Moving Picture: Meet marionette master Dave Herzog
Puppeteer Dave Herzog and his colorful marionettes give families throughout the suburbs an opportunity to see a live-stage performance together for free.
Herzog, of Chicago, and his handmade marionettes, or string puppets, perform at more than 200 libraries, 300 schools and a variety of other venues throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Herzog says he does about 375 shows per year.
Rather than presenting stories, Herzog's puppets perform a variety show, where he stands in full view of the audience, dressed in black against a black backdrop. In a one-man show set to recorded music, the puppets sing, dance, skate, walk the tightrope and perform on the trapeze.
Herzog, who is 60, said his interest in marionettes started at an early age.
"When I was 4 years old, my dad bought me a little Mexican marionette to keep me quiet on a trip to Mexico while he was listening to a tour guide, and that became my favorite toy," Herzog said.
He added that when he was in second grade he was fortunate enough to see a very good marionette show, and the performers told him afterward that they made their living as puppeteers. It was at that point that he decided he wanted to be a puppeteer as well.
"I thought, 'I like marionettes, they're my favorite toy, that's what I want to be when I grow up,'" he said.
Herzog studied theater at college and learned about making and operating marionettes through independent study. When he was just starting out, he worked with different puppet companies and was mentored by other puppeteers.
He said he was greatly influenced by the work of Bil Baird, whose puppets appear in "The Lonely Goatherd" in the film "The Sound of Music." He met Baird once, at a puppet festival in Missouri in 1973.
"I thought the ground was going to open up and swallow me," Herzog said. "He was the king of puppeteers before Jim Henson."
Herzog makes his marionettes in the basement workshop of his home. They start as a drawing. The structure of the puppets is made of wood, and the heads are made of neoprene rubber.
The heads are hollow, so he can install mechanisms that allow the mouths and eyes to be animated.
"When we're working in a library, we're quite close to the audience, so they can see the facial animations on the marionettes," Herzog said.
He makes most of the costumes for the puppets as well. He made his first puppet 40 years ago and now has 200 puppets that perform in a rotation of seasonal programs.
One of the benefits of performing in a library is that it allows families to see professional, live entertainment for free because the library covers the cost of the performance, Herzog said. He also does private parties and bookings.
"In a library the families are coming together, to experience it as a family and build memories, and I think that's really important," he said.
To get in touch with Herzog, or to see a list of his upcoming shows, visit www.herzogmarionettes.com or find him on Facebook.