I’ve always loved puppets. When I was little, they were my friends; now they help me tell stories to my library friends. When I bring Leo the lion out at story time, all eyes are focused on him. They know that he can’t talk or move without me, but he has special status. “He’s just a puppet,” a girl said when she got a closer look. “He is a puppet,” I told her. “But that doesn’t mean he’s just a puppet.”
We had not lived in Iowa long when I discovered that there was a professional puppet company down the road from us. When my oldest son was four, Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre brought their show The Three Golden Hairs to King Chapel on the campus of Cornell College and we walked over to see it. Soon I was taking both our sons to Eulenspiegel puppet shows at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City, where they performed regularly and hosted other professional puppeteers from around the world. Soon we were driving to their new Owl Glass Puppetry Center studio in West Liberty, where they had room to create puppets and teach workshops to students and adults. Monica Leo founded Eulenspiegel Puppet Company in 1975, making all the puppets, writing and performing all the shows, and designing all the beautiful woodcuts for the posters and programs. She worked with many partners and interns and office assistants over the years, some for a long time and others just for a while. She wrote grants to perform in schools and towns across the country and all over the world. Monica is the very definition of a traveling artist.
When the pandemic hit, Monica didn’t stop creating. She recorded a few shows and workshops to share online and even came up with an ingenious way to bring live theatre to us safely: a drive-in puppet show. In October she brought Shenanigans: Animals in Charge! to Lisbon and Mount Vernon library patrons who sat in their parked cars, ate their snacks from home and listened on their car radios while the show was performed with giant parade puppets, a shadow theatre and live music. Last week, she brought a new live show about fish and mermaids to our Lincoln Square Park gazebo and delighted all of us with stories old and new. After the show, I watched her pack up her puppets and equipment into several old fashioned hard-sided suitcases and thought about how few traveling puppeteers there are in the world and how lucky we are to live a few miles away from one. Monica Leo is a national treasure and has inspired me for many years with her creativity and work ethic. It has been my goal to make sure that every child in Lisbon and Mount Vernon has the chance to see a live puppet show and also be inspired. Who knows? There’s room for more than one professional puppet company in the world.