Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre charms audiences with family-friendly outdoor drive-in performance

The Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre has been holding free drive-in performances of their new show Shenanigans: Animals in Charge! at the Iowa City Municipal Airport. Their final performances will take place this weekend.

Members of the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre. Contributed by Michael Kreiser.

Members of the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre. Contributed by Michael Kreiser.

Tatiana Plowman, Arts Reporter

Have you ever wondered what animals have been up to since the world was hit by COVID-19? Have the penguins been adventuring around their zoo habitats? Are alligators visiting the shopping mall?

Shenanigans: Animals in Charge! — a drive-in puppet show presented by Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre — answers these questions in their free family-friendly performance.

The shows are being presented at the Iowa City Municipal Airport, where families can drive up in their vehicles similar to a drive-in movie. Viewers can either tune into the radio station to broadcast the audio or set up chairs and other seating outside to enjoy the show.

The final two performances in Iowa City will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 18 and 19.  Social distancing and masks are required, and registration for this event can be done online by noon of the performance day.

The Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre has put on artistic and educational puppet shows since 1974, according to their website. The company, based in West Liberty, Iowa, was founded by puppeteer Monica Leo, grew up with puppetry and began performing her own shows.

“I never expected to make a living off of my art form and passion,” Leo said.

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Over the years, Eulenspiegel has produced hundreds of different family-friendly shows based on folktales and legends. The theater also offers many workshops and classes educating others about the art of puppetry and hosts the West Liberty Children’s festival annually.

Before the pandemic, the company had planned a variety of performances, including visits to elementary school students. Leo said it was a “true and utter disappointment” when their shows were canceled as well as their annual festival, but she knew that there would be other ways to bring their artistry to audiences.

Throughout the summer, the group posted live-streamed shows and held online workshops. These opportunities allowed for the West Liberty and surrounding area community to still engage with the company and participate in events, Leo said.

She added that she feels grateful that the company received funding from arts foundations and from the state of Iowa that helped make these experiences free for the public.

Leo’s friend, Nancy Smith of the Great Arizona Puppet Theater, suggested that a drive-in show would be a way to do a live performance and have more audience involvement.

“I absolutely loved the idea and immediately began working on a brand new show,” Leo said. “Our touring director started finding locations and the excitement only grew. Audiences need live, in-person entertainment.”

These events are the first series of performances that the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre will perform at a drive-in venue. The title of the show, “Shenanigans: Animals in Charge!,” was inspired by an ABC news story about an alligator that broke into an abandoned South Carolina mall.

Leo said she wanted the company to explore how animals were utilizing human spaces during the brief shutdowns earlier this year. The group has been writing and working on the show since April.

The 45-minute performance will take the audience on a journey through the eyes of animals during the pandemic. Outside the airport, three puppeteers and a live musician will dazzle the audience with a wide variety of unique characters, including rod puppets, shadow puppets, and a giant parade-sized puppet depicting Mother Earth.

“Mother Earth welcomes the audience to the show,” Leo said. “She creates the world and reminds the audience to be respectful towards all surrounding animals and the environment.”

Musician Laura Kittrell will accompany the puppet show through an original piano and guitar score.

“It is a classically inspired score,” said Leo. “I love that we are able to feature live music.”