A giant skeleton leg, a dancing gypsy and a masked duck were just a few of the spooky visitors to the Lee’s Summit branch of the Mid-Continent Library Oct. 23. You might think that’s an odd trio, but it’s business as usual for the StoneLion Puppet Theatre.
The annual Halloween show, Boneyard Jamboree, is a favorite for the theater’s founder and artistic director Heather Nisbett-Loewenstein.
“It’s just such a fun interactive event. We’ve been building this show and adding to it for 20 years now. It has something special,” she said. “It’s a fast-paced romp, and it does keep everybody on their toes.”
The Boneyard Jamboree featured a variety of puppet styles.
“It’s marionettes, rod puppets and things that can go into the audience and float over people’s heads,” Nisbett-Loewenstein said.
Although there isn’t a specific storyline to the show as a whole, each puppet has its own background music. Anything can inspire a new number for this ghostly cabaret.
“Sometimes it’s a piece of music. Sometimes, I look at the whole show, and I go, ‘OK. We have witches and ghosts and skeletons.’ And sometimes … I want to figure out this really intricate trick puppet,” she said.
For this show, the puppeteers are not hidden from the audience, but being able to see them controlling the puppets didn’t seem to deter the children’s enthusiasm.
“It’s the surprise factor. They don’t know what’s coming next. It’s not a storyline you’ve read before,” Nisbett-Loewenstein said. “The older kids love the scary witch. The younger kids love the pumpkin man. The adults love classical references to some of their childhood favorites, too.”
In 30 minutes, more than a dozen puppets appeared, each prompting delighted screams and giggles from the children in the audience.
“I did puppets as a kid, and my son is obsessed with puppets. It’s awesome,” said Lee’s Summit resident Emily Stam, who brought her 4-year-old son E.J. to the show.
Six-year-old Zoey Ford of Lee’s Summit favored the masked duck out of all the puppets, while her mom, Whitney Ford, was impressed with the marionettes.
Lee’s Summit resident Kathleen Corbin brought her two daughters to the show for the second year in a row.
“It never disappoints. It’s always good,” Corbin said. “The way they figure out what string is attached to each body part (of the puppet) — that amazes me.”
For Nisbett-Loewenstein, part of the joy of the show is the artistic freedom it brings.
“I love this holiday because it’s pure art,” she said. “A lot of our shows have to be tied to a school curriculum. (For) this one, we can dream up whatever we want, and with Halloween, anything goes.”
In addition to the performance in Lee’s Summit, the group from StoneLion also performed the show at library branches in Gladstone and Grain Valley.
For the rest of the year, the 28-year-old puppet theater puts on numerous educational shows, mostly having to do with the environment.
Nisbett-Loewenstein also uses her puppets internationally as an art envoy for the State Department, training teachers in other countries how to use puppetry to educate and engage people in conversations about environmental protection. She’s been to places as far apart as Fiji and Ukraine with her puppets.
With all that international work, she always comes back to Kansas City.
“I love seeing people come in and audition for me who say, ‘I saw you in my grade school.’ People come up to me and say, ‘I saw you when I was a kid, and now I’m bringing my kid,’” she said. “It’s great to know that we’ve become this kind of — I don’t want to say institution, but that really what it is — in Kansas City.”