Leo pens memoir


Monica Leo’s life with puppets spans the globe and covers 45 years.

She’s got it all down in a memoir titled, “Hand, Shadow, Rod. The Story of the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre,” due in October.

The idea to publish a memoir came to her during the pandemic. Mary Swander, a friend of Leo’s, was teaching a class virtually about how to write a memoir.

“And I thought, ‘why not?’” Leo said. “It was one of my pandemic projects and I had a lot of fun doing.”

When Leo was done with her rough draft she submitted it to two publishing companies. Ice Cube Press in Solon decided to take her memoir on.

The memoir begins in 1978, during the decade Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre was started.

“It’s not necessarily chronological or sequential,” Leo said. “It’s organized a little bit more by subject.”

The first chapter covers different schools, halfway houses for troubled teens and county homes where Leo did residencies teaching puppetry to students, she said. “And about some of the characters we worked with and some of the people we met.”

Several chapters are about the work she did overseas and in the western United States. One chapter is title Westward Ho.

“Westward Ho is Wyoming,” Leo said. “For about 10 years I was on the school’s roster and we were there every year for at least two weeks. One time we were there for a seven-week residency.”

Another chapter is about the work done in Germany. Leo worked with another puppeteer in Dresden.

“Before the wall came down in 1987, we were the only western puppet troop that was invited to perform in a national puppetry festival in East Germany,” Leo said. “During that time, we saw a lot of what puppeteers did before the wall came down. And then we were back a few years later and ran into the same people and saw what happened and how they had to adjust to a market economy.”

The memoir also talks about the farm crisis in Iowa, she added. They performed in many small towns and noticed the impact.

“The downtowns being decimated because Walmart moved in and all that kind of stuff,” Leo said. “That’s in there, too.”

Stephanie Vallez works at Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre with Leo. She is the subject in the last chapter of the memoir called “Stephanie Saves the Day.”

“That chapter about Stephanie – a lot of it is about what we were doing during the pandemic,” Leo said.

Vallez organized a drive-in puppet show during the pandemic lockdown.

“When we did the drive-in show, it was very clear just from the way the audience behaved that they were really hungry for anything else,” Vallez said.

“They just wanted to get out and do something, and they could do it safely from their own little cars with their own little families,” Vallez said.

Vallez has spent the past five years working with Leo almost every day. She wasn’t sure about being mentioned in the memoir at first but was happy to be included in one of the chapters.

“It’s flattering to be in somebody’s book,” Vallez said.

Vallez has only read bits and pieces of the memoir but urges people to read it. The puppet theatre has been in West Liberty since 1995 and will continue to do so.

“So participation is key,” Vallez added. “Either see the shows or become a puppeteer.”

The memoir is available to pre-order now at icecubepress.com.

In October it will be available at bookstores.