Tag Archives: this i believe

The Magical and Endangered Species of Puppetry – Saving Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater

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(photo by stephanie ellison)

“You still reach them with imagination; you still reach them with love,” Baker said. “It was through imagination with many a young person that we got airplanes, telephones, motion pictures, you name it — it came through imagination first.” – Bob Baker

A vibrant imagination needs a good work out too, and soon there might be one less place in Los Angeles to exercise it.

The bad economy and new technologies have endangered a special nook in Downtown Los Angeles. Hidden away near an overpass sits a white block building, Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater, with a 50 year history of producing magic out of wood and strings.

Bob Baker started his marionette theater in 1953. Now registered as a historical landmark by the city of Los Angeles, it’s the longest running puppet theater in the US. Over the past decade, with the passing of business partner, Alton Wood, the digital advancements in movie effects, and the lack of public school funds for group field trips, the puppets are in serious trouble of abandonment.

Bob Baker, now close to 90 years old, is selling the theater, but not without putting up a fight to save both his theater and puppetry school.

According to the LA Times:

The total listing price for the five lots located on the corner of Glendale and First streets is listed at $2.05 million on Loopnet. This includes two vacant lots, the theater, storage and the corner parking lot.

Baker said he hopes that someone purchases the land with a lease-back option. Since the listing has been posted, Baker said they’ve already received calls from a few interested buyers. Baker’s also open to taking on an associate partner, or any other arrangements that could keep the theater in business, he said.

While you might not be able to afford purchasing a 2 million dollar theater, you can still make a charitable donation to keep Bob Baker’s Marionettes alive, at “Network for Good”.

Marionettes are completely fascinating – inanimate cartoons brought to life by faceless puppeteers, perhaps this is also the reason puppets can be irksome and down-right creepy, but in a fantastic, Roald Dahl kind of way. From a 300 year old Punch and Judy show, to Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, or a more recent portrayal in Being John Malkovitch,  Marionettes give us a mythic and rich perspective on the world we’ve crafted and been crafted by, both the good and the bad. It’s a microcosm for all the world is and can be.

And it all happens to be housed in a time-capsule theater, hidden near an overpass, in Downtown Los Angeles, made with wood, and moved by strings. And while adults can appreciate Bob Baker’s Marionettes, only children can unlock its secrets through their own budding imagination.

Create a lifetime memory for a child, and workout your imagination by seeing the show this weekend and supporting Bob Baker’s Marionette Theater.

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Party your way to good health this weekend

With the weekend just hours away, it’s time to let loose! Not like you need it, but here’s additional incentive to party tonight – dancing, alcohol, and flirting all fall under the umbrella of healthy living…within moderation, of course.  Howcast and GE’s Healthy Imagination project joined forces in this video with healthy ways to live it up this weekend. I’ll be seeing you on the dance floor…

Too cool to Dance

KISS might have been the final blow that killed dancing as a socially acceptable thing to do. Noting the temporary outcroppings of dances surrounding music videos and movies, we still never fully recovered from the backlash against disco. And only a few years later were computers born, keeping us complacently docile and more susceptible to head bobbing as a form of musical appreciation.

It’s a shame we don’t dance in America. We tend to view it as a spectator sport.

Breaking it down into two categories, we have the art of dance and social dance. Over an extended period of time, I’d argue, social dance has all but disappeared, while perceiving dance as an art form, reserved for those with skill, has grown…mainly through reality show competitions. And no doubt it is an admirable and beautiful thing to behold, but socially, as a nation we don’t embrace dance as something we all can do. Blame it on KISS, blame it on technological evolution; blame it on the Puritans; blame it on a lack of rhythm; whatever the reason, we generally scoff and say, “Yeah, right. No. Way.”

From an evolutionary perspective, dance let us show off to potential mates. Like peacocks strutting their feathers, it displayed physical capabilities and breeding skills, the remnants of which can still be unearthed in dance clubs today, however, online dating is taking the opportunities and fun away. The most colorful peacocks today have 1000+ friends and a killer Facebook profile.

From a social perspective, dance is a way to celebrate, congregate, and enjoy community. Almost every culture in the world has a social dance that is crucial to their heritage. In plenty of places, dancing is still an important way of getting together and letting loose in everyday life. Brazil has it down, as does India. There is no dancing like in a Bollywood film, and it only mirrors the societal importance of dance in celebration for men and women, young and old.

Finally, from the physical perspective, dance is a way to stay healthy and in shape, getting the heart pumping, and the brain lapping up all those feel-good neurotransmitters. Dance helps balance intrinsic muscles and joints, and our mental capacities in ways we now use somatics, pilates, and yoga, to try and do. Researchers at Washington University have even found evidence of dance helping to control movements in patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

So we get it. Dance is good. It all makes sense, but we still can’t help but cringe at the thought of jumping up moving around. Generally, the places one feels safest dancing are – the hidden underground belly of a dance club (with the aid of alcohol or recreational drugs), at a wedding, (with the aid of alcohol or recreational drugs), at home with the XBox game, or regulated to a sterile gym fitness class.

Unfortunately, our motives are deeply ingrained, and “cold dancing” is a tall order. The larger the group of people dancing, the easier you’ll find it to be….that’s why it’s social.  Try releasing a hangup or two, grab a bunch of friends, and in the immortal words of Swing Out Sister “Break Out”.  It could become infectious. And if it’s not, who cares, you and your friends will feel great. Maybe we need office Spotify dance breaks, where every few hours a song comes on, encouraging movement within the entire office, from receptionist to CEO. I like that picture. You’d be surprised what camaraderie will ensue when dancing next to your boss or the IT personnel. Until then, I dare you to try and bust a move this week.

Next post we’ll look at a dance troupe breaking down the barriers between, social and artistic dance. Until then, I leave you with Bollywood:


Taking off

Rethinking our general purpose

As you may have noticed, there are less postings these days. Seems we are being distracted by life, and calling it a hiatus, until summer.

Apart from a rigorous teaching schedule at the start of 2011, the Mind Body Moderate is making a rather extended move to Los Angeles.

While making peace with our own statement that change is something we can always rely on, this doesn’t mean it’s easy.

It would be nice have an ideal sense of place in the world, but for some of us, it remains aloof. Which is better? : To live in St.Louis – home of gooey butter cake and 2 for 1 slabs of pasta, but with fresh air and an overall easy pace for living? Or to be in Los Angeles – land of gyms and healthy fare, but mired in pollution and traffic?

The best guess is somewhere in the middle. And it’s a middle that’s personally parted. So watch out LA. We’ll see your healthy food and raise you some toasted (meaning deep fried) ravioli and that classic Midwestern kindness (masking deeper cynicism). Until then.

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.
– Mark Twain’s Autobiography

2011: Embracing Stupidity

Albert couldn't tell his right from his left

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.
– Mark Twain, Notebook, 1887

I overthink most things.  I brood; over plans, ideas and life in general. The dreamiest place i know is inside my head, and it can become so cluttered with thoughts I’m crippled by inaction. It’s kind of like living The Secret Life of Walter J. Mitty. Or, wait! Even better, like this line from the TS Eliot poem:

Do I dare disturb the Universe?/ In a minute there is time. /For revisions and decisions / which a minute will reverse.

Starting projects is not a problem, but completing them is, not because I don’t want to, but because my brain won’t let me. Yes, I’m placing the blame on my over-thinking brain.

How often do we wistfully say, “if only things were simpler.” My longing lately goes more like this, “If only I could be stupid”…by this I mean, less thinking, more action. It sounds wrong, but hear me out. As per usual, it’s all about a healthy balance.

There is a fine line between genius and stupidity; between the mad scientist and then just a really brilliant one. Getting ahead in life according to social mores and making gobs of money doesn’t necessarily make you a genius. Being scattered and unable to move forward in the ways that are deemed culturally correct doesn’t make you unintelligent. Defining what is dumb and smart, and how society accepts both has been contemplated time and again.

The first time I encountered this conceptual debate was in junior high while reading  Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The story goes: A lab janitor yearns to be smarter. He attains it through a radical scientific experiment. The smarter he becomes, the more he ostracizes everything he’s loved. Slowly, the experiment fails and he slips back into a state of mental slowness and his life is better for it…kind of…no. not really. It’s a sad story, expressing the highs are too high, the lows are too low, and best to stick with what you got.

More recently I fortuitously found a more inspiring documentary by Benita Raphan called, Great Genius and Profound stupidity.

Raphan interviews various people, like Oliver Sacks, and tells the stories of others, like Hellen Keller, who throughout history were once considered dumb, and later, professed to be the great geniuses of humanity.

Advertisers too are diving into the sociological game of what makes you genius. Is it stupidity? Maybe it’s your jeans. At least Diesel thinks so. Based on my earlier self-musings, I tend to agree with them…on stupidity, not jeans…just in a less flashy advertisement kind of way.  Here is their latest ad campaign manifesto, “Be Stupid”.

We now know there are different types of intelligence. For several decades, Dr. Howard Gardner has researched how different brains have different, distinct “smarts”.  Even intelligence is relative. I’d like to think we are all endowed in one category or another.

Whatever your intelligence/s might be, they are hard to tap into without a little focused action. It’s easy to read this,  get inspired for 30 seconds and move on. It’s easy to live in our heads or on a screen, and as our senses become overwhelmed by the multi-media encompassing life, it becomes harder to “do”.  So, I lift my coffee mug in a toast and a call to action: Here’s to a little more doing and a little less thinking in 2011. Here’s to balance. Here’s to embracing both the uniqueness of our genius and the wonder of our stupidity. Cheers.

You can do it!


My brother Scott is inspiration for the notion: if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

I had always been a “gifted” student, able to walk through classes and get A’s in my sleep, which later in life proved to be a challenge for my work ethic. My brother Scott was not particularly gifted in athletics or in education, but he worked hard and believed in himself. Eventually Scott made varsity basketball, received stellar grades, was senior class president and homecoming king. My other siblings and I  joke Scott is the “Golden Child” who can do no wrong. In truth, Scott has always fought to accomplish his goals. There is no luck involved.

This past weekend he qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Motivation and determination are big factors in realizing your dreams. The funny thing is, we often assume if we don’t have it figured out in our 20 and 30s, it will never happen. There is nothing further from the truth. The biggest component of the population is aging, and living longer. Older adults, like Olga Kotelko, recently featured in the New York Times, have only taken up new ambitions and athletics in their retirement and are soaring to new heights.

We are all capable of much more than we might believe. Whether you are 20, 40, or 80, the choices are still your own, and with determination you, can do it!

Feeling Good

I consider myself moderately attractive. Some parts are better than others. I’ve been known to get a compliment or two on my backside,  in a lesser Kim Kardashian way, much to my dismay, because it is one of my least favorite attributes. I much prefer my eyebrows, which rarely get the credit they deserve.

The Womanly Ideal in 1910s according to Encyclopedia of Physical Culture

There is no perfect ideal that crosses all cultural boundaries and personal opinions, not even Angelina Jolie. In the African countryside of Mauritania, Jolie would be considered ugly. Large women are the ideal that the Mauritanian society finds appealing. Skinny is considered poor and weak. Young girls are often forced-fed to grow fat, mirroring Western culture’s less direct food deprivation through eating disorders and quick weight loss diets. Big or small, it’s all in the name of beauty.

Mauritania Woman

We are shaped, pun intended, not only by what we eat and do, but by our thoughts and actions. I’d bet you can think of at least one well-toned person who is unattractive based on their attitudes or deeds.

Comparing ourselves to the world around us can make us feel pretty low. I like to think we are works in progress, never quite finished, each with unique variations. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The scale and the mirror are shallow friends when it comes to support. In most cases, your body and mind themselves are your best friends. Who gets up with you every morning to start the day?

If you are about to undertake an ambitious health overhaul or wanting to improve yourself, keep in mind…it’s relative. Go slow. How you feel is most important. Sure, it’s a canned self-help answer, but it was canned well. If you feel good, keep going. If not, stop. Rethink the approach.

Celebrating the perfect, imperfect you is liberating, whatever your size, attributes, best and worst features. There’s no one else quite like you…that’s a pretty cool thought. Take care of what you have and stay moderately healthy.

Ending this post with the song of the same name. A little inspiration for your day from Nina Simone. Ms. Simone herself a strong woman, perfect in her imperfections.