Enchanting is the only word that can truly describe Annie Zook and her Denver Puppet Theater compound on West 38th Avenue of the Highlands neighborhood of Denver. Zook and her husband Dave have split the time over the last two decades of their lives traveling down two-lane highways sightseeing and working hard to build and adapt their property in the remainder. They’ve nurtured it into being their own unique, personal creation and tourist attraction, bit by bit.
The puppet theater sits connected with the family ice cream shop (Zook’s Coffee Shop) as well as two other family owned businesses. The location offers a charming courtyard where visitors can relax amongst the plants and flowers filling the quaint grounds. The sounds and ambiance being created from the lush foliage and sizable water fountain in the center of the courtyard offer a lyrical atmosphere for visitors to sit and stay. Little tables and chairs add to the whimsical décor items scattered throughout the premises.
The inside of Zook’s theater is lined with kid-sized puppet theaters and nooks for children to crawl in to explore their imaginations. A historic and massive collection of puppets, some dating over 100 years old, lines the walls throughout.
The visit to Zook’s compound invokes nostalgic memories of being a little kid. A time where imagination could transport you into the “Neighborhood of Make Believe,” through Mr. Roger’s puppetry struck me, and then the curtain drew. There is a peaceful, creative and peculiar beauty that exists in the entire makeup of what is the Denver Puppet Theater.
Perhaps it’s the cottage feel it has. The Puppet Theater brings excitement and anticipation of what’s to possibly come from this inviting and magical environment. It’s a little like what Hansel and Gretel must have felt when they found that wonderful cottage made of candy.
There is definitely a spark of magic at Denver Puppet Theater. From the eccentric and bold mix of primary colors that grab you from the outside, to the sweets and treats found in their edibles and visual stimuli everywhere. The entire premises feels like a recess from reality in the rest of the busy city. Zook recounts the process of its magic and transformation,
“We bought this compound 18 years ago as a complete wreck and have remodeled it over the years. First we created the puppet theater and our living quarters over the theater, next we helped our son create a space for his recording studio, then we added a hair salon for our almost daughter in law and then they remodeled the garage into their living digs. Finally, we made the coffee shop which has been open about 1 1/2 years. So, we are a little family farm in the city operation.”
Endearing little snippets exist everywhere. Knickknacks and obvious treasures from their travels, as well as a sweet old dog laying in the middle of the door way of the ice cream shop seems picture perfect in its quirky but happy décor. Even more peculiar was trying to step over the family dog, as it didn’t seem to notice every time a visitor came through the door.
Zook’s years of experience as a mother and artist shine as she happily addresses the gigantic room filled with children and their guardians. Playful and endearing she is, cracking jokes from behind the stage as she pulls on the puppet strings, bringing her doll friends to life. Laughter and children shouting out the answers to her interactive improvisation offer a lighthearted and stoic trip back into times when puppet shows were a delightful every day thing.
The characters in her current show “Tales of Brer Rabbit” add old southern charm in their tones and manners but unexpected dialogue like “dude” or “cool” add an appealing and engaging aspect that keeps her entire audience engaged. “Tales of Brer Rabbit” will be playing through August 25 when the summer season wraps up. The Denver Puppet Theater then closes until September 20 where it will reopen with “Little Red Riding Hood.”