"My brother and I were always kind of strange children growing up," says Justin Snyder, who collected puppets with his brother Shayne. The brothers also studied music early in school and developed a love for orchestral music.
"When I heard about the puppet opera I thought it was a brilliant concept combining the two art forms," said Justin who formed a connection with Opera in Focus founder Bill Fosser. Fosser designed 16-inch puppets uniquely operated by rods, gears and pulleys. In 1993 the opera found a permanent home in the basement of the Rolling Meadows Park District administration building. Accompanied by recordings of opera productions, it's the only permanently housed rod puppet opera in the world.
"My brother and I hit it off right away with all the old puppeteers that were here at the time," Justin said. "It was kind of surprising because of the age difference. But I think puppeteers are always young at heart."
Bill Fosser was a legend in the puppet world by the time Justin met him, and over the years taught him the art of rod puppetry. "Bill was like our grandfather," he said. Fosser died in 2006 and now the Snyder brothers maintain the opera along with two other puppeteers Barry Southerland and Leilani Narciso.
Sitting on a tiny chair beneath the stage, Justin says it was a lot of work to learn all the mechanisms and movements for the puppets, but now they come naturally.
"The actual feeling of performing onstage is almost like a weird out-of-body experience," he said. "You kind of turn off yourself and become that role for a period of time, be it a person or an animal that you are portraying. It is an awesome feeling."
• Opera in Focus is located at the Rolling Meadows Park District Theater, 3000 Central Road, Rolling Meadows. Performances are at 4 p.m. Wednesdays and 1 p.m. Saturdays. Reservations are required, call (847) 818-3220, ext. 186. For information on this season's repertoire, visit operainfocus.com.