Local puppeteers plan homecoming production following international recognition

The team behind Billy the Liar enjoys some down time at Detroit's famed Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum. The nationally touring puppet show was recently invited to participate in its first international festival in Canada. Photo courtesy of Valerie Meiss

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:


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Local puppeteers plan homecoming production following international recognition

  1. Oh, this is lovely!
    One small correction though, We are performing in Ottawa in August, and are negotiating Boston in June! Our show can travel to Canada, but can’t overseas (too big to fly).
    This is great! Thank you so much!

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.