I studied with Bil Baird in NYC in the early 70's. The building housing the theatre was in the village and it was glorious--filled with about 6 floors that included not only a wonderful performance area, but floors of workshops, practice areas, and thousands of puppets. Really. Thousands.
My classmates that summer? Lois Bohevesky and Frieda Gates. The three of us commuted into the city about three times a week to learn the art of puppetry. Lois still performs as the head of the Husdon Vagabond Puppets. Here is a shot of one of Lois' productions:
Frieda Gates, as you know, is involved with SCBWI and an illustrators event every spring.
One little known fact is that Bil Baird was the protege of Tony Sarg, puppeteer and children's book illustrator. It was the two of them who worked together in 1928 to create the wonderful helium filled balloons from Tony's designs, that millions of people have come to enjoy every Thanksgiving Day as part of the Macy's Parade in New York City.
Bil Baird's son Peter --who passed away in 2004-- was young when I was taking the class (as was I!) and he also perfromed with the group. Many of the old guard were still on board like Frank Sullivan, who operated the marionettes along with Bil in many of the old films one saw in the fifties using the Baird puppets. It was Frank and his wife who actually taught most of the classes and gave us a real understanding of great puppetry. Bil's wife Cora had already died in 1967, just a few years before I was in the class in New York.
It was a time and experience I will remember for the rest of my life. We got to handle the marionettes up on the "The Bridge." The Bridge consisted of two planks, each about a foot wide, covered with rubber and those planks were about 12 feet above the stage area. You stood on the bridge, one leg on each plank, to manipulate the marionettes that hung below. Let me tell you, it was a challenge to get up there and walk along holding a fairly large marionette, with nothing on either side of me, and to make that character on strings walk like a real person. I am afraid of heights! There is truely an art to handling a marionette that was tough enough--try doing it 12 feet up, looking down the whole time. I get butterflies in my legs just thinking about it....
My husband and I went on to work as puppeteers in the Buffalo area with our troupe,"Moonberry Puppet Theater" for about 4 years, until I started making puppets and dolls for sale, more than performance (he was always the better actor anyway). Here is a picture of many of our puppets on display during a craft show we performed at (notice the marionette heavily influenced by my time with Baird):
On a strange aside: when I was pregnant with my youngest son, I had a dream about Bil Baird and the puppets. I awoke very early with a determination that I HAD to have a Baird puppet, and I wanted to find out how to buy one. What can I say? It was the weird state known as "late pregnancy." Anyway, I went on line and eventually found contact information for Bil's son, Peter. I called. It was early, but I figured I would explain myself and see if he could help. Much to his credit, he did not belittle the yearnings of a woman about 8 months pregnant with raging hormones, although he should have. I called from Boston at about 8 AM. He lived in California, I think.
I never got a Baird puppet, although I long for one still. Have one for sale? Email me, please.