Puppeteer pulls all the right strings at county fair
Scott Land doesn't talk to his puppets. He doesn't try to prop two of them up in the back seat to exploit the carpool lane. And he definitely doesn't sit them at the dinner table, much less offer the option of a red or white wine.
"They never come into the house," Land said. "That creeps some people out."
Basically, he said, "they're just props."
Perhaps. But quite popular ones. After 32 years, the "Puppeteer to the Stars" delivers shows at every imaginable venue, from children's parties to celebrity homes.
It'll be the commoners he'll gladly entertain through Sunday, as Land has come up from Southern California for performances daily at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. at the Solano County Fair
Though Land claims ownership of 162 puppets, a mere seven or eight have been granted a chance to delight Vallejo visitors.
Since Scott Land Marionettes began in 1984, the founder's spent untold hours creating the puppets with his own gifted hands.
"Surprisingly, you can keep the same show three to five years," he said. "Personally, I just need to have something new to mix it up though the audience demands to see some of the marionettes because it reminds them of when they were kids."
Sometimes, it takes a fan to let Land know how long he's done his show.
"I had this beautiful woman, really stunning, come up, 'I've always loved your marionettes. You did my third birthday.'"
"I've been doing this for so long," Land said. "But I love what I do."
He's not alone. His celeb client list includes Barbra Streisand, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lopez.
Though the high profile clients have the cash, the most appreciable audience is the client "who doesn't have anything," Land said, He recalled a show in downtown Los Angeles that attracted 100 low-income families for a girl's birthday party.
"Everyone was dressed up and it was a killer show," Land said.
For the rich, it's often "not a big deal," Land said, laughing that he did several shows for the children of a former California governor and action star "and he never once tipped me."
Still, though celebrities are perceived to be self-consuming and demanding, "everyone's been respectful and very nice," Land said.
Even Streisand, known to be a bit demanding, "came up after the show and hung out backstage," Land said.
Kids, however, are always kids. Many love the puppets so much, Land has to "encourage" them to let loose of endless hugs.
What the puppeteer learned early was an attention span lasts about three minutes where he "has to move on to the next character."
"The audience is important to your act," he said. "You have to make sure they're with you the whole time on this ride."
Fortunately, technology and its trappings didn't make puppetry obsolete.
"It is interesting. I thought I would have gotten out of the business a long time ago" because of hand-held video games and such, Land said.
"I thought that everyone was getting on the computer and that's where they're staying," he said.
Nope. Seems kids and adults still want that in-person form of entertainment "because it is real, it's organic and it's happening live," Land said. "You can sit casually and watch a television show or thrive and get excited by live music, live entertainment, live performance. There's nothing better."
Yes, after so many years, so many shows, Land was frazzled. It took one near-death accident to rattle his cage. It happened after a visit to the Dalai Lama in Tibet, though it wasn't any wisdom or philosophy.
It was a car wreck.
"The driver drove off a cliff in Hong Kong and I was in a cast for a month," Land said.
Nine screws held his body together. His head was stitched up. And Land needed more than a year at home to recover.
"My life changed," he said. "I was lucky to be alive. The puppet business became extremely exciting and fun. It was a whole new perspective."