Hands-In Performance


Ed plays guitar, Fred sings. Toulouse performs feats of balance. Elmer juggles--reluctantly. A drawing comes to obstreperous life. And making it all happen with gentle charm and magic tricks is puppeteer, puppet builder and puppet enthusiast Steven Meltzer. His solo show, "Puppetolio," is at the Santa Monica Puppet and Magic Center in the Third Street Promenade.

The modest center, with its brown-latticed patio entrance in the Promenade alley, its tiny lobby and magic store and its comfortable small theater decorated with puppet and music memorabilia, is just right for Meltzer's cozy, informal variety show.

He begins by cranking up an ancient Victrola to demonstrate how music was played in the "olden days," a puppet-unrelated moment that sets a nostalgic, light mood and reveals Meltzer's affection for the past.

Then, after a bit too much maneuvering behind a black curtain (an assistant could help here), Meltzer's puppet pal Fred opens the show by singing the theme song.

Meltzer then engages the temperamental Fred in ventriloquist banter, a giggly crowd-pleaser, judging by the response to the mild insults and malapropisms at a recent performance.

One comic highlight, featuring lively repartee, involves a "drawing," a face on paper that comes to life and threatens to take over the show. In another popular bit, Meltzer's magic rope tricks are part of a tall tale about a magician's hat, jump ropes and a giant.

After a silly sing-along comes a guided tour of the small workshop-museum, with Meltzer, whose interest in puppet history and puppeteers is infectious, relating interesting bits of puppet lore.

The show isn't polished; smoother transitions between puppet bits are needed, as is some assistance with setups and sound operation, but it's nonetheless a beguiling way to spend some enjoyable family time.

* "Puppetolio," Santa Monica Puppet and Magic Center, 1253 B Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. Saturdays and Sundays, 1 and 3 p.m., indefinitely. Ages 3 and up. $6. Also, workshop tour and short performance, Mondays-Fridays, 4 p.m., $3. (310) 656-0483.

In Balance: With performances, workshops and seminars, Kidspace Museum presents "Balancing Acts," a monthlong event at the One Colorado retail center in Old Pasadena, exploring the art and science of balance.

On Saturday, at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., noted juggler-performer Nathan Stein will juggle all kinds of things as he walks on stilts, a giant ball and a tightrope in "Feet Off the Ground"; from 1 to 4 p.m., check out a "Beams of Balance" workshop.

In "The Pointe of It All," June 20 at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., Pasadena Dance Theater gives children a closer look at the poise, strength and balance that ballet requires; a "Stable Stabiles" workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. lets children create Calder-style animal "stabiles" (as opposed to "mobiles").

The series concludes on June 27, with a series of balance-related performances at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. and a "Wing Things" workshop from 1 to 4 p.m.

Note to adults: The event also includes Tuesday evening seminars at 6:30 aimed at parents and child caregivers. They include "The 'Art' of Raising Children," with Denise Nelson Nash, director of public events at Caltech (Tuesday); and "Nourish and Flourish," with nutritionist Cindy Figueroa from Huntington Hospital (June 23).

* "Balancing Acts," One Colorado, between Fair Oaks and Union, De Lacey and Colorado, Pasadena, Saturday-June 27. Free. (626) 564-1066.

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