Puppets entertain during Pioneer Days

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, October 6, 2011

David Stephens is coming “home” to Troy and he’s bringing his corral of original puppets with him.

Stephens will be a featured performer at Pioneer Days at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama Friday and Saturday.

Rachael Greve, musuem director, does not even try to hide her excitement at having such a talented puppeteer as part of the weekend event.

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“David is absolutely the most incredible puppeteer that I have ever seen,” Greve said. “He is a graduate of Troy University so many people will remember him from there. But he is known all across the country as a master puppeteer and the founder of All Hands Productions, which is dedicated to bringing quality puppet production to children and their parents.

Greve said Stephens appeared on Sesame Street and is an Artist Fellowship recipient from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

“David is a Telly winner and was honored with a Union Internaionale de la Marionnette Citation of Excellence and on top of all that, he is a great singer, a great banjo player and an overall great guy,” Greve said. “David performs on stage all over the country and on national televison. We are so fortuate to have him perform at the Pioneer Days. I can hardly wait to see him perform. It’s magical.”

Stephens said that he will be performing two different shows at Pioneer Days on Friday and Saturday.

“One show that I will do is ‘Billy Goats Gruff and Other Stuff’ that was featured at the National Puppeteers of America Festival in Tahlequah, Oklahoma,” Stephens said. “Along with the Billy Goats, I’ll also perform ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘The Three Little Pigs.’ The other show will be Brer Rabbit tales. The stories are not Joel Chandler Harris’ Brer Rabbit stories. They are stories that I wrote. The characters will be the same, Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox but the stories are all new.”

Stephens designs and builds all of his puppets. He does 12 different voices so the puppets have their own distinctive voices as well.

“Because parents usually bring their kids to the shows, I try to make the shows entertaining for parents, too,” he said. “I want the adults to have as much fun as the kids.”

Stephens also makes plush toys for kids.

He will bring some of the toys along for sale and also some of his glove puppets, just in case some of the kids are fascinated by the puppets and want to try their hands at the art of puppetry.

After graduating from Troy University in 1999, Stephens began coursework as a graduate student at the University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts program and learned to construct puppets and perform various puppet styles. He then tourned venues throughout Alabama, Florida and Georgia and became a regular performer of original works at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.

Stephens’ All Hands Productions in Atlanta is the base from which he tours all across the United States and in Canada.

White at Troy University, Stephens was a member of the university’s “Pied Pipers,” a touring children’s theater troupe, founded by Dr. David Dye. He will return to to find a very different unversity from the one he left behind.

“This will be my first time back and I’ve heard great things about the changes at Troy and I’m anxious to see them for myself,” Stephens said.