July 03, 2024

Photo Essay: Celebrating a Diamond Jubilee Year Backstage at Bob Baker Marionette Theater

The renowned Bob Baker Marionette Theater is celebrating its 60th anniversary...

...and upon this momentous occasion, it's currently putting together its first brand-new show in 40 years, Choo Choo Revue.

So, as it just opened up its latest production of Enchanted Toyshop, it also opened its doors for free tours of the theatre itself—thanks to a grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Of course, the public areas of the Theater have lots to look at, from the Puppet Parlor to the Gift Shop... 

...but our tour guide (the illustrious Kahlil Nelson) took us backstage to the puppet workshop...

...including some sewing machines with some foreboding warnings in German... well as needles and thread for hand repairs. 

For a long time—including when I first discovered this particular troupe—the staff didn't have the skills to fully restore well-worn puppets that had been around for decades. They repaired them just enough to keep them usable, but they couldn't rebuild puppets whose condition had declined too far. 

That's all changed, thanks to the right amount of networking with experts in the field and attracting new volunteers who want to learn the art of puppetry from a fabrication standpoint. 
The talent devoting their time to the non-profit theater has gotten so good, it's finally in a position to launch a brand-new show from scratch—which means starting from the drawing board to design, build, and test all new puppets (like the "Whistler Cloud" from Choo Choo Revue, above). One theory is that it'll take 10 years of using a puppet before they know whether or not it really works.

Although founder Bob Baker himself became known for a certain style and look of his marionettes (which you can also see in the work of Baker's collaborator, René Zendejas, of René and His Artists)...

...the puppet workshop actually features a variety of marionette and puppet heads and body parts in various styles. 

And there's quite a number of different species and personalities among the puppets that hang from their strings backstage in between shows—like the button-eyed ragdoll that stars in the current production, Enchanted Toyshop, and had a cameo in the film Escape to Witch Mountain
The main attraction for me in taking the tour was the chance to go upstairs in the theatre...

...past layers of foam, boxes of fur, and bolts of felt...

...and the small company office...

...into the audio archive room, considered "the heart of BBMT" because of how so many of the puppet performances were built around the inspiration drawn from a single song.

Same goes for Choo Choo Revue, for which the troupe is mining music from its collection of cassette tapes, 8-tracks...

...and 5000+ records, whose genres range from classical to country, comedy, cartoon, and more.
Another room houses a library of paper archives—including books, concept drawings/sketches, old flyers, and more. There are also two walls of faces which, well, you just have to see in person to really experience.

Kahlil's tour also included a sneak preview of the neon that will soon be installed in the former York Theatre's marquee, with the letters BBMT standing out for all on York Avenue in Highland Park to see. 

I was going to skip Enchanted Toyshop because of my necessary tightening of pursestrings. But now that I've taken the tour—and now that I know that the current production will include a sneak preview of some puppets to be featured in the future Choo Choo Revue—I think I can't bear to miss out on it. 

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this Marvelous Post! (Pure Delight!) . . . I learned a lot. 💙