Danny and I went to see the Bob Baker Marionette Theater today. It is a bit of a local legend here in L.A. and I had heard about it frequently way back in the 90's when I was a puppeteer, but never managed to see it until today. This was the last week of their extremely strange rendition of The Nutcracker. Normally I wouldn't have chosen this show, but a local group called Atlas Obscura made arrangements to let us go backstage after the show. I'm glad I did it and I'm signing up with Atlas Obscura for more unique and unusual outings in the future.
Check out all the pictures from the show and backstage here!
The theater and the show were many things to me: nostalgia (for my puppet roots, my early time in theater, and my childhood), sadness (it is clinging to the brink of financial collapse), and joy (because it is still pretty damn cool). The entire thing is a strange, time-traveling snapshot of 1962, when the theater opened. The music is playing from a record (or at least a recording of a record, complete with pops and scratches). The lighting equipment is the same gear I haven't seen since I was 10 years old working in community theater (ACTUAL coffee can lights!). The puppets are the same sort of exaggerated, vibrant, and sometimes borderline racist style that I came to know from the Kroffts and every cartoon repeat of my youth. Each act was a single song with one puppet or set of puppets for the entire length and usually featured a single gag payoff near the end. A ball-walking puppet, one with magically extending neck, or a dog with perky ears. I was surprised both to see that this style of show is still marketed to children after 50 years (instead of directly at nostalgic adults) and that it actually still works on kids. The jaded, modern adult in me really didn't plan to be charmed, but after the initial shock of how anachronistic it feels (watching young puppeteers performing very old acts), I actually enjoyed it immensely.
And MAN does it make me want to perform again. I used to think that I might one day retire doing something like this (but with a lot more in-theater special effects, of course). I don't really have that dream anymore. This made me think about it again though, and it also made me realize how financially disastrous it could be. This theater is sinking in debt and is about to have its facility pulled out from under it. If the doors are locked up, they will lose 80 years of handmade puppets (3000 total) and just as much tradition. It makes me want to try and find more ways to integrate puppetry into the projects I work on in the future. It's a dying tradition here in the U.S. and I think it still has amazing potential. Danny and I bought a handmade puppet on the way out. We wanted to help out financially and take a piece of this art with us, no matter how small it is.
Go see it. Go see it soon. It's weird. It's really old. But it's still really cool.