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Puppet Makers, Magic Makers

Amid sawdust, foam and the pungent smell of lacquer, workers at the design studio in the Bob Baker Marionette Theater make magic.

“We make puppets for our own shows, and we also create and custom design puppets and marionettes for movies and television,” said Tina Gainsboro, the theater’s manager.

The alien who welcomed earthlings at the end of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” for example, came from the workshop, she said.

Recently, dozens of Pinocchios--some of their body parts cast in “a special, secret ingredient"-- were wending their way toward completion.

“They’re especially made for Disney and will be sold through Disneyland and Disney World,” Gainsboro said.

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Nearby, a pride of electronically controlled lions, whose heads and tails move, were being readied for the theater’s own circus production.

Meanwhile, puppeteer Holly Ratafia meticulously placed marionette strings on a Victorian gentleman who plays the triangle and sings Christmas Carols in the theater’s “street band.”

The theater, at 1345 W. First St., normally produces six performances a week, but that number is doubled during the Christmas season.

Children most attracted to the puppet shows are between 2 and 12 years old, Gainsboro said. When they become teen-agers, “they’re kind of weird,” she added. “But when they get into their 20s, they come back again.”


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