The Eagan Puppet Wagon, operated by the city Parks and Recreation Department, is celebrating its 10th season entertaining kids.
Conner Delmonico, 9, and Carrie Delmonico of Eagan, left; Olive, 2, and Oscar Hansen, 7, of Eagan; Madison Smith of Apple Valley, and Grace Delmonico, 6, of Eagan watched Katie Hasslinger read “Puppet Mail” at Trapp Farm Park in Eagan.
Stars and planets dangled above the stage of the Eagan Puppet Wagon and "Rocket Man" played over the speakers as parents spread out blankets on the grass at Trapp Farm Park.
Kids dashed to the mailbox labeled "Puppet Mail" to deliver letters to favorite puppets until Katie Hasslinger greeted the crowd and asked everyone to stand up.
"Now reach for the stars!" the bubbly puppeteer yelled.
Today's theme: "Puppets in Space." After the kids mimed buckling their seat beats and counted down to blast off, the show began.
Between skits about Alan and Alana Alien traveling to Mars and a young boy meeting an alien at the bus stop after missing his ride to Space Camp, the young spectators took breaks to jump over moon rocks and feel in boxes of "star dust" and "space slime." They finished up by adorning tiny planets -- spray-painted Styrofoam balls -- with aliens and stars.
"We try to get them moving as much as possible so they aren't baking in the sun," said Jessica Hasslinger.
The program is sponsored by the Eagan Parks and Recreation Department. But the two Hasslinger sisters, along with Sara Morse and Kaitlyn Flesher, are the creative forces behind its shows, which celebrate their 10th anniversary this year.
Each day of the week, the college-aged group travels to different parks to give free performances, and due to the number of loyal patrons who attend weekly, they try hard to keep things fresh and lively.
During last week's international program, each kid received a passport that was stamped or stickered after every skit. They also made maracas and did a "Tour of the World" to view pictures of monuments such as the pyramids or the Great Wall of China that were attached to the trees surrounding the puppet stage.
"It was really interactive," said Kerri Roesner of Eagan, attending with Joe, 4, and Leah Noreen, 1. "It was really educational too."
This summer also featured a culinary week, where the kids made their own trail mix by going from station to station for the different ingredients. Lined up for upcoming weeks are secret agent, pirate, cowboy and superhero themes.
The puppeteers work with scripts written for past shows and write their own too. "We like to do one that is written by one of us each week," Katie said.
They spend weekends prepping the crafts and picking out the music. "We love our underwater CD," she said. "Sometimes, we pump it in the van."
"It's a good summer job," said Morse. The sophomore at Winona State University started working for the puppet wagon in high school and has been doing it for four years. "It's relaxed," she said. "It's a lot of fun."
"I think it just kind of reminds me of what summer's all about," said Lisa Brandt of West St. Paul after watching the puppet wagon show in Mendota Heights. "Just kind of hanging out and enjoying outdoor weather and the slowed-down pace."
Her daughter, Erica, 5, twisted her planet around in the air and talked about how she plans to hang it from a string, while her friend Adelene Casler, 7, of St. Paul, revealed her favorite part of the show: "The fuzzy green alien."
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.