As an accomplished actress, costume designer, set builder and director, StoneLion Puppet Theatre CEO and professional puppeteer Heather Loewenstein always knew she loved the arts. Twenty years and many puppets later, Loewenstein still pursues her passion every day with these unique characters. This month, she’s bringing Illuminated Waters, a free two-day art festival, to Theis Park May 25–26. Read on to learn more about Loewenstein’s history and artistic vision.
Kansas City Spaces: What made you realize puppetry was your place in the theater industry?
Heather Loewenstein: I came from a theater background where I was a performer and a costume designer, and then puppets came into my world. I was working on Nunsense at Dinner Playhouse Theatre and a puppet broke. I fixed it and thought “Oh, that’s kind of interesting.” I started exploring that a bit and I thought, “Wow!” It made sense for me. The writing, designing, building, performing, singing, acting; it all comes together when you’re doing puppetry.
KCS: How did StoneLion come out of that?
HL: The art of puppetry was really intriguing to me. At that time, in order to actually create your own thing, you did it on your own. I built my first puppet show and then we figured out where we could sell it. StoneLion’s first really big contract was with the Kansas City Zoo in 1994, where we developed a marionette show called Eco World Tour that played two shows a day, every day throughout the summer about the endangered species around the world. That’s where the environmental slant comes in. Not all of our productions are environmental, but a lot of them are. Crazy as it seems, I was actually a chemical engineer major in college. If you take science and put it into theater, you’ll understand a lot of the messages in StoneLion.
KCS: What has been your mission as a puppeteer?
HL: I think it’s really important for each of us to give back to the community. Environmental issues are a huge problem in our world right now. It also goes along with being a social creature. If we’re taking care of our planet and our society, it is going to make our world a much healthier place. A lot of the artwork, shows, and community festivals are all about creating responsible citizens and creating people that are doers who will give back. They’re shaping the world with their heads, and all of our shows speak to that whether or not they’re matching the curriculum as an environmental show.
KCS: What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
HL: What I really enjoy, besides all these incredible people and doing really interesting work, is the ability, or the challenge of always being outside of your box. You never get comfortable, you never know what’s going to come up next, and I think that keeps everyone young and challenges the art. It’s crazy—I was walking through Chernobyl two weeks ago. How many people can say that?
KCS: What’s your mindset when going into a performance and how do you bring your characters to life?
HL: It’s about character. In my opinion, that’s what a good actor needs, the ability to build and commit to a character. The same acting principles that you see on the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival stage, or at the Rep, or on Broadway, are the same things you have to bring to a puppet show if it’s going to work. Otherwise, you’re moving a prop from stage left to stage right. Most of my performance troop are actors who don’t come from a puppetry background.
KCS: How would you describe your new festival, Illuminated Waters?
HL: In Illuminated Waters, the event is in three parts. From 6 to 8:30 p.m., we’re having an Earth Day Festival. It’s a free community art festival where you can make art and other artists will perform. It’s a great big party. At 8:30, we’re presenting a performance to the audience. The puppets will be on land and on boats in the water, and they actually come in and out of the water; some of them will glow. The show is its own story. Afterward, in the park, we’re going to have a giant Glow Party with glow-in-the-dark face painting, music and a crystal cave with black lights in it. It really is a community art performance.