Changing Lives, One Puppet at a Time

Changing Lives, One Puppet at a Time

Blog post by Ellen
Monday, March 14, 2016

Stories come and stories go,

Stories circle around the globe.

Stories high and stories low,

Listen, is this a story you know?

                        ~AnitaJoye Rizley

As we prepare for the opening of the New Central Library, we thought it would be fun to reach back in time to discover the origin of Literature Live!, give you some patterns to make your own puppets and share our new series, Puppet Picks, where puppets recommend their favorite library resources.

The journey began in Program Development, a tiny office in the basement of the now Austin History Center on Guadalupe Street. This building was formerly the main library of Austin, which moved next door to become John Henry Faulk Central Library in 1979. In February of 1977, Brenda Branch, head of programming services who went on to become our current Library Director, had a vision to bring literature to life through puppetry. Children’s Librarian, Grace Schmitt, was already using puppets in her youth programming and some lucky library users may remember her enchanting mascot puppet, Buster, the Bookworm, who used to nibble fingers after storytime. Ms. Branch decided to take puppetry in libraries to another level. She supervised Bruce Hallock and Ellen Scott, and together the team created the first library puppet show, called To Catch a Leprechaun.

The Austin Public Library serves as one of only two library systems in the nation who offers this unique programming. Through the years, the puppet program has ebbed and flowed; beginning as the Traveling Puppet Theatre, then Echo’s Pals, and finally Literature Live! When former children come to our performances as parents, they show us what a deep and lasting impression these living stories made on the memories of their childhoods. This positive experience so early in life made many in the audience lifetime library users.

Currently Literature Live! houses 30+ puppet shows; complete with scripts, a puppet cast of characters, props, scenery, and music, all getting a makeover whenever the show is remounted. We create a video archive at the end of each run, for future generations of puppeteers to review.

Modern children are bombarded by passive entertainment opportunities on a daily basis. Puppet theatre is unique in that it is a live action medium, three-dimensional, and interactive. The story becomes an essence – condensed, powerful and fascinating - allowing the imagination of the audience to do the lion’s share of the work. We communicate, stimulate and educate through live literary theatre.

Here are some more fun factoids about Literature Live!

  • Felicia Bond, famous book author, created the puppet Rumpelstiltskin during her short run of employment for APL. Literature Live! will be performing Rumpelstiltskin this summer.
  • Vinyl was used on a turntable behind the puppet stage to produce music for the early shows
  • People tell us often that Strega Nona (“the one with the pasta!”) is their most memorable show
  • Puppets don’t age and rarely ask for a paycheck, making them very economical city employees
  • There are plans for a continuing display of Literature Live! puppets, scenery and props in the new Central Library, which is expected to open at the end of 2016. We can’t wait to entertain puppet enthusiasts in the 300 seat auditorium.

See more historical photos of APL’s puppets in the slide show below.