It was a full house at the Point Roberts community center when the Welcome Marionettes brought “Popeye’s Picnic” to town.
The three-man puppet troupe erected an elaborate classical puppet theater for the show, using half a dozen marionettes to tell the tale of a disappearing Swee’Pea who tames an octopus, and of course the power of spinach to help Popeye save Olive Oyl from Bluto.
Laura Carroll, founder of the Welcome Marionettes, gave the audience a bit of a backstage tour following the show, explaining that, while there are many kinds of puppets, theirs are classical marionettes with biplane control manipulating a complex network of strings. “This gives the puppeteer the ability to work more than one puppet,” she said. “It’s an amazing art that is thousands of years old.”
The battle between Popeye and Bluto used shadow puppets instead of marionettes, which Carroll said is an easy way to put on your own show. “Just throw up a sheet, put a light behind it and you’ve got a show!” she said. The Welcome Marionettes are created by cutting the pieces for their puppets out of flexible cutting boards.
Carroll’s parents had a puppet theater in Carmel, California from 1925 to 1949. When her father died, the show closed; later, all of the marionettes were destroyed in a fire.
“When I retired as an art teacher, I wanted the bring the marionettes back into our family. The troupe makes all our own puppets,” she said. In total, they have almost 60 from this and previous shows.
The troupe tries to debut a new show every year first at their home in Welcome, and then takes it on the road through the Whatcom County Library System.
Last year they brought the Wizard of Oz to the Point.