One toddler, in a diaper and denim skirt, bobbed along to the song “Weird Science,” then plopped down on her butt and gasped as the puppets appeared from behind a curtain in the retrofitted trailer.
“Are those real puppets?” another little girl asked her mom.
The Eagan Puppet Wagon, operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, is now in its 13th year. It visits 10 sites — mostly parks in Eagan and Mendota Heights — each week, doing shows at 10 and 11:15 a.m. Monday through Friday — with a third show every other Monday evening at the Wescott Library in Eagan.
Attendance increases every year, said Holly Champlin, recreation supervisor. The first two weeks of this year saw a total of 1,081 audience members. Last year, there were 722 in the first two weeks, with more than 4,000 over the whole 2014 season.
Each performance has three short puppet shows and three activities. Each week has a theme; last week it was science.
In the first show, it’s hot outside, really hot. Puppets Chester, Pat and Kimmie want to have a boat race but must first build boats. Kimmie makes hers out of “precious gems,” while Chester makes his out of cheese. Pat makes his boat out of wood.
“Mine might not win but it sure will be tasty,” Chester says.
Alas, both Kimmie’s and Chester’s boats sink. Pat offers them a ride in his boat.
“It’s not about how pretty or delicious it is, it’s how sturdy it is,” Pat tells his friends.
Everybody has a wonderful time. The end.
Then the young audience gathers around the wagon for an experiment called “Sink or Float.” Staffers Marissa Vogt, Peyton Banick and Lauren Wangler bring out a clear plastic tub filled with water.
Will a screwdriver sink or float? The kids chime in with their answers. What about a paper clip, a piece of wood, a marker?
Afterward, there are two more shows and two more activities. One involved putting a Mentos mint into a bottle of Diet Coke; in the other the kids pressed miniature dinosaurs and other figurines into clay to make “fossils.”
Thirty minutes from start to finish, then the Puppet Wagon packs up and moves on.
Hannah Mosley-Waltz, almost 4, has been coming to see the Eagan Puppet Wagon at Quarry Park since she was a baby. Her brother, 2½-month-old Langston, was at his second show.
“I try to come every week in the summer,” said the kids’ mom, Sara Mosley-Waltz.
“We missed it last week,” Hannah piped in.
Hannah practices and has puppet shows at home now, her mother said.
Denny Severson of Eagan, brings his granddaughter, Neva, almost 5, to the Puppet Wagon at Blackhawk Park whenever he babysits her.
“Now we’re going to go to McDonald’s,” he said as Neva worked on fossils. “Or I’ll have to make some mac and cheese with hot dogs.”
The puppetmasters — Vogt, Banick and Wangler — work four- to five-hour days, five days a week.
What’s their favorite part?
“I love seeing the kids smile and laugh and stuff,” Vogt said.
“It’s fun to jump into their shoes. They’re super energetic,” Banick said. “Plus we’re not stuck inside all day.”
Wangler said she loves “being active with the kids.”
The Eagan Puppet Wagon runs June 8 through Aug. 14 and is also available to rent if the event doesn’t interfere with its regular schedule.
For a complete schedule, go to tinyurl.com/okux5uh