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Puppets, like those at Bob Baker Marionette Theater, need money too

November 20, 2008 |  1:31 pm

Bob Baker Marionette Theater MOCA isn't the only prominent L.A. arts organization facing a financial crisis. The Bob Baker Marionette Theater urgently needs at least $30,000 to catch up on its mortgage. Located on a forlorn corner between the skyscrapers of downtown L.A. and the gentrifying neighborhood of Echo Park, the theater has been staging whimsical puppet shows under the careful hand of owner and master puppeteer Bob Baker for 49 years.

The difficult situation was thrown into a tailspin last week when a well-meaning friend of the theater sent out a dire warning that if Baker didn't come up with the money by Dec. 3, the theater would shut down.

"That's not true!" Baker firmly says. "We're not closing, we're not selling the building and we're not in foreclosure. We do need $30,000. But if we don’t get it by Dec. 3, the theater will NOT be sold."

Baker said on Monday he paid off some of his debt and is negotiating a payment schedule with his creditors that would allow him to keep the theater open. But the tanking economy has exacerbated the theater's financial woes.

"We had a new mortgage made up about a year ago. It was to get rid of a very bad mortgage, and it was a little higher than I anticipated. We anticipated the theater doing more business, but then the school budgets were cut. Our regular business also started to fall off because now people were dealing with the housing and financial crises," Baker says.

Baker, a devout believer in the value of arts education for children, sells tickets to schools and educational groups for half the normal admission price, the main source of the theater's income. He also gives away thousands of dollars of tickets every year to charity organizations that use them as prizes in fundraisers.

"In the meantime our expenses went on, and we got behind on our mortgage payments. Everything seemed to boomerang around that time, bills and personnel here at the theater. We had no reserves because we had been operating on a lower-scale price for [school tours]. There just wasn’t that extra amount of money from regular ticket sales," he says.

There is a glimmer of hope. Money has started trickling in. On Saturday, the theater launched "Bob Baker's The Nutcracker," which will run through the holidays, traditionally the theater's busiest season. Baker encourages fans of the theater to show their support by attending a performance. "The building is not for sale. The things that we’re selling are tickets."

Despite the difficulties he faces, Baker remains unwavering in his determination to keep his puppets dancing. "We will never go under," Baker says. "Never! Even if the bank took the building and put us out on the corner!"

-- Elina Shatkin

File photo of the dancing fairies in "Bob Baker Marionette's The Nutcracker." Credit: Greg Paul Williams