Bob Baker Marionette Theater
A white, windowless building armed with barbed wire is nestled between dusty parked cars and overgrown weeds under the 1st Street overpass. At first glance, it looks like a low-key strip joint, but peer further and let it be no surprise that the bold sign stating ‘Bob Baker Marionette Theater’ is not a double entendre. What goes on inside is a whimsical world of charming innocence.
The late Bob Baker spent his life handcrafting intricate puppets, wired with strings, to sashay across a stage and charm their way into the hearts of children and adults. Since 1962, the theater had dedicated its existence to showcasing over 3,000 marionettes in 7 rotating shows varying from “It’s a Musical World” to “Halloween Spooktacular.” For many, vivid flashbacks of sticky childhood moments stun their memory as they walk into the shoebox theatre. Its entire being remains unchanged fifty years later - the props, the puppets, the performances, everything that Bob had created stayed the same.
Don’t call it a puppet show. Hands aren’t flailing around in tube socks and brown paper bags, what’s seen here are a thousand little quirks patched together for a full hour of pure, spellbinding joy. A puppeteer holds a marionette slumped lifeless on strings. It’s handled like dragging a drunk friend into a cab, the dead stare spooks all. The lights turn and a record is set. Crackling retro sounds fill the veins of the puppet master and he begins to nimbly flick the strings with precision. Rhythmic, fluid movements awaken the character and the wonky doll lashes unintentionally wink towards all. In that moment, patrons are transported into a world of whim — children ooh and ahh, adults forget their age. It’s these unexpected delightful elements that make up the fascination and Alex Evans, head puppeteer, has been swooning since 2007.
“When you come down here it’s charming. Kids are smiling, it couldn’t be a more rewarding job, there’s so much history here, and it’s so tactile,” he says. He, like many of the other theater employees, stumbled upon Bob Baker’s Marionettes by random fate. It’s an odds and ends job that turned into a passion to preserve Bob’s legacy. “I have such reverence for anything Bob did, I definitely want to expand and help it grow, but it’s a tall order.” says Alex. For now, with child or not, get a taste of the legacy at this month’s Halloween Spooktacular. You’ll forget what it means to pay bills.
Janica de Guzman