AUSTIN (KXAN) — On a recent Wednesday morning at the Austin Public Library’s Howson Branch, the sound of delighted squeals could be heard from the dozens of children gathered in the library’s meeting room. For 30 minutes, the wide-eyed onlookers were transported into the world of “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” a Southern folktale told through puppetry.
For more than 45 years, APL’s Literature Live! has sprinkled the magic and wonder of puppetry into APL’s youth programming. Ellen Scott, Devo Carpenter and Gabriel Ransenberg are the three puppeteer masterminds behind “Wiley and the Hairy Man,” with multiple performances planned throughout the spring.
“It’s magic, you know?” Scott said. “It suspends your disbelief and kids, more than adults, can do that at the drop of a hat.”
The challenge behind creating a puppet show is navigating the millions of ways the stories can be told, each said. From a script-writing standpoint, Carpenter said prioritizing the physicality of the show is integral, especially when deciding whether dialogue is needed for a scene or if the emotions can be conveyed through movement.
When working on a new show, table reads immediately follow scripting. During that time, the three develop voices for the characters and drill down the emotions of the scene. From there, they begin mapping out the choreography and tailoring it to the music, Ransenberg said.
Literature Live! has 25 full shows in its repertoire and is always adding new ones to its rotation. This summer, Scott said she and Carpenter will put on “Jack and the Beanstalk” as Ransenberg assists with APL’s Bookmobile services.
Later this year in the fall, Literature Live! will unveil its adaptation of “Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett,” the tall tale story of Davy Crockett’s wife.
All three said the most fulfilling part of the role comes from the way the children engage with the characters and the investment they have in the stories. They each come from a creative background, and seeing the craft continue to enchant children year after year is fulfilling, they said.
A few years ago, Ransenberg helped put on a shadow puppetry “Frankenstein” show when he saw that amazement up close.
“It was a school group and this kindergartener looked up at his teacher as we were kind of packing up and just goes, ‘this was the best day I’ve ever had,'” he said. “My heart just swelled.”
“Once we get a show in front of an audience and to see how the kids react and go on that journey with us? That’s really the part, that’s the payoff,” Carpenter added.
More information about Literature Live! and upcoming puppet shows is available online.