—by Todd Thorson
The Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre will be a part of the Story! Festival this weekend in Story City, as Monica Leo and musician Ron Hillis will entertain young and old alike at various scheduled programs throughout the three day festival.
Formed in 1974 as a touring puppet troupe, Leo and company has been active in the Iowa Arts Council, and especially the Artist in the Schools program. Leo will present her magic at the Roland-Story schools on Thursday, followed by a program at the Bertha Bartlett Library on Friday morning at 10:30 a.m. An evening performance at the Dinner and a Story event on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Community Center will also feature the magical puppets. And a workshop on Saturday afternoon is planned at the library beginning at 1 p.m. The Eulenspiegel Puppets will conclude their appearance at this year’s Story! Festival on Saturday night at the 7 p.m. concert held at the historic Story Theater. All of these scheduled events will give patrons ample opportunity to see this wonderful, high quality art of puppetry, rarely seen in this day and age.
Programs to be presented by Leo will include "Sal Fink, Catfish Wrangler", "Play to Play (Or Hold Your Puppet Up)" and "Freedom Star - Gertie’s Journey on the Underground Railroad". The objective of these entertaining shows is to educate the public about the arts, serve as a center for the exchange of ideas and enhance the quality of community life.
Leo, whose parents were refugees from Nazi, Germany, remembers when WWII was over and her mother wrote back to a crafts woman she used to know, who proceeded to make Leo a set a Kasperle (kas-pur-la) puppets. The German equivalent of "Punch and Judy", Leo was elated when the puppets finally arrived.
"My father used to do shows with them for us," Leo recalls, "and when my father died when I was 13 I inherited the puppets and started doing shows (myself). (Soon I) started making some of my own (puppets) too."
By 1969, after graduating college, Leo started selling puppets at art fairs. "I sold them at Thieves Market in Iowa City," stated Leo, "and then I started going to Renaissance fairs. It was a good time for (all) that."
Leo remembers the long-time puppet characters her father used to present. Kasperle was the main character. A cross between "Punch" and "Bugs Bunny", Kasperle also had a beautiful wife named Gretel. "He was much nicer to his wife than Punch was to Judy," she revealed. "There are some people (however) who would probably argue with me."
Gretel also had a mother, so Kasperle had to deal with a mother-in-law as well. There was also a devil and a butler too. Leo remembers, however, that in her family growing up, the butler was a pastor, so the dialog between the pastor and the devil provided some amusing conversations, to say the least.
Unfortunately, some years ago, Leo’s mother lent the original puppets to somebody, and she was unable to get them back.
An art major with a minor in English, Leo has continued to craft her beloved puppets, which has gradually led to performing with them as well. And the rest, they say, is history!