Friday, May 29, 2015

My Interview with a Bob Baker Marionette Theater Puppeteer

Alex Evans is a puppeteer with the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, a designated Los Angeles Historical-Cultural monument where the puppet shows attract families, couples on dates and various other creative, curious Angelenos.

Me:  Okay, I have to start off by saying that I remember my Kindergarten field trip to Bob Baker Marionette Theater in vivid detail, and that was in the early 80's.  A lot of my friends say the same type of thing about the place, yet I get the impression that, while the puppet shows provide special memories for a lot of my people, it's struggling financially.  Is that true?

AE:  Ha, that’s great you have such fond memories.  We get that all the time.  Grandparents who came as kids, who brought their kids and are now bringing their grandkids - all with similar vivid, fond memories.  There is a lot of financial struggle; it’s pretty complicated and has been going on for a while.  The bottom line is it’s hard to run theaters, period. We’ve struggled for a while and the fact that we are still going is testament to the quality and value of what we do.

Me:  Like, how?

AE:  Hmm, times have changed over the theater’s fifty year history and business fluctuates with school budgets, demand for puppet project, etc. and also creative people never make the best business people and Bob was the MOST creative person.

Me:  Ah, got it.

AE:  But we are hanging in there.

Me:  Maybe we need to do a Kickstarter page or something.

AE:  We've thought a lot about that and are having constant conversations about that we can do.  Presently, we are so tight belt as to just put on the daily shows it takes a lot to mount fundraising campaigns...and it really is very complicated and all of the people there are there for the love of it.  My philosophy is: we just did a show today and the audience loved it and are going home thinking about it, if we can do that and do that tomorrow then we are doing great. 

Me:  Is the theater run like a co-op?  Do the puppeteers come from all over the country/world to work there?  How does one become a puppeteer there, as far as --- does one have to apprentice for a long time? 

AE:  Kind of like a co-op; most of us just stumbled on the place, saw the show and got sucked in -- it’s not that formal in terms of hiring.  Some people we just throw in.  Some people start spotlight and move up.

Me:  How did you find out about the place?  How long have you been a puppeteer?

AE:  I went to school for film and photography in upstate New York.  They have semester internship programs in LA where you are supposed to work on film sets or in a production office, but I was looking into animatronics and special FX.  I googled “Los Angeles Puppets” and Bob Baker’s came up -- I went down to see the show and was blown away and convinced them to let me volunteer, and I did for a semester, fell more in love with it.  Then when I moved back to L.A., I started working there full time or whatever that is there.

Me:  Are the scripts very old, like did Bob himself write them?

AE:  All of the shows are down way before I was born.  Bob and a small team put them together -- now it kinda exists like oral traditions; the puppeteers who have done the shows before show the newer puppeteers how they go.

Me:  Neat.  That's what I was hoping.  Oral tradition is such a cool way of passing down histories.

AE:  Yeah, it’s beautiful.  It’s like working at Disney without any of the corporate doodling around.

Me:  Do you know any of the histories of the people who made the sets, scripts or puppets?  They were a team that worked with Bob, right?  Was this in .... the 60's?  I'm fuzzy on the time frame.  Anyway, are there stories about any of the original creators, etc?

AE:  The theater opened in 1961 -- I am constantly hearing variations of that date, I guess I should know it since I work there but I kinda of like the mystery and myth of it.  Bob had been doing puppet since he was a little kid, since the 30's.  He had a biz partner, Alton Wood, who used to be a classically trained pianist.  A lovely guy called John Leland did all the sets and helped with the writing, as did King Hall and Roy Ramond.  Motron Hack, who worked on the original Planet of the Apes, did a lot of the concept sketches. Ursula Hiene who is still with us does the costumes.

Me:  Are there any plans to write any new scripts?

AE:  There are a lot of plans of revive old shows that haven't been seen for decades, and there are unfinished Bob shows.  We are working on that.

Me:  I may never be lucky enough to get invited to a birthday party held at the theater ... could you describe it to me a bit? 

AE:  Well, we decorate the party room, fill the theaters with balloons, get a special cake from Hansen’s Cakes.  Before the show we call them on stage and Happy the Bday Dog gives them their own puppet and crown.  After the show they can take photos with the puppets.

The theater puppets on regular shows, weekdays @10:30 am and weekends @2:30pm

For Showtimes and Schedule:

(213) 250- 9995

And don’t forget to like them on Facebook:

 I took these photos at the show “Something to Crow About”

No comments:

Post a Comment