Strings at­tached for a hit TV show

Los Angeles Times - - ARTS & BOOKS - By Jes­sica Gelt jes­sica.gelt@la­times.com Twit­ter: @jessicagelt

When Joe Sachs set out to write episode No. 139 of one of broad­cast tele­vi­sion’s top-rated scripted shows, “NCIS: Los An­ge­les,” he asked him­self: How do you merge a story about 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy with mar­i­onettes from the 1950s and ’60s?

The episode aired last week, and a good bit of it took place in­side the Bob Baker Mar­i­onette Theater, the old­est pup­pet theater in the United States.

“The theater is a gi­ant vin­tage Christ­mas present from the 1960s with red vel­vet from floor to ceil­ing,” says Sachs, who took his kids, 9 and 4, to the theater to see a per­for­mance of “The Nutcracker” in Novem­ber.

The theater was in tur­moil. Baker was in hospice. (He died Nov. 28.) His beloved theater, which opened in 1962, was strug­gling fi­nan­cially. The prop­erty had been sold in 2013, and the theater’s lease was widely re­ported to be up this month.

That was where things stood when Sachs ap­proached head pup­peteer and stage manager Alex Evans about film­ing “NCIS: Los An­ge­les.”

The show filmed four scenes at the theater over a day and a half. “It has never hap­pened that the theater has been a part of the story, at least not in my time here,” says Evans, who signed on as a vol­un­teer in 2007.

He says the theater’s lease is not up this month and that it will con­tinue op­er­at­ing for the next year or so un­til the prop­erty’s own­ers break ground on a mixed-use devel­op­ment.

What will hap­pen to the theater at this point is murky. The Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil des­ig­nated it a his­toric cul­tural land­mark in 2009. The new de­vel­op­ers will have to find a way to in­cor­po­rate the theater into their plans.

“The ar­chi­tec­ture of the theater is noth­ing sig­nif­i­cant,” Evans says of the boxy white build­ing perched at the cor­ner of Glen­dale Boule­vard and 1st Street. “It’s what Bob did on the in­side — the shows and the cul­tural im­pact — that’s the land­mark.”

The pup­peteers were hired as part of the “NCIS” crew, and they took pride in teach­ing their art form to the cast. Olsen got to be so good, he used a goat pup­pet dressed like a fron­tier woman to de­liver a five-minute mono­logue to Hunt.

“The ac­tors were so thrilled to be there, no one had seen any­thing like it,” Sachs says. “I had elec­tri­cians and grips in their 40s and 50s thank­ing me for film­ing there be­cause it brought back child­hood mem­o­ries.”

Ge­naro Molina Los An­ge­les Times

THE LATE Bob Baker dis­plays his skill in 2012.

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