doing it. In fact, the show has been around for four generations.

Being a puppeteer has always interested Short. At the age of fourteen he was asked to help. That’s how he got into the business.

“My grandfather just asked me,” Short said. “It was just something I was interested in, just helping out. It was a summertime job and that’s just kind of how I got started into it by just helping out.”

It was also 25 years ago that his grandfather decided to hang it up and hand the reigns to his grandson.

“In 1993, my grandfather was ready to retire from performing,” Short said. “So I took over the business and have been performing ever since.”

This family business travels around doing fairs and other events during the summer. When they’re not out and doing shows they’re at home in Omaha, Neb. where Short was born and raised.

Some of the puppets Short uses in his shows are the same ones that were used in the early 1950s, they were all handmade.

“A lot of my puppets are handmade,” Short said. “Each marionette takes about 200 to 250 hours to build and carve and make the costumes. All the puppets are handmade either from my grandfather or from myself.”

Of course the puppets take on some wear and tear, especially the older ones.

“There’s somewhat of a perpetual maintenance that occurs with the puppets,” said Short. “Whether it be during the show or in between shows, something happens or just throughout the year puppets wear out and just need to be repainted, costumes need to be redone or restrung.”

When he and his family are outside of puppet show season he and his wife both work as instructors who teach instrumental music to grades 6-8.

“Both my wife and I are school teachers,” Short said. “So that keeps me busy throughout the school year and it does allow the summer schedule to be open for fairs and stuff.”

During the summer time they do pre-schools, churches and fairs. When it comes to the fairs most of them are in Iowa.

“It’s been a great state to us for business and great people who enjoy the show and very responsive and so just a good combination,” said Short.

As for the actual show, its name helps set up how the characters act and what the audiences see.

“The name of our show is “Puppet Personalities” and that’s the theme of the different routines,” Short said. “We’ll have the different personality’s puppet performance, right now we have clips from the 50’s, which highlight Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis and Johnny Cash.”

Through out the day at the Muscatine County Fair Chris Short and his marionettes perform several times. However, they do run into down time between acts.

“There is always business that needs to be done,” said Short. “During our free time, we do play some X-Box or read a book or just whatever needs to be done.”

When they aren’t doing any of those though, they do decide to make their way out to talk to some people.

“After being at the Muscatine County Fair for so many years, you know all the different kind of things,” Short said. “So, really what I like to do is go around and talk to some of the different exhibitors or Fair Board members and catch up on the years and how the families are doing.”

One of the things that he finds interesting and cool is seeing audiences that came years and years ago and now bringing their kids to watch.

“It is neat now that being a part of the puppets long enough that with a kid watching the show, now I also have audience members who bring their kids,” Short said.
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