HURON — The Puppet Place has been entertaining people of all ages with Christian story telling through puppets, magic, illusions and music for nearly five decades at the South Dakota State Fair.
This year marks 48 years for puppeteers Pastor Andrew Utecht, his son Isaac and brother Peter.
Andrew’s dad began entertaining crowds in 1972 with the vision of teaching the public about Jesus in a unique way.
“My dad started doing the shows back in 1972,” said Utecht. “We are Christian Pastors so we wanted to share Jesus in a fun way and the State Fair provides a good opportunity to do that with a different kind of art medium. So we do puppets, magic and some juggling.”
The family-run show has caught the attention of many fair goers over the years and continues to pull in new and old onlookers for different stories each year as the show goes on.
“A lot of people come year after year to watch and we have been doing it so long that those kids now bring their kids. It’s quite a few different generations that will come,” noted Utecht. “Every year we do a different show, this year the puppet show is about the “Three men in the fiery furnace,” while the magic show has an anti-racist theme this year.”
Pastor Andrew Utecht is from Rosebud, while Peter Utecht, who helps with the show is from Redfield. Isaac the Illusionist, twelve-year-old son of the Pastor runs the magic show and has been practicing the art for two years.
A fusion of different art forms are utilized by the group to create a unique experience for attendees. Not only do the group write and perform the shows together, the puppets and marionettes are also made entirely by hand.
“Every puppet that we have has been handmade, all the hands and heads are carved,” explained Peter.
“A single puppet takes maybe 12 hours, it’s an old art, especially marionette puppets, people don’t make puppets very often,” added Utecht.
“We also write our own shows, it’s one thing to put on a show it’s another thing to start from scratch with a blank piece of paper,” Peter said.
The show is hosted by the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) which Utecht explains began with his dad taking notice in their booth at the fair.
“How it got started is they had a little booth here and my dad thought, “well we could help them,” and instead of just having a booth passing on information we could do it in an entertaining way,” he shared.
Pastor Utecht and his son travel from their home in Rosebud to the fair each year as well as other various shows across the state.
“We do not travel to other fairs, this is the only fair we come to, but we do shows at different church events especially during our summer Bible schools,” Utecht explained.
The show runs each day of the fair five times a day at the Puppet Place located on Midway Avenue. Show times are 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
“The puppet show is well worth your time,” noted Peter. “It’s a classic story that every kid in Sunday school learns.”
One viewer, Haley Morse travels from East Grand Falls, Minn., each year to the fair and has been attending the puppet show each morning for approximately 17 years.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said said. “I try to come every year and see the puppet show.”
A service will also be held at the Puppet Place at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. All shows are free to the public.
When asked what the best part of the puppet show is each year Pastor Utecht smiled, “the fun of people coming to watch. I like to give people joy in our Lord Jesus.”