Ratzo the lab rat holds a red handkerchief in his mouth.
"Now, don't drop it again," says the Amazing Mr. A.
"Okay," replies Ratzo, as his mouth opens. The handkerchief fallsto the floor and Mr. A shakes his head in disgust. Laughter eruptsfrom an audience of children at the Puppetry Arts Center.
The Amazing Mr. A, or Richard Adler of West Palm Beach, is aveteran ventriloquist and magician who performs at the Delray Beachvenue throughout the year. Besides summer children's shows, he andmagician James Changefield showcase an adult puppet/magic show onselect Friday nights at the theater next to the Old School Square.
"The animal puppets are for the kids," Adler said. "You want togear your puppets to the audience, and you want the audience torelate."
The art of puppetry may be based on entertainment, but it'ssomething the Puppetry Arts Center takes seriously.
"We need people to know and understand the value of puppetry forchildren and people in general," said Jo Janeen Timmis, who runsthe Puppetry Arts Center. She said for 20 years, the only fullpuppetry center south of Atlanta has expanded the imaginations of19,000 fans a year with 200 annual shows.
"Puppetry is not dead in the country -- it's just we're the onlyones in the area."
For now, that's true. But Timmis worries for the future. The centerwas recently notified that its lease will end on May 1, leaving thegroup once again without a home.
"We'll have to close up and we don't know where to go," Timmissaid.
The Delray location, which the group has enjoyed for two years, hasbeen ideal. The 5,000-square-foot theater, puppetry museum and giftshop, on the first floor of the parking garage, opened in thesummer of 2011. It sports three stages: one for marionettes and onefor hand puppets as well as a center one for major acts, most ofwhich bring their own props.
Currently, children's shows run every Saturday at 2 p.m. Admissionis $6.50 for titles such as "Duck in the Truck" and "Tortoise andthe Hare". The center also has puppetry workshops for middle andhigh school students during the week.
For almost two years prior to their current venue, the PuppetryArts Center didn't have a home. In fact, for 20 years, thenot-for-profit group moved through six different spots, including aflea market near Palm Beach International Airport.
One way Timmis hopes to gauge more interest is through a monthlyPuppet Guild which began meeting in September.
"Anybody interested in puppetry can find others interested inpuppetry," Timmis said.
Sherry Reardon and Alan Gibson, both residents of Delray Beach, arehelping Timmis reignite the guild. They both volunteer at thecenter, and recently returned from the national Puppeteers ofAmerica convention in Pennsylvania.
"We taught them how to perform, now they're helping others," Timmissaid. "They came back from their trip really anxious to get theguild started again."
Starting again is something Timmis and the center are used to,having bounced around so much during the past two decades. Butfans, performers and many families hope they find their nexttheater soon.
Adler, the Amazing Mr. A, is certainly one of those supporters.He's dazzled audiences throughout the country for more than 40years with a variety of magic shows, and puppets such as Ratzo, andGus Oldman (he pronounces it "old man" during his show). He said asfar as theaters the Puppetry Arts Center has rented, the Delraylocation "is the most professional and pleasing to the public".
"So many kids go to see the shows," Adler said. "Jan (Timmis)brings the kids in there to give them a taste of a real theatricalcommunity -- something they didn't have before."
The Puppetry Arts Center is at 94 S.E. Second Ave., Delray Beach,on the east side of the Old School Square parking garage.561- 243-4330; www.puppetcenter.org.
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