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The word "marionette" may conjure images of Howdy Doody or Pinocchio, but Bernie Beauchamp believes puppets aren't just for kids anymore. He's taking puppetry arts where no one has gone before.
"At birthday parties, where kids have so many distractions, they sit and watch me for five minutes and then they're on to something else," says Beauchamp. "But the parents are just transfixed. That tells me a lot."
Today, a small crowd gathers around Beauchamp's stage, nestled under a tree near the foot bridge at Wingfield Park. His crowd includes young children, an elderly couple, and everything in between. They are mesmerized, because this is no typical puppet show.
"I do a rotation of top American artists, many of them from the past, and there's usually a lot of double-entendre stuff," he explains. "So adults get it, but it's OK for the kids in the audience."
His acts on this particular afternoon include Bessie Smith's You've Got to Give Me Some and Louis Prima's The Bigger the Figure. While he's happy to do traditional shows for kids, he also has an exotic dancer marionette with removable clothes. And he's planning an act for Burning Man that incorporates lights and house music.
Beauchamp, who graduated from the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Conn.,more than 20 years ago, studied puppetry arts under Margo and Rufus Rose, instrumental developers of The Howdy Doody Show puppets. From then on, he was hooked. And while family, a mortgage, and a 10-year stint on the Hello Hollywood, Hello crew kept him from steadily performing as a puppeteer, he kept returning to it. So a couple of years ago, Beauchamp formed BeauPromo Puppetry, his one-man, puppetry-for-hire company offering entertainment for special events such as birthdays and company parties. And of course, he's often found doing impromptu performances along the Riverwalk, his hat upturned for much-appreciated donations.
With nine strings per marionette, it's not an easy show to do, and the hat money only covers gas, but Beauchamp couldn't love it more.
"I'll be out here as long as there are people to enjoy it," he says.
Jessica Groach-Santina is a Reno-based freelance writer and an English instructor at UNR.