One of the longest running on-site puppetry theaters in the country has been located at 4143 Laclede for the past thirty-five years. Bob Kramer's Marionnettes has been working its magic for so many years that people who attended performances when they were young are now bringing their own children to the theater.
Though it has been more than twenty-five years since I attended Bob Kramer's Marionnettes with my children, I was able to tag along when my nephew Shaun Donegan, an oncologist in North Carolina, his wife Melissa and their children were visiting his parents last week. I have to say, while it was a great experience when my children were young, Kramer's Marionnette Theater is even better now.
The entry to the theater is covered with photographs of Bob Kramer and his partner Dug Feltch with their puppets and celebrities such as Carol Channing. Bob got his start in show business 45 years ago on the Charlotte Peter's Show that aired on KSD and KTVI from 1947 to 1969.
The building on Laclede houses both the puppet-building workshop and the theater. Over the years Bob and Dug have designed more than 1000 hand-crafted marionnettes and puppets. A portion of each two-hour performance is devoted to the history of puppetry from the earliest masks to hand, shadow and rod puppets, and finally to marionnettes.
While tickets were being purchased, the children were allowed to play with the marionnettes in the gift store. That's Reagan Donegan, age 3, cozying up to the flamingo.
Her brother Preston, age 17 months, was not quite so sure what to make of it all.
Dug Feltch, above, is the emcee for the puppet demonstration before the performance. When I learned that the performance was two hours long, I imagined a lot of squirmy children---and adults---but Dug is an entertaining host who kept the children enthralled and the adults laughing.
As Dug showed masks from Africa one little boy piped up, "this is getting 'kwepier.'" That's when Dug said he had the best job in the world. Yes, it was all corny humor that went over the heads of the children, but it was fun to laugh at the silly double entendres.
Most of Summer Follies 2012 takes place at the circus with a tightrope walker, above, cowboy jugglers, and the Ziegfield girls. Another act showcased marine marionnettes and puppets performing under the sea. Watch the video showing marionnettes in action here, as found on the website.
At the end of the performance Bob Kramer, top right, and the rest of the crew brought the marionnettes out for a final song, a bow, and then an opportunity for the children to pose for pictures with the performers.
The last photo shows my nephew's oldest child, Abby, age 9, with one of the glamorous showgirls in the Summer Follies. It was fascinating to see the marionnettes up close after we had learned so much about what goes into making them. It takes about 1500 hours to create one character, from initial drawing to molding, carving, and costume design.
Bob Kramer's Marionnette Theater, 4143 Laclede, Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Sun.: 2:15 p.m., tickets are $10 for children ages 1-12, children under a year are free, Adults are $12, reservations are necessary: (314) 531-3313. "Summer Follies 2012" runs until September 2. Check the website for future performances. Bob Kramer will take the marionnettes and puppets on the road for performances for all occasions and age groups.