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. During Fairy Winterland they are presented at 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. We can’t wait to see you there.
The Dragon Who Wasn’t, May 30 - July 14
An original tale written by fledgling puppeteer Frank Oz in the 1960s. Written by the teen for Oakland’s famous Vagabond Puppet program, it is a funny tale about a magical kingdom in desperate need of its own fire-breathing dragon. But what do you do when the local (and last) dragon only likes to bake cakes, sing songs, and hasn’t any idea how to breathe fire? Based loosely on the classic cartoons of Jay Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales. Puppets by Jesse Vail of Fool Moon Puppetry, and scenery by Annie Wong.
Urashima, July 15 - August 28
A lovely Japanese fairy tale about a kind boy whose adventures take him under the ocean. Meet dancing fish, frolicking ocean life, and Kouramotchi, the Dragon King of the sea! A tale of kindness, told with traditional Japanese music. Adapted by Lewis Mahlmann. Marionettes by Patricia Platt and Lewis Mahlmann.
Tricks & Treats, A Halloween Spooktacular, August 31 - October 30
Master puppeteer Nick Barone brings his special brand of Halloween magic to the Storybook Puppet Theater. Nick, a popular Bay Area performer who died in 2014, has left this gift for the children of the Bay Area. The Storybook Puppet Theater is happy and proud to recreate this original tale for our theater’s 60th. What do you do when a group of monsters meet and greet in Fairyland? Put on a variety show of course! Filled with lovable and friendly monsters, this comical show is designed to delight. Puppets, story and songs by Nick Barone. Additional scenery by Annie Wong.
Beauty and the Beast, November 4 - 2017
To end the year, we bring back one of Lewis Mahlmann’s most requested puppet productions, based on the original Charles Perrault classic French fairy tale. This is the story of a prince turned into a wild beast, who learns love and humility through the gentle teachings of a kind girl. Adaptation, puppets and scenery by Lewis Mahlmann. Puppets designed by Golden Book illustrator Sheillah Beckett.
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!