The Puppeteer and His Marionettes

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker

Photo by Miguel Alcântara on Unsplash
Photo by Miguel Alcântara on Unsplash

The puppeteer’s only concern is how well he can manipulate his marionettes.” Steven Redhead

There was a freezing chill in the December air. Rosy cheeked, Grammy and I stood in line outside the theater stomping our feet to keep warm; pulling our woolen hats over reddened ears; and tightening our scarves around our necks. At noon, the theater door finally opened, and a black-caped man announced, “Welcome to Le Theatre de Marionette.”

Grammy and I edged our way through the crowd and found two seats near the front of the tiny theater. I sat with my hands in my lap, listening to the faint music playing from behind the curtain and watching kids of all shapes and sizes milling about.
I like watching the pretty puppets, don’t you?” asked a little girl sitting next to me.

I don’t know.” I replied, fixing my eyes on the tiny stage in front of me. “This is my first puppet show.”

Ooooh!” her eyes widened in disbelief.

Within seconds, the room darkened. The curtain slowly lifted; and five hardheaded, tiny-handed, squeaking characters moved about the stage with odd, wild, unpredictable motions. I cringed when I looked too closely at their disproportionate bodies and deformed faces. One had staring eyes and leering teeth; another had an impossibly blue face like a monster. I looked at the other children who sat motionless, absorbed in watching the distorted wooden actors.

 “Le loup! Le loup!” the children cried out hoping to warn the puppet hero about the wolf puppet.

I looked beyond the blackened staged and discovered the marionettes were suspended on a number of strings connected to a central rod that one man controlled from above. Was I the only kid in the audience who realized that someone behind the stage was controlling the puppets? Was I the only kid who noticed that one voice was the voice for all the characters?

After the production, the puppeteer dramatically unveiled himself to us children, demonstrating his skill in manipulating each character with strings and wires. I left disappointed feeling the entire production was more about the puppeteer and less about the characters and their stories.

I recently reflected upon my afternoon at Le Theatre de Marionette with the puppeteer and his marionettes. I pondered, Am I like that puppeteer? Do I hide behind the stage of life controlling situations and manipulating others? Do I make everything about me?

I concluded I’m not an out-and-out control freak or a mindless master manipulator. But I readily admit to being controlling and manipulative in certain situations, wanting the people in my life to do things my way. Although I’m not narcissistic and don’t believe the world revolves entirely around me, I admit to sometimes being self-absorbed and boastful. On the other hand, I’m mindful, capable of relinquishing control and becoming a marionette on someone else’s strings.

Why the duality? Perhaps that’s human nature. I don’t know. But I’m beginning to understand that life is a complex stage wherein I’m learning to be content in being less of a puppeteer and more of a marionette.

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