As children, most of us probably played with dolls or action figures. But only a few have devoted their adult lives to keeping those imaginary friends alive.
One such man is Ralph Kipniss, who runs Puppet Parlor Theatre in Michigan City.
Stepping into Puppet Parlor Theatre is like stepping into another world. It's a world made of wood, string, paint and fabric. Yet it’s a world that really only exists in one’s imagination.
“A little girl came backstage, and she came up and said to her mother, ‘Mother I want to be a marionette,’” said Ralph. “Her mother of course said to me, ‘will you tell her they're not real?’ I said ‘no I'm not going to tell her they're not real.’”
The reality is, Ralph’s have handcrafted some 4,000 puppets over the years. Puppetry is in his blood. Ralph says his great grandparents started the Royal European Marionette Theatre about 200 years ago in Kiev, Russia.
Much of his own career has been spent near the pinnacle of puppetry, having crossed paths with the likes of Jim Neighbors and Barbara Mandrell.
As thrilled as Ralph is about puppetry's rich history, he and his assistants appear equally worried about its somewhat shaky future in Michigan City.
“We can only stay open if we get audiences, because that's the way it works,” said one of Ralph’s assistants.
In that respect, the theatre itself appears to be hanging by a thread.
“We love this part of theatre, and we hope that we can continue doing it with help of some grants or people that would help us invest a little bit in it,” said Ralph. “We're working here, we're a not for profit organization, and we're trying to have this theatre really come alive for children, so that all of Indiana will have the privilege and the joy of seeing a marionette show. It is a magical world that puppetry lives in.”
If you would like to check out the Puppet Parlor Theatre in Michigan City, you can call (219) 210-3428 for show times and ticket information.