February 24, 2014

Photo Essay: Behind the Scenes at Bob Baker Marionette Theater

I find the puppet shows at Bob Baker Marionette Theater entrancing.

I usually go during the week, when a few chaperones bring troupes of young schoolchildren, who scream and crawl and bounce, alternately grab at the puppets and wince away from them, and outnumber the adults by a good proportion. I'm the creepy old lady without kids in the back.

Every now and then, they'll have an "adult-themed" evening where I can avoid kids, but then I'm the creepy old lady who wants to sit on the floor and act like a kid, giddy at the puppets sitting on my lap and stroking my hair.

This weekend I went to see Bob's "Fun With Strings" show for the second time this spring, incentivized with the chance to get a glimpse backstage and behind the scenes at the puppeteering, and the marionettes themselves.

Those things have taken on some kind of real existence to me, with each individual persona as distinct and lively as each of my stuffed animals while growing up in Syracuse with no friends, and only a sister - and a menagerie of dolls and bears and puppies and rabbits - to keep me company.

Sitting on the floor at eye level with the puppets, the show can be kind of a blur. All sorts of creatures sail through the air in a circular dance, guided by strings but taking on a life of their own. It's hard to catch a still moment with any of them.

They dance and skate...

...wiggle and shimmy...

...and sometimes even fly.

A little bit circus...

...and a little bit vaudeville...'s always a grand, musical show.

After the show, audiences get free ice cream, and the chance to buy a marionette of their own...

...and on this special day, we got to watch the puppeteers bring the marionettes to life, up close.

Not only did we get to look out from the "stage" area into the house...

...but we got to go behind the curtain... the small backstage where they store the puppets actively used in the current show.

A set list hangs as a reminder of the show's sequence.

The puppets are nested away, dangling from their strings, hung carefully from S-hooks to keep them straight and untangled.

It's a little bit creepy back there...

...but then again, this theater - like many in LA - is notoriously haunted.

The strings glisten in the dim working lights.

The lighting board, marked in fluorescent tape, is lit in black light.

Is it weird, as a grown woman, to want to meet the puppets? To prefer to hang out backstage with them than to reenter the real world?

To not be scared by the ghosts?

Bob Baker - the mastermind behind the marionette theater, the maker of all the puppets, and, you might say, the ultimate puppetmaster - turned 90 years old this year, and still oversees the theater's productions as much as possible, dictating they use the same old music they've used for the last 40 to 50 years. Every now and then, a new puppet is introduced, but there are thousands of puppets to choose from, making it easy to curate a new show or a new version of a show. (I hear a rendition of Arabian Nights has been in the works for 20 years...) But mostly, the same choreography has been handed down from puppeteer to puppeteer in a folk tradition.

Hopefully they can find enough young people interested in carrying on with puppets for a few more decades to come.

Maybe they're recruiting and would consider a weird old lady like me.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Halloween at the Marionette Theater
Photo Essay: Christmas With Puppets
Photo Essay: Puppets on a Spring
Photo Essay: Puppets on a Spring, Addendum: Equinox Edition

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