A national treasure: Storybook Puppet Theater
All shows that grace the stage of Fairyland’s Storybook Puppet Theater are original productions, featuring scripts, costumes, music, and sets designed by our talented puppeteers. Don’t miss a chance to watch a production at the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the U.S.
Since we first parted the curtains in 1956, some of the country’s most gifted puppeteers have worked at our theater. The list includes Luman Coad, Frank and Dorothy Hayward, Tony Urbano, and husband-and-wife team Mike and Frances Oznowicz.
One of our most famous alumni is Mike and Frances’ son Frank Oznowicz, later known as Frank Oz. As a teenager, he worked after school and on weekends to create puppet shows at Fairyland. He later applied that experience in his work on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.
Puppet shows are presented year-round, three times a day (11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.) at the Storybook Puppet Theater. We can’t wait to see you there.
Mrs. Witherspoon’s Busy Day, Feb 13 - April 12
Mrs. Witherspoon is a kindly lady who likes to live alone in her comfortable cave home. So why do her neighbors think she’s a witch? When she tricks someone into believing that she has given him a bravery potion, get ready for some dragon action! See what happens in this funny, original tale by Lettie Connell Schubert of Oakland’s Vagabond Puppets. Scenery and puppets by Lewis Mahlmann. Puppet design and script by Lettie Schubert.
The Magic Tea Kettle, Apr 15 - May 25
A wonderful Japanese fairytale about a “Tanuki” animal who can change himself into a teakettle. A Tanuki is an actual animal who lives only in Japan, where they are believed to be magical. In this tale, the Tanuki comes to the aid of a kind family, and helps them realize their dreams as he avoids being mistaken for a teapot. Puppets and script by Randal Metz. Songs and lyrics by Tony Jonick. Puppet design and scenery by Annie Wong.
Hansel & Gretel, May 27 - July 9
Join us in Fairyland as we present our adaptation of the famous children’s opera, “Hansel & Gretel.” Can these two children defeat the wicked Gingerbread Witch, or will they be turned into cookies themselves? With a song in your heart, good will always triumphs over evil. Puppets designs created by Bob Brown, puppeteer on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”, with scenery and script by Lewis Mahlmann.
The Wizard of Oz, July 10 - August 20
Frank L. Baum’s famous American fairytale comes to life! Join Dorothy as she tries to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West, and help the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion find a brain, a heart, and courage. Will Dorothy be able to bring peace to oz, and find a way home to her beloved Kansas? With Glinda the Good’s help, we’re sure she can. Puppets and scenery designed by Elizabeth Luce. Puppets and script by Randal Metz with scenery by Lewis Mahlmann.
The Emperor’s New Nightingale, Aug 21 - November 1
A lovely Chinese fairy story by Hans Christian Anderson, this is the tale of the Emperor of China who falls in love with the song of a simple nightingale. When the Emperor is given a beautiful, mechanical nightingale from Japan, he forgets his friend, and she flies away. Will she return? Will she save the Emperor from the illness that seeks to take him away? Come to Fairyland and find out. Script and designs by Lewis Mahlmann. Scenery by Annie Wong. Puppets by Randal Metz.
The Nutcracker Prince, Nov 6 - Jan 2016
We end the year with the wonderful holiday tale about Clara and her magic Nutcracker Prince. Through the music of Tchikovsky, flowers and snowflakes dance, candies come to life, and Clara tries to outwit the evil magic mouse king and return her nutcracker into the handsome prince he is and once more back to the arms of his sugar plum fairy. Can Candy Land be saved from the mice? Will Queen Blanche and King Winter safely carry Clara into her dreams? A different telling of the classic ballet “The Nutcracker.” Puppet designs by Pamelia McIntire. Puppets and script by Lewis Mahlmann.
The puppeteers of Storybook Puppet Theater use different kinds of puppets to tell their stories. Check the calendar to see what’s on stage during your visit.
Bunraku—In this Japanese form, puppeteers share the stage with their puppets, manipulating them using handles. Complicated puppets require up to three puppeteers.
Hand Puppets—Many classic puppet shows, including Punch and Judy, use hand puppets. The puppeteer manipulates the puppet’s movements with his or her hand.
Marionettes—This very old style of puppetry originated in medieval France and involves puppets moved by strings. Our Hansel and Gretel production features marionettes.
Shadow Puppets—This form originated in Indonesia in ancient times and is sometimes known by the Balinese name “wayang.” Figures are attached to sticks, with the heads left free to swivel.
Shadow and Glare
Most of our puppet shows are based on classic fairy tales and folk tales. Some of these stories have been around for more than a thousand years, like Cinderella, which dates back to 9th century China. We have over 150 puppet shows in rotation at Fairyland, and it takes more than a year to create a new one. Thus, many of our shows have been around for quite a long time. American society changes. What we think is suitable for our children changes. But as fantasy expert Jane Yolen has written in her book Touch Magic, one thing about compelling fairy tales stays the same: “The idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition” (Yolen 26). If everyone in a story is full of joy from beginning to end, it will not make for a very good puppet show. There is no journey or growth. “A fine story – whether for children or adults – should reflect both dark and light, both shadow and glare” (Yolen 33). It is worth noting that our puppet shows are not just for children and adults; they are for babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers… the whole gamut.
Of course, it is possible for us to change stories to make them more amenable to our modern values. But some degree of tension is necessary. Sometimes this takes the form of suspense, mystery, or a scary or mean character. The protagonist has to use his or her skills to overcome this challenge. The child viewer uses higher order thinking skills to reflect on what they would do in the given situation, watches it unfold, and then judges the outcome. Much like when your child watches a movie or reads a book that introduces new or challenging ideas, one way to help the child process those ideas is to discuss them. They may want to share their feelings about someone being mean or not being a good friend. They may want to say that they don’t like a character because of the way he or she acted. On the other hand, they may say a character was kind or brave, or knew how to share. In the real world we will encounter both people who show us kindness and people who do not, and talking about fictional characters and how they affect each other and us, the viewers, will prepare us for those encounters.
Mediated Learning Experiences
In the psychology world, Dr. Reuven Feuerstein calls this sort of discussion between adult and child a Mediated Learning Experience. One common example of a Mediated Learning Experience happens when you are reading your child a book and stop to examine the illustrations together. Look at that character’s face, you may say. How do you think she is feeling? Oh, you think she is angry? Why is she angry? This sort of mediation slows the child down and helps them process what they see and hear. It prepares them for real-life interactions and makes them better observers and deeper thinkers. Feuerstein believes that intelligence is not fixed, and that mediating learning can increase a child’s brain-power. One of the great things about mediating learning is that parents and teachers are driven to do it not only because it improves critical thinking, but because it is fun! Riding the bus with a child is simply more fun when the two of you are looking around, asking each other questions, noticing the buildings outside of the window, and waiting for the exact right second to ding for your stop.
We Trust Parents
Mediated Learning Experiences can be very powerful, but ultimately, you decide what is right for your child. If you are concerned about a certain puppet show, it is always okay to leave. Furthermore, I welcome dialogue about your concerns, questions, or anything you read about in this article. Just come to the gift shop and ask for Shana, the Education Specialist. Thank you for reading, and enjoy Fairyland!