New puppeteers take center stage

Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre hosts enchanting New Puppeteers Festival


The Community Center was buzzing with activity on Saturday, May 4. Kids and adults from all over the region gathered for a day of stories, fun and puppets.

The festival was hosted by the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre Company, and the primary purpose was to allow anyone to create and perform their own original puppet show with the guidance of Eulenspigel’s professional puppeteers.

Between amateur puppet shows, Jim Napolitano of Nappy’s Puppets performed his famous shadow puppet shows.

“It’s always a pleasure to be here,” Napolitano said. “I always love coming to West Liberty.”

For two years in a row, Napolitano has driven all the way from Connecticut to perform at the New Puppeteers Festival, which amounts to about 20 hours in the car.

The festival was made possible with financial support from the Iowa Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Wertzbaugher Services.

Eulenspiegel’s Managing Director and Head Puppeteer, Monica Leo, has seen the festival through many changes over the years.

“This is actually a delayed recurrence of what used to be called the Young Puppeteers Festival,” Leo said, “which we started doing not long after we got our non-profit tax-exempt status, and we realized that as a tax-exempt company, we were supposed to serve the common good.”

“One of our board members suggested a Young Puppeteers Festival,” she said. “We loved it, we loved doing it, the kids loved it, but it was extremely hard to manage, so we did it for about 10 years and then we dropped it.”

“When we hired Chris as our Outreach Director, he was willing to take it on, so we restarted it,” she added.

The festival returned in 2023 as the Young Puppeteers Festival and changed names this year.

The name changed to The New Puppeteers Festival because the name was discouraging adults from joining. This year the festival had adult puppeteers as well as kids.

The day began at 10 am and the first young performers were the students from the West Liberty After School Puppet Club.

Six children in third and fourth grade wrote an original story, made their own puppets, and put on a show.

The kids had spent two months of Wednesday afternoons working with puppeteer Stephanie Vallez and learning about the art of puppetry.

They came dressed in their finest, ready to rock. Amanda Daufeldt, Kindergarten teacher at West Liberty ELC, was delighted to see her daughter, Paisley, perform.

“She has really enjoyed it too!! Happy she got to participate,” Daufeldt said. The West Liberty Middle School also had several performers doing original stories as well. 

Eulenspiegel’s Outreach Director, Christopher Eck, led the after-school club at the Middle School.

“The Middle School puppet club kids were so creative, we had a blast making messes and building puppet shows in Ms. Charles’s art room,” Eck said.

Several other area schools provided puppet shows, as well as a few adults. Johnson Steam Academy brought their after-school club.

Willowwind Academy in Iowa City sent two wonderful puppet shows. A small group of friends from Iowa City participated for the second year in a row with another original tale.

The Good Earth Nature School in Solon created an original shadow show. Amy White retired from the Lisbon Public Library this year and created a show about two trees changing throughout the year.

Sandi Wilson, art teacher, told the tale of The Three Billy Goats Gruff with beautiful sets and puppets.

Brant Bollman, puppeteer from Oskaloosa, helped his daughter create a show from the perspective of two lice atop a giant head of hair.

Ten groups created twelve unique puppet shows. Each group also got a critique from a panel of experts.

After their show, performers were invited into the consultation room where three local theater experts offered advice and praise.

Evan Hilsabek, Lauren Haldeman, and Brant Bollman formed the panel, and each brought their own unique skills and perspectives.

Each performer was treated to two cookies, baked by local legend Diane Brooks.

“The festival went great,” Leo said, “couldn’t have been better. My favorite part was seeing all those happy faces after they finished their shows.”

We can expect to enjoy the New Puppeteers Festival again on May 3, 2025.