Pulling strings

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She is 26 inches tall, has a wooden leg, a man’s voice and an appetite for little children. She lives in a house made of candy, but on a recent weekend, she lived backstage of Lewiston Middle School. 

“Rosina Sweet Tooth” is a witch made of wood and clay. She is attached to 11 pieces of fishing line and is the star of the show.

It takes Dave and Pete Syrotiak about an hour to get Rosina and her cast of marionette friends ready for “Hansel & Gretel,” the children’s story brought to life by the Vermont- based puppeteers.

“We have been working together since he (Pete) was 6 and I was 8,” said Dave, now 44-years-old. “We both got bitten by the puppet bug and were enticed into the business,” said Dave. The Syrotiaks’ father Dave Sr., 73, created national Marionette Theatre in 1967 and the brothers have been playing backstage ever since. Dave Jr. remembers he and his brother dangling marionette’s from the top of his bunk bed as a child. “When I turned 18, I asked dad for a job and he said no,” laughed Dave Jr. But because of their passion for puppets, the brothers emerged from behind the scenes eventually. Dave Sr. is the artistic director and the voice behind Rosina. The boys now take the show on the road and travel all over the world.   

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The bunk bed has been replaced by a “bridge,” a wood platform about three feet from the ground where puppeteers pull strings and hand crank a 50-foot continuous backdrop. “We build everything you see here except the lights and sound,” said Dave Jr. Music and voices are played by an iPod no bigger than a puppet’s head.

Dave Sr. paints the background with the same paint he uses for the marionettes. Hansel was built just this year with wood chisels and plaster casts. The final step during “the birth of a character” is to roughen up his clothes so that he does not look so new.

About 200 people came out to see “Rosina Sweet Tooth” attempt to cook Hansel and Gretel for dinner. “This is world-class puppetry,” said L/A Arts executive director Andrew Harris. “I really want to bring them back,” Harris said about the marionette theatre. “Look out for them next year,” said Harris.     

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