The Piasa

                                                                                                 An original puppet play

                                                                                                  Marilyn Kinsella


Narrator Storyteller

Puppets (G) Groundhog, (S) Snake, (E) Eagle, (D) Deer, (L) Lion, (A) Alligator

SceneryA backdrop of a plain 4-legged animal with red eyes and beard, strips of acetate include – scales, teeth, tail, wings and talons, antlers



Today, I’d like to tell you about a pictograph – that’s a picture usually drawn on a rock. There is one in the city of Alton just as you leave town and go up the river road. It’s called “The Piasa Bird.” Why it’s called a bird, I have no idea. Because it doesn’t look like any bird that I’ve seen. Oh, it does have wings and talons (instead of feet or paws)… but no feathers – only scales (like a snake) so, how can it be a bird? Many people have written stories about how and why the Piasa got there.

When Lewis and Clark made their way up the Mississippi and onto the Missouri River, they feared that were going to run into fierce, unheard of monsters - animals that no man had even dreamed of before. Or maybe they would find wooly mammoths still roaming the land. Who knows? Maybe they heard some of those stories about the Piasa Bird. In most of those stories, the Piasa was a pretty scary winged creature. I thought about that Piasa and I came up with my own story. It’s not nearly as scary, but it sure was a lot of fun. Maybe when you see this puppet show, you will think of a way that picture got on the rocky bluff.

 In order for all to be a part of the show, I have a little verse I’d like for you to repeat every time there is a change in the picture you see. It goes like this: (this repetition is given to adults in the audience to help facilitate the participation)

 Now, say it with me…(repeat together)

See Saw Margery Daw

Watch me draw a Piasa

Is it a bird? A lion? Or a snake

What ever it is, it’ll make you shake

With red and black and yellow and green

It’ll be the scariest critter you’ve ever seen


Remember each time the picture changes it will be your turn to be a part of the show. 


(Go to back of puppet stage – the acetate pieces flipped to the back of the picture – Groundhog and Gator on stage)



Scene One:                                                

G. (adenoids-voice) Welcome to my new home. I dug a hole right here along the bluffs of the Mississippi – the ancient people used to call it “The Great River.” I think it’s beautiful and I want to live here forever. I hope I never have to be chased out my home again. Can you believe it? Every time I find a nice neighborhood to live in some scary animal comes along and tries to “have me over for dinner” if you know what I mean. It’s no wonder I’m afraid of my own shadow! The animals make fun of me. They sing “Sherman Groundhog where did he go” Sherman Groundhog…skeered of his shadow.” I don’t like it when the other animals make fun of me. So, to keep those pesky critters away, I drew this scary picture up on the rocky bluff below me. Pretty scary, huh? I’m quite a good artist. It took me weeks and weeks, but my little paint box and I did it. Those red beady eyes and that long shaggy beard will keep me safe. Uh-oh, here comes one of those critters now – Granny Gator!


A.(Grandmotherly, crackly voice) Good morning Sherman. What are you doing on top of the bluff of the Great River? Don’t you know, I come along this way to find some tasty morsels for breakfast?


G. Oh, G-G-Good morning Grannie Gator. As a matter of fact, I thought you might be coming this way. I’m surprised that this picture doesn’t scare you.


A.   Hmm. I never saw that picture before. Who painted it?


G. I did! Pretty scary, huh?


A.   Scary? You call that scary. Ho, ho, ho, that’s not scary. Why to be scary you need to give it some bite – like a nice set of -long,- sharp, -pointy teeth. Look at mine. (in a distorted voice as the gator opens her mouth) That’s it just come a little closer. (opens mouth wide – just as groundhog goes over, she snaps them shut and groundhog jumps away)


G. (shakily) Ye-ye-yeah. A great big toothy grin would be a nice touch. See you later…Grannie Gator. I’ll get my paint box and add some white teeth  (both exit)

Scene 2:    (flip over the teeth – lead the group in the verse – pick up Snake)


G. Grannie Gator was right, my picture looks right sharp with some new –fangled teeth. Red beady eyes, shaggy brown beard and now white, sharp teeth! Look here come another those hungry critters looking for a tasty snack – snake.

(snake slithers in)

G. (standing back to other side of stage) Hi, Snake. W-W-What are you doing up here?

S. Ah-la-la-la, Sherman. Where have you been? I haven’t ssseen you in agesss and agesss.


G. Oh, I made a new home right here. I’m pretty safe. I’m protected by this fierce-looking creature. I guess you have a hard time seeing it being so low to the ground. (snake looks up and laughs)

S. Hiss, hiss, hiss – You call thisss scary? Oh Sherman you have a lot to learn about scary. Why it looks like anyone could come along and squish it with his thumb!

 G. Why, what do you mean?

S. Well, look it’s body. It’s all sssoft and sssquishy. It needs some armor plates like my scales. Come here, Sherman and take a closssse look. (groundhog comes closer) No, come clossser and see the beautiful red and black, yellow and green scales. (as groundhog comes closer so does snake and groundhog backs away)

G.  G-G-Gee, snake I didn’t realize what a colorful character you are. Th-thanks for the tip. I’ll get my paintbox and add some red and black, yellow and green scales today. (Both back off stage)

Scene 3 (flip over the scales as the group repeats verse and pick up Moose)

G. Pretty cool, huh? Not only does my creature have red beady eyes, a long brown beard and sharp white teeth, but now it is protected by red and black; yellow and green, armored scales. Nothing can hurt my creation. Boy, the animals will be scared now. Look here comes moose. Moose is almost as afraid as I am. But, wait moose isn’t running away. Moose! Over here, it’s me Sherman. 

M. (deep lisping voice). Oh, Thherman. I haven’t theen you for a long time. What hole did you crawl out of?

G. I made a new hole in the wall right here at the top of this bluff. It’s my new home. Do you like it?

M. Ah, a home by the river. But I would never live out here. Too many hungry critterths!

G. That doesn’t bother me. Just look at this picture I drew. The animals will be so frightened when they see it, they will leave me alone.  

M. Yeth, I saw that when I came over here. It’th pretty good, but I’m think you are mithing something.

G. What’s that, Moose?

M. It’ths head is rather… unprotected. Now, take a look and see if you don’t see something missing.


G. (looks at picture and back at moose – back and forth) Ah, let me see. What could it be? (to audience – psst! Can you help me out here. What is deer talking about? What does this picture need? Wait for responses) Oh, yes, why didn’t I think of that – Antlers!                                     

M. Yeth, a nice rack of antlerth will get your point acroth…tho to thpeak.

G. And I think I have just the right mixture of gold and brown in my paint box to give them the crowning touch. Thanks, Mouse. (both exit)

Scene 4   (flip over the antlers and repeat verse and put on lion)

G. This creature gets better and better. Moose sure had the right idea. Nobody will push me around with those antlers. (growl noise) Oh dear, I don’t like the sound of that (growl). That could only mean one thing. It must be…(enter lion)

L. (with growly lisp-like cowardly lion) Lion! Or, Mithter Lion to you, my tathsty tidbit. And I’m hungry.  Just look at my bony figure!

G. Ye, ye, yes, I can see that. In fact it doesn’t look like you have eaten for a long time. You look so hungry that you p-probably didn’t even notice that f-fierce creature looking at you from this cliff.

L. What! Who Where… What creature are you talking about? (looks all about and then up to picture) Humph! Never thaw that before. Pretty thcary face all right and those thcales! I hate thcaly looking critterths, but wait. That critter doesn’t have any tail. There’th no thcary critter in this world that doesn’t have a long tail. Just look at my tail. It’s the longest and the strongest; it’s the hairiest and the scariest! (while Lion is talking groundhog slowly makes its way to the edge of the stage)

G. (to audience) He wants a tail? I’ll give him a tail all right. Now, where is my paint box and my black paint? (exits)

L. And another thing, Sherman(looks around and realizes Groundhog is gone) Which way did he go, which way did he go? (looks to audience) Anybody see where Sherman went? Where? This way? (opposite direction) This way? (exits same side that Groundhog left and off stage you hear lion - grrnuff, grrnuff, come back

Scene 5  (flip over the tail and repeat verse – pick up Eagle)

G. Whew! That was a close one. But even our critics can teach us something – Just look at my picture now. Eat your heart out, Michelangelo! (suddenly stops and looks all around) Uh-oh, what’s this? A shadow? I hate shadows and this one blocks out the sun. Ohhh...What is it? (Falls down into ball as Eagle “flies” down onto stage)

E. (English accent) Is that you, Sherman? Are you still afraid of  shadows? Come, come, my good man, show a stiff upper lip.

G. (looks timidly at Eagle) I-I’m afraid you are going to eat me.

E. Eat you? Now, what kind of nonsense is that? Me, eat you? No, no, no, you’re not my type, give me gas don’t you know. I was more interested in that creature down there on the rocks.

G. What! Doesn’t that scare you!

E. Oh, it looks pretty fierce, but it doesn’t stand a chance on those short, stubby legs. Why in a matter of seconds I could swoop down out of the sky and grab it with my talons. I’d have it back at my nest before you could even say, “Tallyho!”

G. Saaay, That gives me an idea - wings and talons?  Ha! Why didn’t think of it before. I have just enough paint left - some orange for those talons and black and white for wings. This will make take my picture to new heights. Thanks, Eagle! (both exit)

Scene 6   (flip over wings and talons and repeat verse)

(Narrator comes onto stage with groundhog puppet behind)

N. You are probably wondering what happened to the Groundhog. For Sherman was never seen there on top of that cliff ever again. Fortunately, I found Sherman and asked him to come with me and tell us the rest of the tale. You remember, Sherman is pretty scared of things – even you. Come on, Sherman. The boys and girls want to hear what happened.  (Groundhog slowly comes out) There now that’s better. I want you to tell everyone why you aren’t at your home by the river any longer. (Groundhog whispers into N. ear) Ah-hum. Yes,  Oh I see. (cradle groundhog in arms) Sherman is too shy to talk (whispers). It seems when he put the wings and talons on the creature, he got so scared when he looked at it, that he ran away. (whispers) Ho, ho – he says he’s back living in the soybean fields where it isn’t so scary!

I guess maybe that’s what happened when Lewis and Clark started on their historic trip…they heard all those scary stories! If you’d like to see the Piasa you can take a visit up the River Road…or do a google search on your computer. But for right now I have a picture of the Piasa Bird with me and here it is. (show picture and hold it up to Sherman’s picture) Looks pretty much like Sherman’s picture, don’t you think?


                                                  For the story of "The Piasa" click HERE