Richard Elsenpeter is a strong believer in fantasy. Without fantasy, the fourth-generation puppeteer feels children miss a vital part of their development. This is the basis behind his lifetime love for marionettes.
“The fantasy world is as necessary to the development of the mind as crawling is to walking. If a child is denied the freedom to pursue a fantasy, he is deprived,” Elsenpeter said. “It serves a very important purpose.”
That was the basis for his performance at the Great Bend Public Library Wednesday morning. Set up in the facility’s basement, he enthralled a crowd of local children, some brought by their parents, and some from daycares and summer school programs, with the Washington Irving classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
The tale of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane’s encounter with the Headless Horseman played out on the small stage. Elsenpeter stood behind the curtains tugging on the complex web of strings to manipulate the wooden characters.
After the houselights came back up, Elsenpeter explained how his puppets worked and the magic that brought the dolls to life. He then fielded questions.
“How do you make them kneel?” one kid asked.
“How do you hold them?” another queried.
To each, Elsenpeter would respond “that is a good question.”
This is the philosophy behind the Elsenpeter Marionettes. His goal is to give children an outlet for their fantasies while making a lasting impression on them.
“It’s very nostalgic and is rarely seen anymore in America because of its technical difficulties,” he said. Indeed, the puppets he used Wednesday morning dated back 50 years.
As one of the library’s many summer programs, the puppet show served two purposes, said Hannah Grippin, Great Bend Public Library outreach manager. It gave the attendees a unique and whimsical experience while exposing them to classic literature in an entertaining manner.
Prior to the performance, library staff asked the children if they’d been reading. Most raised their hands.
Elsenpeter Marionettes is a professional full-time performing Marionette company that has entertained millions of school children in live shows for over 139 years. Besides performing more than 200-plus programs nationally each year, Elsenpeter will write, produce, create and carve an entirely new program annually. The Elsenpeter Marionettes specialize in children’s classics and adapt stories with which most children are familiar.
The Elsenpeter Marionettes tradition of puppetry started in Elen, Germany, with Richard Elsenpeter’s great-grandfather. Their traditional form of puppetry has been handed down through four generations. He describes his form of puppetry as the “old world style of puppetry.”
His granddaughter assisted behind the scenes. Perhaps she will be the next to carry on the legacy, he said.
According to the Elsenpeter Marionettes website: “Each program is specially written for the Marionettes theatre. Every detail has been carefully designed to achieve a perfect dramatic production in miniature. Richard’s skillful manipulation of the Marionettes transforms the 2-foot tall, hand-carved, wooden puppets into living characters with definite personalities.
“The Elsenpeter program delights the young and the young-at-heart while stressing the importance of education and reading. Our goal is to give children an outlet for their fantasies while making a lasting impression on them.”
Elsenpeter heads Elsenpeter Productions, a New London, Mo., company which has a variety of entertainers who tour the country each year.