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.
In Fairyland’s Open Storybook Puppet Theater we strive to bring our guests wonderful tales that bring books to life! This year our Stories Committee helped Fairyland cultivate an amazing year of puppet shows based on the theme of “friendship”. Visit us all year long for incredible tales of love and friendship! Learn more about our Stories Committee and the work they do here.
Meister Tinkle’s Music Box - January 5 through February 4
Based on the characters created in his book “Friendship Valley,” children’s author Wolo Von Trutzler has adapted his creations to explain how Children's Fairyland got its “Magic Key.” After an ogre steals the key, a music box maker and his animal friends ultimately prevail, and send the magic key to Fairyland. Designed and written for Fairyland by Wolo. Puppets by Lewis Mahlmann.
The Elves & The Shoemaker - February 9 through April 7
The shoemaker has a problem. Every time he leaves leather on his workbench to make shoes, the next morning someone beats him to it during the night. Who can be making these wonderful shoes? Join the Shoemaker, Cinderella, The Prince, Puss in Boots, and the Witch of the North from Oz as they try to find out. Based on the popular Grimms’ tale. Puppets and scenery by Lewis Mahlmann & Patricia Platt. Script by David C. Jones.
Perez and Mondinga - April 10 through May 30
It’s fiesta time in Mexico. Mondinga, the cockroach, wants to marry and share her hacienda with someone special. Rooster, Pig, and evil Cat all want to marry her, yet none of them are right. Finally she meets Perez, the gentle mouse and marries him. This is the silly story of their meeting, marriage, and mishaps. Scenery & Puppets by Lewis Mahlmann.
Peter Pan - May 31 through July 11
James M. Barrie’s fantastic tale of Neverland and Captain Hook sails off the pages of The Storybook Puppet Theater, with Peter, Wendy, Jon and Michael joining in the grand adventure. And don’t forget the most famous mischief-making fairy of all time: Tinkerbell! And be ready to clap your hands if you believe in fairies (and we hope you do). Puppets and scripts by Lewis Mahlmann. Based on the James M. Barrie novel.
The Wizard of Oz - July 12 through August 25
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.
Tricks & Treats – A Halloween Spooktacular - August 28 - October 27
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 anniversary. 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.
The Snow Queen - November 1 through the end of the year
Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale is told this holiday season. This heartwarming tale of love, friendship, and adventure features the Snow Queen, the North Wind, and of course a flying reindeer. Script adapted by Lewis Mahlmann. Puppets by John Gilkerson and Lewis Mahlmann.
History of the puppet theater
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.
The theater’s fourth director, Lewis Mahlmann, held the position from 1967 to 2005. The current theater director, Randal J. Metz, has worked at the park since he was a grade-school apprentice to Lewis Mahlmann. Randal and Lewis shared the director’s job beginning in 1991, and Randal became sole director when Lewis retired in 2005.
Types of Puppets
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.
Some thoughts on Fairytales, Folk Tales… and Puppet Shows
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. Please contact Vicky Chen, Director of Community Outreach and Education. Thank you for reading, and enjoy Fairyland!