Lead character Billy of puppet show Billy the Liar is an individual that probably sounds familiar to most — an adventurer whose extent of lies is only exceeded by the resulting trouble. Toy Box Theatre’s Keith Shubert created the concept for the kid-friendly puppet show in 2011. With help from Madison J. Cripps (Cripps Puppets) and Tiny Wonder puppeteer Valerie Meiss, Shubert took his mischievous marionette on the road, amassing an increasing fanbase since.
“The show is an absurdist comedy adventure with a ridiculous plot and no moral message being hammered into you by the end — and that’s exactly what children love about it,” says Meiss. “They have no idea what is coming next, but they never question it. It’s a land of make-believe and uses a child logic to get through it. And that’s part of it’s charm.”
After premiering at the Orlando Puppetry Festival in November 2011, Billy and his sidekicks proceeded to impress audiences and theater critics alike. Well-received appearances at the New Orleans Fringe Festival, PuppetFest MidWest, the Puppeteers of America National Puppetry Festival (awards included Best Performance & Fan Favorite) and the Detroit Institute of the Arts sit alongside a citation of excellence from Union Internationale de la Marionette on Billy’s now lengthy resume.
A particularly heartening performance in Detroit saw attendees trekking through blizzard conditions and even “culminated in some of the audience members drawing pictures for the cast of their favorite characters,” according to Meiss, who calls the production thrilling for audience members of all ages.
“A goal of Shubert’s in writing is to entertain parents just as much as their kids — a feat that is often, though not always, missing in children’s entertainment,” she says. “Kids make up ridiculous stories with their own imaginative logic, and so did Keith Shubert.”
On the heels of garnering significant national attention, Shubert’s team was invited to showcase Billy and friends at the Puppets Up! International Puppet Festical in Ottowa, Canada this August. They may, however, have to defer to another invitation to a Boston festival due to the logistics of hauling production equipment via automobile.
Locally, Billy the Liar has been performed at the Magnetic Theatre and the Bebe Theatre on several occasions. The Asheville-based team is currently organizing a short Asheville run for the show later in 2015, but invites interested adults to taste test their Wham, Bam! Puppet Slam (not suitable for children) at the Mothlight on Friday, March 27, in the meantime.
Photos of the production courtesy of Shubert, Meiss and Cripps: