Q&A with Puppeteer Monica Leo
Monica Leo, puppeteer and founder of the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre, shares the secrets of her start in puppetry and talks about the power of these types of performances for children. Check out her interview with us below or watch an early episode of Greetings From Iowa where we featured her story. If your little ones are interested in puppets, don't miss new episodes of Donkey Hodie, a Fred Rogers Productions puppet series kicking off its second season June 6!
Did you know from an early age that you wanted to work with puppets? What inspired this path?
My parents were refugees from the Nazis. After the war, my mother, an artist, ordered a set of handmade papier maché hand puppets from a craftswoman she knew in Germany. I grew up playing with those puppets. I knew I wanted to be an artist and I loved puppets. After I finished art school, I began making puppets and dolls to sell with no thought of performing with them. A friend talked me into doing some shows with some of the puppets I had made and before I knew it, people started calling us for shows. The puppet troupe kept growing and soon took over my life!
How did you go about creating the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre?
It kind of created itself (see above)! We started in 1974. In 1995, my late husband and I bought a rundown storefront in West Liberty. My husband, a carpenter, brought it back from rack and ruin to create Owl Glass Puppetry Center, the smallest puppetry center, in the smallest town with a puppetry center, in the US.
What has been your favorite puppet show to present to an audience?
Whichever one I’m doing at the moment! Right now, I’m very fond of Shenanigans: Animals in Charge! It’s our pandemic show, with a script based on true stories of animal activities during lockdown. We performed it as a drive-in show during 2020, and now we’re taking it to schools, libraries and theaters. The cast includes an alligator, two penguins, two monkeys, five goats, a family of geese and a giant Mother Earth.
What makes puppet shows a powerful medium for children?
Not just children! Puppetry is powerful for audiences of all ages because it deals in metaphor and symbolism. It makes it easy to suspend disbelief and enter an imaginary world.
How can families use puppets to educate and entertain children?
Children learn by playing. We tend to forget that. One of the greatest crimes we perpetrate against children is that we overschedule them and take away their playtime.
What advice do you have for kids who might want to be a puppeteer one day?
Do what comes naturally and play! The more you exercise your imagination, the more successful you will be!