Friday, December 19, 2008

dancing jelly beans and chinese dragons

When I was driving downtown for the Toni Morrison event last month, I passed Bob Baker's Marionette Theater, a building I had never noticed before under an overpass along Glendale Boulevard. It reminded me how often LA can surprise like that, popping up a Marionette Theater where you least expect it. As often happens, suddenly Bob Baker's Marionette Theater was everywhere. The LA Times featured an article on the financial problems Baker is facing about a week later.

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a place that is both magical and earth-bound. Operating from the corner of 1st Street and Glendale Boulevard just west of downtown Los Angeles for 49 years, it is a vestige of childhoods lived, where vegetables dance to old vaudeville tunes and musical instruments dance and jump across a black box theater festooned with crystal chandeliers...But it's also been struggling for years, trying to eke out an existence on $15-a-head admission, amid the fickle nature of children's passions. Last week, reports began circulating that the theater was in trouble. A manager sent out an e-mail saying that Baker had been the victim of "an elaborate mortgage fraud operation bent on stealing his theater and home" and asked fans of the theater help pay nearly $30,000 in past due mortgage payments on the two buildings. If the funds weren't raised, the manager said, the buildings would be sold "and Bob and his thousands of puppets will be homeless."

About a week after that, the New York Times followed suit, suggesting a bailout for the puppet show.

There are many ways to measure California’s tanking economy: an 8.2 percent unemployment rate; a multibillion-dollar state budget gap; threatened endowments of the city’s museums, causing some cultural institutions to nearly default on mortgages; and the continued weakening of the Hollywood studio system. But the meltdown of the marionettes may say it all.

In this Nutcracker season of sugarplum dreams, maybe Santa will find some cash in his sack for the Marionette Theater.