Visiting the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre

Whenever I’m in Highland Park I feel like I’m really in Los Angeles. Sure, LA wears many hats from the glamor of Hollywood to the swank of Beverly Hills. There’s the Miracle Mile for the sophisticated tourist and the foodie haven downtown. But, Highland Park has always drawn me in like no other neighborhood of the city. I love the close-knit community vibes and families of hipsters. The Bob Baker Marionette Theatre fits perfectly in the heart of Highland Park.

Who Was Bob Baker?

I was born and raised in nearby Pasadena. It almost seems like a crime I’d never experienced the magic of the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre until this past month. This gem of a company has been in operation since 1963. Baker was a fellow LA native and saw his first puppet show in 1930.

By the age of just eight, he had been mentored by numerous LA-based puppetry companies and gave his inaugural professional performance to the one and only Mervyn Leroy. Leroy was a pioneer in Hollywood, starting in the silent film era. He went on to direct and/or produce dozens of notable films including the Wizard of Oz.

Bob made toy marionettes while in high school which led to becoming a head animator at Puppetoons. They were a leading studio that produced stop-motion puppet films in the 1930s and 40s. All this and Bob was barely 20 years old.

The horses are trotting in at the Circus! (c) Mary Farah
The puppeteers working their magic. (c) Mary Farah

Birth of the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre

Following World War 2, Baker returned right back to his puppetry passion. In 1963, he and his partner, Alton Wood, found a run-down scenic shop in downtown LA. Thus, the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, the country’s longest-running puppet theatre, was born.

In 2009, the theatre was named an official Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. 10 years later, it moved to its current location in Highland Park. The new space on York Boulevard was once a silent film theatre in the 1920s and renders Baker’s original vision.

The inviting theatre feels chock full of history. I kept thinking if only the walls could talk. Once inside it reminded me of the commonly found 99-seat venues throughout LA.

Enjoying the Circus

Currently playing is one of the theatre’s most historic shows, the Circus. Its beginnings trace back to 1948 and capture all the joy and magic of a Bob Baker show. It features over 100 beloved marionettes. I had never seen a marionette performance, let alone Mabel. The puppets were colorful and stunning. Given that most of them are decades old, they’re preserved to perfection. I felt like I was back in time and several moments brought to mind a classic Disney film like Mary Poppins.

While I was in awe of the marionettes, the true performers are the puppeteers. I’m sure Baker himself would be so proud to see the level of professionalism and love that continues in his name. It’s no easy task to master the art of puppetry and the performers made it look like a piece of cake.

I was not entirely sure what to expect from the Circus but it’s an hour-long, light-hearted musical. The songs are catchy and sure to have the kids singing along for days. The best part? Each performance ends with ice cream served to all in the lobby. Even better? A dairy-free option is available.

A day for all to celebrate Bob Baker. Photo: Courtesy of the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre

Visit the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre

The Circus will wrap up on March 26th but there’s always an exciting roster of events happening. Kate Micucci will host her own show on April 3rd and !Fiesta! A love letter to Latin America begins April 1st.

The official Bob Baker Day at LA State Historic Park will be held on April 30th. This is a free event and a fantastic way to introduce the family to the beauty of Bob Baker. No kids to take? I bet it’ll be a terrific date day or even a solo adventure.

Thank you so much to the theatre for having me. Learn more and plan a visit HERE.