If you take Route 104 through Mexico and Scriba, you’ve seen the signs along side the road: The Marionette Magic Theatre: Shows Sunday, June – Aug.
And if you’re like 95% of the drivers that pass the small white house at 4916 Route 104E with the handmade signs, you likely have no intention of ever stopping. But if you did – just once – you would be pleasantly surprised.
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Behind the house and just beyond the large back yard, tucked neatly in a thicket of shaded trees, is the marionette stage where wooden puppets come to life.
Tree stumps serve as theatre seating before the sturdy set that is amply dressed in black drape and decorated with green leaves and other foliage.
To the left of the tree stumps, an old-style popcorn machine greets the guests. And as visitors search for the perfect stump to perch upon, puppeteers Regina Schaefer and Tara Hoyt prepare for their 4 o’clock Sunday show. They are dressed in long, black dresses.
The popcorn is free. Bottled water is also available at no cost. The show is free.
Donations are always welcome.
Schaefer and Hoyt are a mother-daughter duo passionate about one thing; reviving a dying art to expand our creativity.
They call their business Imaginations Unlimited, which aptly speaks to their goal.
“We try to run imaginations without batteries,” Schaefer said. “Our goal is to spark the imagination of children with our puppets.”
Schaefer began toying with marionettes some 35 years ago.
While reading the classic story of Pinocchio to her children, she realized she could fashion her own cast of characters with a little bit of patience and a chunk of balsam wood.
“I had five kids,” she said. “All they wanted to do was fight and argue. They needed something that they could do together. I saw a picture of Pinocchio in one of their storybooks and I thought, I can make that. So I did. I made Pinocchio first. Then I made Gepetto and then the blue fairy and then Stromboli, and each of the kids got one that year for Christmas. Later I built them a stage. Before long, they were putting on shows for kids in the neighborhood.”
The hobby grew for Schaefer, and she carried it with her into the Central Square and Mexico school districts where she taught children how to make their own marionettes.
In 2000, she moved to Florida. There, she used her puppets in schools to educate students about the purpose of drug prevention.
When she moved back to Oswego County four years ago, her daughter, Tara, moved in with her, and the puppet adventure began all over again.
“Were working on becoming mobile,” Schaefer said. “We just purchased a trailer. Everything we do is out of pocket, so we can only do little bits at a time. But we’ve got three shows right now that we can bring into schools and other organizations.”
Right now, Imaginations Unlimited puts on a puppet show every Sunday throughout the summer, starting at 4 p.m.
The show is about a baby fairy named Lily trying to find her purpose in life. She meets many other characters that help her along the way. The 30-minute performance is for children, but adults can enjoy the show just as much as any wide-eyed child.
The outdoor theatre is certainly off the beaten path, which may contribute to its lack of interested theatre-goers, but in building a new mobile theatre, the duo is on their way to bringing something bigger and better to children and adults everywhere.
“We do this to keep the art alive,” Schaefer said. “Puppeteers of America are far and few between. There aren’t even 3,000 of us working in the United States today. If I can keep it alive, even in a remote place like this, then I am still doing something remarkable for a child’s imagination. And that’s a start.”