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For over a decade, the “puppet bike” has been a beloved fixture downtown and at festivals across Chicago. Meet the artists who are continuing the tradition, pedaling a pop-up stage across the city to spread joy. They tell their story, in their own words.

Michael King, Puppeteer

I met the puppet bike people at the Museum of Contemporary Art, they were outside it. I was flabbergasted.

I tried it myself. I didn’t have any puppeteering experience or anything, but I really just enjoyed doing it. And I started doing it part time every week, and it just kind of steamrolled from there.

That was 10, 12 years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since. There were a bunch of us doing it at that time, but in the last decade or so, it’s pretty much been me.

Artist Wendy Beyer applies paint to the latest iteration of the “mobile puppet theater,” which is towed by cargo bike across Chicago.

Wendy Beyer, artist and Mobile Puppet Theater owner

The creator of the original puppet bike is a gentleman by the name of Jason Trusty. About two years ago, Jason and Michael had a parting of ways and there was no puppet theater in Chicago for a while.

I think when there was that space of time where it wasn’t happening, the city missed it. We’re wanting to honor his vision by keeping it going in the city. But it’s really beautiful the way children of all ages in Chicago, as soon as they see it, they say “puppet bike!”

When I see the rig, even the one that we’ve built, it just lights up my inner child.

Keeping a mobile puppet theater alive in Chicago is extremely important for the city. Joy is important. For people to feel joy, especially when they’re not expecting it, I think it gives people hope.

You know, it’s a beautiful legacy and one that we’re really honored to continue.

Artist Michael King (his face covered to protect his anonymity) stands outside the mobile puppet theater in Chicago.

Michael King

It is very much like playing an instrument for me. You know it’s kind of a dance party. I like to call it like an inter-species dance party cuz you know the Bear is dancing with the Owl is dancing with the Shark.

You know, 99 percent of time it’s like a serendipitous thing. You’re walking down the street with your child and all of a sudden there is a mobile puppet theater, and it just blows kids away. Kids of all ages, as they say.

My mother, she passed away a few years ago, would think it was absolutely adorable and enchanting, and I think that’s one of the reasons I I find so much joy in it.

I have literally seen people from every walk of life, probably every culture, every  country over the years. I have done parties, I’ve done – I can’t tell you how many wedding proposals.

A child waves to the mobile puppet theater in downtown Chicago

You know, it could be one person sitting here just enjoying the show, or I’ve had 50 people at a street party dancing and clapping.

I think, especially as we turn to our devices, our connected, you know, screens, maybe there’s something to be said for a little bit … of an actual physical you show.

We get all kinds of notes all the time from people with illnesses, or they’re going through a rough time, for 30 seconds you’re not thinking about any of that, and you’re kinda lifted.

And isn’t that what cities are for? They’re not just, you know, buildings or transportation. There’s public art and engagement, and joy and music. Dancing.

A puppet peeks out of the mobile puppet theater in Chicago

Note: these interviews were edited for content