There’s a long history of actors and variety performers who have had their first taste of theater with a basement childhood puppet stage. But actor Robert Brock of Lancaster PA was determined to make good on his childhood dream of building a marionette theater for the public and living in an apartment upstairs. Now in a new documentary, director Alexander Monelli brings to life the joys and woes of Robert’s single-minded adult pursuit of his childhood dream in Monelli’s new film Marionette Land.
Click on the triangle or mp3 link above to hear the interview with Alexander Monelli, as broadcast yesterday on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica stations across the nation.
A post on the Genii Forum by expert children’s magician and puppeteer Quentin Reynolds led me to start viewing dozens of Punch and Judy videos.
While the scripts differ in their particulars and added topical jokes, there are some basic puppets and plotlines: Punch, always with his distinctive voice and his slapstick; Judy, his wife, and their baby; a crocodile; a policeman; often a monkey or clown. Today’s offerings are much tamer than those you can see in black and white videos of the 1950s, but they all depend on gross physical humor to get the children viewing it shouting, clapping , and cheering.
When I was a youngster, I stared at the window of my local toy store, wishing that I could own a Jerry Mahoney vent dummy like the one they had on display. Jerry Mahoney, of course, along with Knucklehead Smiff, was the creation of ventriloquist Paul Winchell. (Trivia question: Paul Winchell had some much greater contributions to society than his dummies. What were they?) I remember lying down on the floor of the television room with a number of encyclopedia volumes on my stomach, breathing slowly in and out. The book I had just taken out from the local library, How to Be A Ventriloquist, told me that that was the way to build my diaphragm muscles.
I never got any good at it, but I still love a good ventriloquist. The clip above showcases not just a good ventriloquist, but a great one, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. And she’s only 12 years old. She was a finalist on America’s Got Talent this year, Darci Lynne.