Your Name: Monica Leo

Business Name: Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre, a puppetry center theatre

Type of Business: Arts & Entertainment

Business Location: West Liberty, Iowa, United States


Reason for starting
When I told my mother, a free-lance metal sculptor, that I wanted to work as an artist, she told me I should find something I enjoyed doing that other people enjoyed paying money for. I always loved puppets and dolls and acting out stories with them, so I began making puppets to sell at art fairs. Before too long I felt compelled to perform with the puppets. People took notice and began hiring me; the Iowa Arts Council asked me to work as an artist-in-the-schools; before too long, I was a professional puppeteer.

How do you define success?
Seeing a child’s eyes light up during a show; seeing the pride on a child’s face as she manipulates the puppet she just made; feeling time disappear as I work on a new show; watching my interns perform a show that my deceased artistic partner and I created; and earning enough money from my art to pay my bills and live well.

Biggest Success
I think my biggest success is cumulative: I’ve been at this my entire adult life, having had only one “grown-up” job for a short time after completing college. I worked with the same artistic partner for 31 years, and we (and now I) never stopped trying new things and collaborating with different artists: musicians, dancers, visual artists, writers, etc. I’m especially proud of having made my art form accessible to so many through school residencies, open studios at my puppetry center, and annual community shows that involve local residents of all ages (5-senior citizen) as puppeteers, puppet builders, and musicians. I keep trying new techniques and telling new stories, most recently local history and memoir in addition to my beloved folk tales. The Iowa Arts Council awarded my puppet company the Iowa Arts Award for Long Term Commitment to Excellence in the Arts in 2000; that “long term” meant a lot!

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
The most challenging thing has been finding funds to hire staff. Grant money is available for projects, and puppeteers get performing fees paid by sponsoring schools and organizations. The staff (Outreach Director, managers, etc) facilitate the projects, many of them offering free services to local youth, but it’s hard to get funding for the same project twice. We’ve been lucky to receive some ongoing funds from a local Trust; I’ve had the most success with funders close to home. They know us and know what we do. National funding sources offer larger grants, but we’re much less likely to be recipients since they don’t know us. A percentage of our touring income provides the rest of our staff funding.

Who is your most important role model?
My mother and my strong circle of female artist friends.