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Puppet Kaos - where Kelvin Kao plays with puppets and tell random stories

Jack Rabbit and the Beanstalk Review

Over the weekend I watched Jack Rabbit and the Beanstalk that’s a part of the Santa Monica Puppetry Festival that has just wrapped up. The puppet show took place at Miles Memorial Theater and is “a twist on the classic tale by puppet artist Doug Seymour for family audiences” according to the event website.

Parking: The parking was across the street from the actual theater beneath the AT&T building. When I got there and told the parking booth attendant that I was there for Miles Theater, she directed me to to level P3. I didn’t see many cars there, so I’m guessing that many people didn’t know about the free event parking there. I guess they didn’t check the playhouse website like I did. When I crossed the street to get to the theater, I realized that most of the street parking in the surrounding streets were taken, so I guess it was the right thing to park in the structure.

The Audience: I got there close to show time so most people were already seated. The show was for ages 3 and up, so the audience members were mostly parents with little kids. (I don’t know if they are actually 3 and up, because I didn’t see bouncers carding those who look like 2-year-olds.) I was probably one of the few adults in the audience that didn’t come with a kid or two. It was attended by about 80 to 100 people, but I’m not sure how accurate this count is, because one, I suck at estimating, and two, some kids were sitting on their parents’ laps or blocked by backrests, making it harder for me to see and count. The stage was pretty much empty. A guy went up, started welcoming the audience and talked about what other events are going on for the rest of the puppet festival, and after that, show started.

The Puppets: The curtains opened and revealed an owl in the tree. That’s our narrator. And then the princess came in and started talking to the king. And… why do I bother telling you the story? It’s based on the English (probably) fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, so you know what it involves, like the cow (yep, named Betsy, of course), the giant (Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!), and the magical beanstalk (though in this case, it talks and flies). The puppets are cute and there are a variety of them in terms of controls. Most of these puppets are marionettes, except for the narrator and the giant. The giant is a human-sized puppet that shares his legs with the puppeteer. And then the puppeteer used one hand to manipulate the head and the other for the right hand. Most of the time the giant was either eating or sleeping so one moving hand was pretty sufficient. I was wondering how they were going to do the giant falling down from the sky part. It was a pleasant surprise when they brought out a screen and started doing that part with shadow puppets. I liked the way it was handled.

My Favorite: My favorite puppet of the whole show, though, was the magical harp that played itself. It was a marionette. The puppeteer used wires to control it a few feet above it and it actually looked like it was playing. It looked very natural too. Instead of just having a bunch of strings moving around, it looked like invisible fingers were plucking the strings, and then the strings would snap back into place and oscillate back and forth. I couldn’t figure out how they did that but it looked awesome.

The Sound: This show used a pre-recorded soundtrack, which cut out the possibility for improvisation but also made the tech part easier and smoother. The voice acting and the sound effects were good too. The puppeteers could focus more on the puppeteering without worrying about who was saying the next line and where. So that’s good too.

The Kids: The reactions from the kids were typical. There were kids really captivated by what’s going on on stage and stayed focused on the story the whole time. There were kids that were too young to really pay attention or understand the story but they were just happily watching all the colors and movements on stage, while the parents whispered into their ears. And of course every now and then a kid would start crying and the parent would need to take him/her outside.

For Parents: Just like taking young kids out on a trip, sometimes it’s more for the parents than for the kids. Young kids might not even remember going to these shows or places, but it’s quality time the parents spending with the kids. Besides jokes that would be understood by kids, there were stuff that probably took someone older to understand. Nah, there were no sexual language or jokes, but there were references to elevators, the game show Family Feud, and an explanation of photosynthesis when the magical beanstalk was asked why he grew so tall so fast.

The Puppeteers: When the show was over, the six or seven puppeteers came out and took a bow. The event website only mentioned Doug Seymour. I recognized Bob Baker from an interview that I previously watched previously but I don’t know who the rest of them are.

It was a good show and I enjoyed it. I am not going to urge you to go see it though, simply because I don’t know when they will be doing it again. But yeah, I am gald that I went to check out the show. And of course, I also encourage everyone to check out some local puppet shows!

PS. Also, the theater was located inside Christine Emerson Reed Park. It looked pretty nice and I totally would’ve walked around some more if lunch wasn’t waiting for me. Hm, overall I just like Santa Monica a lot and that’s why I’ve also lived there before even though rent was generally higher there.

PSS. I had some problems charging my camera so I wasn’t able to take pictures. These pictures are of the original production from the event website. The puppets looked like the same ones used in the show I watched, except the giant. The giant looked bigger (giant-er?) in the one I watched.

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