Meet the Puppeteer

In celebration of 60 years of Fairytale Town, we’re bringing you stories and profiles from throughout our history.

Art Grueneberger’s face may not be familiar to Fairytale Town families, but his voice may be. Art has been one of the puppeteers behind the shows in the Children’s Theater for the last 23 years. Since 1996, Art’s company, Puppet Art Theater Co., has been making children—and their parents—
giggle with his puppet shows that present classic tales with a wacky spin. In addition to producing and performing puppet shows for children, he has directed productions for adults that have been seen staged in New York City and San Francisco. In 2007, Art directed an acclaimed production of Man of La Mancha featuring life-sized puppets at UC Davis.

What sparked your interest in puppetry?

My first puppets were children’s toys that I received when I was five years old—a Cookie Monster and Ernie and Bert moving mouth puppets. I loved the puppet characters on Sesame Street and playing with those kid-sized puppets provided hours and hours of enjoyment. Just as I was growing out of Sesame Street, The Muppet Show began airing. The corny writing of Jerry Juhl, combined with some of the best television puppeteers, were right up my ten-year-old sense of humor. I performed countless puppet shows for my mom from behind the couch with my increasing collection of hand puppets.

Fast-forward to my last year of college when I decided to take a Puppetry Class thinking that it would be an easy “A”. Little did I know that the class would change the trajectory of my life. The class was taught by master puppeteer Richard Bay, an incredible puppet builder, performer, and director. Richard recognized my passion for performing and cast me in a show called A Thousand Cranes, a large-scale theater production. Performing a serious and beautiful piece of theater with puppets showed me the possibilities of puppetry beyond the silliness of The Muppets. I was hooked! Richard eventually hired me as a performer for his company, and my first professional performance of a puppet show for kids was at the Nut Tree in Vacaville the summer of 1993.

When did you start performing puppet shows at Fairytale Town? Tell us about your experience.

I went on to direct several productions for Richard Bay’s company and continued to write and tour in educational shows for Richard. After performing one of those shows at Fairytale Town, the director of the park, Annie Desalernos, asked me about building a show for the Safe and Super Halloween event in 1996. I took the challenge! My first children’s production was Frankenswine, which is loosely based on Frankenstein, only with pigs. The show was greatly influenced by the wackiness of The Muppets and the classic bits I learned while working with Richard. That was the beginning of my company, Puppet Art Theater Co. After the success of Frankenswine, I was asked to build a series of four shows for Fairytale Town’s 1997 Summer season. And we haven’t missed a year at Fairytale Town since!

What is your favorite Fairytale Town Memory?

I was premiering Tommy’s Space Adventure at Fairytale Town (probably 1997 or 1998), and in a moment when all of the special effects in the show were in play, a five-year-old boy stood up on the bench and exclaimed, “What a show!” I was filled with joy because that was exactly the response I was wanting.

See a Puppet Show at Fairytale Town!

Puppet shows are offered May through August. Check out the show schedule!