by Bernard Paul
(based on a Paul’s Puppets brochure – circa 1970)
OVER three decades ago, Paul’s Puppets made their first professional appearance, and since that debut at The Maryland Institute of Art they have entertained old and young in some of the most incongruous settings imaginable: at shopping centers, in a backwoods church, aboard a Navy destroyer, in the Ballroom of the White House, at “hard sell” conventions, under the hot Klieg lights of TV.
They have helped to sell everything from department store merchandise to public utility service, from ideas to the personality of a politician. They have appeared in opera at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and in Shakespeare with the Vagabond Players. They have a repertoire that ranges from TV commericals to fairy tales to classics to Bible stories.
Paul’s Puppets were born in the imagination of Bernard Paul, then an instructor in stagecraft and dramatics at the Maryland Institute of Art. Adept at every facet of puppetry except making costumes, Mr. Paul called upon the skills of another imaginative faculty member, Edith Rogers, who taught Stage Costume. Their “working together” grew into marriage, and to this day, Edith Paul is the right arm of Paul’s Puppets.
At first Mr. Paul looked upon puppetry simply as a highly flexible and very amusing media of entertainment. But so enthralled were the audiences that he soon realized that the puppets could be a potent selling force – of merchandise, of services, of ideas.
Because he and his wife do all the writing, designing, costuming, painting, acting-even making the puppets themselves – they were ideally equipped to pioneer a new field: original advertising commercials, skits, and plays presented by puppets. So effective has this advertising been that one client, Hutzler Bros., Baltimore’s largest department store, has used Paul’s Puppets for over 10 consecutive years. Today, the Pauls divide their time almost equally between puppetry as entertainment and puppetry as an advertising medium.
Naturally, over 30 years in this one field have brought the Pauls a number of “firsts.” Paul’s Puppets were the first marionette company to give a command performance in the Ballroom of the White House for the President of the United States and his family. They may have been the first puppets to appear on television, making their bow on an expert mental station in November, 1931. They probably are the first puppets ever used by psychiatrists as a possible release for patients suffering from depression.
The Pauls’ creations originate in a large, elaborately equipped work shop studio in Linthicum Heights, Maryland. Every new job starts with thorough research into fashions, habits, and ways of living during the period of the projected drama. If the project calls for new marionettes, they are designed, modeled, sanded, and painted with meticulous care and attention to detail. The scenery is designed and built – first in mini-attire, then in actual size. At the drawing board Mrs. Paul designs the costumes which she later “runs up” on her sewing machine- each an authentic miniature or an imaginative creation, as the drama dictates.
When not working with their hands, the Pauls are busy whipping the dialogue into shape and planning eyery movement, every action of the puppets. Then – with puppets, props, and dialogue – they hold countless dress rehearsals to make sure that the performance will be letter perfect.
Finally the show is ready for the road. Puppets, props, scenery, stage, special lighting equipment, a high-fi sound system, and all the other trimmings are loaded into a station wagon. At the site of the show, it usually takes the Pauls about two hours to set up for the performance and another hour to reload the station wagon for home . . . or their next stand.
With over 30 years of experience in the entertainment field – and with their innate love for and practice of precision craftsmanship – the Pauls are able to offer the ultimate in marionette performances – Paul’s Puppets.