Festival of Gnomes sticks with what works
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media November 21, 2012 10:28AM
The 36th annual Festival of the Gnomes is Dec. 1 in Joliet. This is a scene from 2011's rehearsal. | File photo
‘Festival of Gnomes’
♦ Dec. 1
♦ The Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park, 201 W. Jefferson St., Joliet
♦ Tickets, $5
♦ (815) 724-3760
Updated: November 21, 2012 10:28AM
The first time the Festival of Gnomes was presented in Joliet more than three and a half decades ago, a woman got up and left mid-show, so offended was she by the troll called the Snotgurgle.
Billie Limacher, who plays Grandma Gnome, received an angry phone call at home after the show from the woman admonishing her for allowing such a gross character at a children’s show.
“The next morning, she called me back and said that her grandchildren couldn’t stop raving about the Snotgurgle, and they couldn’t wait to go see the Snotgurgle again next year, so she said she owed me an apology,” Limacher said.
The 36th Festival of the Gnomes will be at 1 and 3:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park’s indoor theater in Joliet.
The 90-minute live show is a longstanding tradition in Joliet. It is a series of acts that tells different stories about the “wee folk’s” good works, said Limacher.
“It’s about being good to man and beast, from the very smallest of us,” she said. “We hand out packages of bird seed we put together with Christmas paper. We tell the kids to put it out for the birds.”
Directing the show are Jan Novotny, her daughter Lori Carmine — who started out as a gnome herself; and Roger McReynolds, who also started out as a gnome. They are in charge of 40 gnomes onstage.
“It is really colorful and it is really active,” Limacher said.
The script and the music haven’t changed much over the years. Joliet attorney Tom Cowgill still plays the piano, as he has done every year but one. Tom McCabe still plays the Snotgurgle, and still wears the same costume from 36 years ago.
“Each show is different. Although it’s the same every year, it’s still live theater and always a little different,” she said.
Not all gnomes get a speaking role; many communicate simply through pantomime.
“It’s a series of short pantomimes. That’s why it appeals to kids,” Limacher said. “There’s action. The gnomes spend a lot of time in the audience. There’s singing and there’s dancing.”
And of course, there’s the pointed hat — green felt for the girls and red felt for the boys.
“When you come back the next year, we sew a tassel on your hat,” she said. “The 10th year, you get a brown tassel with a dried moonbeam and a dehydrated star. For 20 years, you get a gold tassel. For 30 — and we had three last year — you get a pearl tassel.”
After the show, the kids are invited onstage to draw their favorite gnome.
“And it’s nearly always the Snotgurgle,” she said. “The Snotgurgle is the most repulsive. He has a can of stuff that he holds up to his nose and blows, and the snot goes all over. It’s awful. But at the end he cries and becomes very docile. So there’s a moral to the story there.”