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COVID-19 Won't Be Shutting Down The Bob Baker Marionette Theater This Christmas -- They Just Hit Their $365,000 Goal

The Bob Baker Marionette Mobile. (Courtesy Bob Baker Marionette Theater)
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The Bob Baker Marionette Theater has faced multiple threats to its existence. It seemed to be making a comeback after transitioning to nonprofit status and opening a new location in late 2019, taking over the historic York Theatre in Highland Park -- but then the COVID-19 pandemic shut the home to family string puppet shows for the rest of the year.

But after a plea to the public for funds, the theater has a Christmas surprise: it hit its $365,000 goal. The fundraising success was reached through a combination of small donors and, at the last minute, a $100,000 check in the mail.

"We just hit our 2021 fundraising goal," Bob Baker development director Winona Bechtle told LAist. "Fully half of it was from this influx of smaller donations from fans, from longtime friends of the theater, people who grew up coming to puppet shows."

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Inside the Peek-a-Boo stroll-thru tour at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. (Courtesy Bob Baker Marionette Theater)

That means the theater's rent for 2021 is covered, Bechtle said, so they don't have to worry about their building -- or their existence. They'll still be raising money for programming, restoring and preserving their puppets, and supporting their staff, which also isn't covered by their previous fundraising goal.

"I'm not alone in being someone who works at the theater who grew up coming as a kid," Bechtle said. "One of the reasons why [the theater's] so special is it's one of the very few true multi-generational experiences that you can have. ... You'll have a grandfather, a daughter, and a granddaughter who are all sitting watching the same thing that they enjoyed when they were kids."

While the theater's been closed for regular programming during the pandemic, they've still been holding Zoom puppet shows, running their education program, and operating the Bob Baker Marionette Mobile, performing shows out of the back of a truck.

"In some ways, we're sort of used to just having to pivot on the fly," Bechtle said.

Sorry kids -- no visiting the Santa marionette this year because of COVID-19. (Courtesy Bob Baker Marionette Theater)

The theater had also started to follow an appointment-only viewing model that some art galleries have used during the pandemic. They'd upgraded their HVAC system to keep the air inside as clean and safe as possible, as well as taking other COVID safety measures.

Their Peek-a-Boo stroll-thru exhibition lets you rent out the theater for your party, with an audio tour guiding you through and letting you see various puppets and displays. The puppets were decorated for the holidays -- but the stricter stay-at-home orders that went into effect earlier this month as COVID-19 spread rose meant that they had to shut down those tours.

So you'll have to wait until next year to stroll through a puppet winter wonderland. But now there's a lot better chance the theater will still be there for the 2021 holidays.

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