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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Marionettes walk, talk, dance their way into kids' hearts

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When Kathie and Bob Myers make children laugh, there often are some strings attached.

Typically, there are nine strings - on each of the dancing, walking, horseback-riding, tree-climbing marionettes that the couple bring to life on stages in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.

During a visit to Way Public Library in Perrysburg last week, Mr. and Mrs. Myers, who are known as The Story Peddlers, entranced the audience with a performance of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, featuring the tall, lanky Ichabod Crane, the dimpled Katrina Van Tassel, and the rakish Brom Bones.

With the music and the voices of the characters, it sounded as though there were several people behind the stage, but there were only Mr. and Mrs. Myers standing on the bridge, working the puppet strings. The voices, as well as music, are recorded - much to the surprise of several children who stayed after the show ended to take a behind-the-scenes look.

Betsy Bungley and daughters Kate, 5, and Sarah, 8, of Perrysburg are enchanted. Betsy Bungley and daughters Kate, 5, and Sarah, 8, of Perrysburg are enchanted.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

``Where is everybody?'' asked one little girl. A boy, noticing that only the couple were involved in the puppet show, said that Mr. and Mrs. Myers must be pretty good at making themselves sound like a bunch of people.

That, Mrs. Myers said, is part of the magic of marionettes.

``Some of the children think that when the puppets are talking, their mouths move. When they see the puppets up close, they see that the mouths do not move,'' she said.

Children often get caught up in the performance, and imagination takes over, she said, pointing out that usually the puppet strings seem to disappear after a few minutes into the show - another part of the magic, the illusion of the art of puppetry.

The Myers, who live in Elkhart, Ind., are proud to be using puppets created by Stevens Puppets. Described as a standard in American marionettes, Stevens Puppets has been producing marionette plays of best-loved folktales and children's stories since 1933. It is believed to be the oldest and most watched puppet company in America, boasting unforgettable marionettes including Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Wizard of Oz , Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast.

Stevens Puppets was founded by award-winning artist Martin Stevens. Most of the Stevens Puppets marionette stories have been touring continuously for decades to schools, libraries, museums, festivals, and many other venues.

All of the original marionettes were hand-crafted of wood by Mr. Stevens. He and his wife Margi costumed, painted the scenery, and hand-made the props.

Mr. Myers told the audience at the library that Mr. Stevens drilled a hole in Katrina's nose to enable the wooden girl to raise her left hand to cover her face each time she giggled. That puppet was made in 1965.

The storytelling team has been involved with Stevens Puppets for seven years, but they have been telling stories for much longer. They conduct storytelling and creative writing workshops for children and adults in the Midwest. They also teach storytelling at Indiana University South Bend.

Several children enjoyed the story of Ichabod Crane, and some said they would like to read Washington Irving's story.

``One thing in particular that I liked was the graveyard scene when the Headless Horseman threw the pumpkin at Ichabod,'' said 8-year-old Keegan Frankevic of Perrysburg. His 6-year-old brother Gage liked the puppet show too.

Morgan Thomas, a 7-year-old from Perrysburg, listened for a while, and then asked, ``Why are they called marionettes?''

Mr. Myers explained that originally, the wooden puppets were used to tell Passion Plays or stories from the Bible in Italy many years ago. ``They were called Little Marys, or in Italian, marionettes. That's how they got the name,'' he said.



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