EPISODE | EULENSPIEGEL PUPPET THEATRE (West Liberty, IA)


♪♪ There are people
every now and then where puppeteers, not just me,
they nudge each other and say oh there’s a puppet
face, because some faces are just so distinctive. ♪♪ Most of them at
least have a back story. For instance, when I’m
packing up Freedom Star, the Underground Railroad
Show, I always make sure that I don’t pack the
bounty hunter next to Gertie the little slave
girl because I think that would be too
cruel to Gertie. ♪♪ Greetings From
Iowa is brought to you by the Gilchrist Foundation,
founded by Jocelyn Gilchrist, furthering the
philanthropic interests of the Gilchrist family in
wildlife and conservation, medical care and social
services, the arts and public broadcasting
and disaster relief. Okay, this is
our basement. This is Owl Glass
Puppetry Center. It has the distinction
of being the smallest puppetry center in the
smallest town with a puppetry center in
the United States. We started in
the fall of 1974. These are set pieces
from Hansel and Gretel. Just for the fun of it,
never thought that we would actually be doing
this for anything more than a laugh. This is from
the musical Ant. And this is the army. And then people started
getting in touch with us and wanting to pay us to
come and do puppet shows. So how are you going
to say no to that? This is a Bohemian rod
marionette and we did a production of Stravinsky’s
Soldier’s Tale and this was the soldier. ♪♪ Till Eulenspiegel
was a traveling jester who lived in Germany
in the 1300s. His self-imposed mission
was that he played tricks on the wealthy and the
unscrupulous for the amusement of the poor. ♪♪ I was making
puppets to sell at art fairs and a friends of
mine suggested that we do some puppet
shows with them. Reach under
that cot, honey. Pull me out a beer. And then at one point Teri
Jean Breitbach started working with us and she is
the woman that I ended up working with for
over 30 years. From the late ’70s until
the late ’90s we did many, many, many five day
artisan school’s residencies where we go
into a school and work with four core classes
that would make puppets with us and then
put on a show. That was our bread and
butter for about 20 years. Those were incredible
programs that were organized and sponsored
by the Iowa Arts Council. So that changed over the
years and then you have to figure out how to adapt
and do different things. ♪♪ West Liberty is a
really interesting little town. It has got a population
of about 3,700 now. This is a majority
minority town. It’s one of the small
towns in Iowa that is increasing in population
and that is largely because we’re blessed with
a lot of immigrants in this town. The school has a
dual-language program where the kids can learn
Spanish and English simultaneously. In 2007, I got in touch
with Eli Portugal, a puppeteer from New Mexico,
and asked her if she wanted to work on
a bilingual show. And we found not only is
that a welcome thing here in West Liberty, it’s a
welcome thing in a lot of communities. (speaking in Spanish) Oh,
for pity sake, Senior Capra. Since I was a child I was
in love with puppets. When I finished my career
I said, well now what am I going to do? And I said, well the thing
I know is I want to work with children. And then she told me,
what about puppets. I said, oh what
a great idea! Not just any water. This is magical water! It’s a very positive way
to say things and you can say strong things
with a soft way. I made my first puppet, I
suppose I was about ten or eleven years old
and it was a witch. My parents were refugees
from Nazi, Germany and my mother had had a friend
that was a craftswoman in Germany and after the
war she ordered a set of puppets from this woman. And then when my father
died, I was 13 when he died, I inherited
the puppets. That’s when I started
doing puppet shows. ♪♪ These are my
father’s memoirs. He wrote them in 1943
before the war was even over. I’ll show you
what’s inside. My father had two strikes
against him, he was the descendent of a very
prominent Jewish family, but he was also a Lutheran
pastor and he was active in the underground church
that opposed Hitler. I went to the door. Outside stood a
storm trooper. Are you Paul Leo? Yes I am. Follow me. He was incarcerated in
Buchenwald concentration camp for a few months and
he never knew whether it was for being a Jew or
for being a Christian. His former colleagues
made so much noise on his behalf that he was
released from the concentration camp and
given two months to get his affairs in order
and leave the country. And that is how he
came to this country. ♪♪ We’ve done
thousands of puppet shows. I can’t tell you how many. A lot of them come
from folk tales. The thing I find
fascinating about folk tales is that the same
story appears in all different cultures in
slightly different versions. ♪♪ So these things go
deeper than what country we happen to be growing
up in and what culture we happen to live in. Some of the things are
just generically human. I don’t think children
nowadays are any different than they were 30
or 40 years ago. The things around them
have changed but they still get sucked in,
they’re used to seeing these massive
effects in movies. The simplest little
thing still wows them. It really hasn’t changed
and it is because it’s live. ♪♪ ♪♪ (typewriter dings) ♪♪

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