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Pulling a few strings to win children's smiles

Tait Hill will bring 'Uncle Gus' Puppet Carnival' to the fairgrounds for Easter.

March 06, 2013|By Anthony Clark Carpio
  • Puppeteer Tait Hill at his home in Huntington Beach on Tuesday. For more than 20 years, Hill has been performing marionette puppet shows, and later this month will bring his Pullin' Strings Puppet Productions to the Orange County Marketplace.
Puppeteer Tait Hill at his home in Huntington Beach on… (KEVIN CHANG )

Huntington Beach resident Tait Hill has always had a fascination with puppets and animated figures and after 20 years in the marionette business, he has pulled out all the stops — or rather the strings — to make that dream come true.

With his company Pullin' Strings Puppet Productions, he shares that enthusiasm with children around Los Angeles and Orange County.

"The best thing about performing is my point of view during the performance and seeing the kids' faces," he said. "My joy is bringing the wonderment and joy of puppetry to the kids."

Hill will bring that attitude along with his production, "Uncle Gus' Puppet Carnival," to the O.C. Fair and Event Center on March 24 for the 7th Annual Easter Festival at the Orange County Marketplace.

Using what he calls an open stage of cabaret-style performance, where he stands and performs next to the marionettes instead of working behind a backdrop, Hill can interact with the audience and improvise as he goes along.

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"That allows us to go into the audience and interact with the kids," he said. "I can take Pinocchio out into the audience and ask the kids to give him a high-four."

The San Jose native said he didn't expect to become involved with marionettes. Earning degrees in engineering and studio art, he had dreams of making figures for Disney.

He sent his resume to the company but after not hearing back started making calls to various businesses, including a puppetry guild in Northern California.

"Someone at the puppetry guild told me to contact Jim Gamble," he said. "I don't know why she suggested Jim Gamble, but she did."

So he talked with Gamble's wife, Marty, and she invited Hill to a production they were doing near San Jose.

Hill, with his portfolio of pictures of different figures he had made, went to the elementary school where Gamble was performing.

Gamble, being impressed with Hill's material, offered Hill a job with his company making marionettes.

"I packed up in 1992 and came down to work for him," Hill said. "I started out building for him, because we build our own puppets."

Hill said it takes about 80 to 120 hours to make one marionette, depending on if he has to build it from the ground up or if he can use a mold he previously made.

"Once we make the mold for the heads, shoes, hands, legs and even the bodies, we make multiple ones and store them," he said.

Designing the marionettes takes some time as well.

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