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The Roots of The Bob Baker Marionette Theater’s Design Aesthetic

Artistic Inspiration

Early Designs of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater
When the Bob Baker Marionette Theater first opened in Los Angeles in 1963 then-production designer, Morton Haack (who would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for his costume designs on 1968’s Planet of the Apes), translated the spirit and visual language of Bob Baker’s puppets into spatial design concept via a series of renderings of the theater. In 2019, when it came time to re-open in a new home, the quest to merge this heritage, with that of the York Theater, an effort to preserve history, became a labor of love for Bob Baker’s Director of Development and Community Engagement, Winona Bechtle, and its Design Director, Braden Graeber.

Bob Baker Marionette Theater

Photo Credit: Stephenie Pashkowsky

Translating Bob Baker History
Graeber was tasked with imagining what a new, living, Bob Baker Marionette Theater experience might look like. “When we identified [the York Theater] as the new theater space we knew we wanted to dip into the well of Morton Haack’s original concept renderings.”

Graeber drew inspiration from hundreds of those original drawings in Haack’s library. He used those as a starting point, supplementing with new ideas and new needs. The outer lobby area was meant to evoke the nostalgic ideal of entering an early 20th century silent movie theater, “a nod to The York Theater’s original purpose,” says Graeber. Haack’s ideas are once again found within the paint color scheme of that outer lobby. The blue, white, and gold color scheme of of were inspired by his designs for a touring show entrance for Bob Baker’s production of “Get Happy.”

The Most Important Design Element
One of the most important areas to get right, notes Graeber, was the entry way into the theater space because it sets the tone for the visitor’s experience with the production. “One of the details from the old theater we knew we wanted to preserve were the beautifully rendered trompe l'oeil red curtain murals,” he says. They were originally created by Bob Baker’s 1980s-era production designer and scenic painter, John Leland. Trompe l’oeil, Graeber explains, is French for “deceive the eye.” And deceive the eye the curtains did for over 30 years in the shadowy production lights of at the theater’s original location.

red curtains

Photo credit: Winona Bechtle

Thanks to the help of a 400 person volunteer pool, a hardworking staff, and Dunn-Edwards color matching, the curtains are now deceiving the eye in their new home at the York Theater, as well. In fact, one of the theater’s volunteers and artists went so far as to cut the original drywall with the red curtain off the wall from their previous location. He walked it into the local Dunn-Edwards in order to utilize our paint matching system to get the colors just right; a signature color the marionette theater refers to as ‘Bob Baker Red.’ Greaber himself is in awe of the lengths that the Theater’s volunteers go to get it right. It’s a testament, he says, to the “inclusive environment for folks from all walks of life to come in and help carry on a creative tradition as unique as Los Angeles itself.”

Bob Baker Marionette Theater recently celebrated a soft re-opening at their Highland Park location with a grand re-opening is set for November. We’re proud to have been part of the celebration of this Los Angeles icon and look forward to celebrating another 55 years of magic.

Stay tuned for more color highlights and design stories behind the re-opening of the new Bob
Baker Marionette Theater.