Robert Rosolanko – Puppet Shows and Front Yard Carnivals

During the late 1970’s, most of the kids my age were lost in the adventure worlds of Charlie’s Angels, Dukes of Hazzard, or Battlestar Galactica. As for me, I was only allowed a few precious hours a week to gaze into the large box with the color pictures that sat in our den. However, the question was not what would I watch when I was allowed viewing privileges, the question was what the hell am I going to do when I can’t watch?

I always had a creative imagination as a child, so it was of no great surprise that I came up with a wonderful and impressive undertaking. Lemonade stand? No, too easy. Tree houses? Well, yes but we’ll get to that later. Board games? Ahhh, did I mention that I was creative? After what seemed like days (but was probably only a few minutes) I came up with what I wholeheartedly felt at the time was my true calling.

Puppet Shows.

Ah yes, puppet shows. The puppeteer, the unsung creative genius that travels from town to town, earning his keep with imaginative puppet magic. What better way to express my burgeoning creativity then to become a puppeteer? I began hastily to create the cast that would entertain the masses, or at least the puppets that I could show my family. The basement was selected as the staging ground not only for its strategic location away from any spies looking to steal my idea (otherwise known as Joe and Pat), but it also gave me the space to allow my creativity to flourish. Not to mention that all of our toys were in the basement in case I got bored building the puppet stage.

The weeks that followed were ones of long hours spent writing scripts, building puppets, re-writing scripts, building more puppets, and selecting the musical accompaniment to mirror my performance. As I expected, one of the spies came lurking down into my creative space looking for ways to torture my existence.

“What’s all this stuff” Pat said.

“It’s going to be a stage; I’m doing a puppet show”.

Now while I don’t remember exactly what Pat’s response was, I’m sure none was needed, as my older brother has always had the gift of being able to communicate his displeasure with simple huff’s, groans, and other various utterances.

“Pffffffff” is what he probably mumbled as he walked up the basement stairs from whence he came. Loosely translated, this “pffffff” sound usually meant either you’re an idiot Plob, what you’re doing is stupid Plob, or some combination/variation of the two.

Despite my sibling’s obvious displeasure with my developing creation, I was not to be deterred. I finally completed the script, stage and musical selections just in time for my extended family to be at our house for the holidays. What a perfect time for my premiere performance! As I prepared for the matinee and evening shows however, there was one thing missing.

What was I going to get for all of my hard work and effort?

Now, I have always had a thing for money. I liked earning it. I loved spending it, and it usually came in and out of my pocket so fast, I never even had time to count it, let alone save any. My first job was as a shoe-shine boy down at the post office. I was too young to get a real job (as not many companies at the time were interested in an entrepreneurial 7-year old), so I improvised. My father had recently taught me how to use his shoe-shine kit, and I loved everything about it, especially that I could earn a quarter for every shine I did at the local post-office steps. This love for money was what allowed me to fully realize the last step in my puppet show performance; I would charge admission.

You may be asking, why the hell would my own family pay money to come into their own basement to see a puppet show? Looking back, I think there are several reasons. For my parents, it was their love for me. For my brothers, it was sheer stupidity. In later years, I often was made fun of for charging admission to enter into the basement. My response was always the same: who was the bigger idiot, the person who charged for admission, or the one who actually paid?

As for the show itself, I can’t remember much about the specifics, only that the reviews were not positive, and I moved on to further creative outlets. One Saturday morning as I was watching cartoons during a rare moment of color box viewing pleasure, my next vision was presented to me. A commercial for a Ronald McDonald Home Carnival Kit was being advertised. It was as if the heavens opened up and a beam of light shone down from God on the television set. And it was good.

I think that all proceeds from the sale of this carnival kit (as well as the proceeds from your carnival itself) were to go the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy fund. Yea, yea, yea, what the hell did I care? This was another way for me to make money, while exploring more of my creative genius. I quickly ordered the kit, and waited for my “Carnival-in-a-Box” to arrive.

Sometime later, the package arrived. I remember clearly the specific directions for each attraction, and how they were laid out in glorious detail. There was to be a water balloon toss, a clown painting booth, a ring toss, and a refreshment area. There was also a portion of the kit that explained how to advertise the carnival. This was the area that I was most drawn to, which is not at all surprising given my eventual career choice. I began to create posters and started hanging them on every telephone pole on the block. I would have games of chance! I would have refreshments galore! I would have a tough time even earning 2-dollars from what followed.

On the morning of the event, there was a sense of excitement in the air. The weather was perfect, a day ready for a carnival like a fresh orange yearning to be picked off a Tampa tree. One small problem. Nobody showed up. Not the Clevengers. Not the DiClericos. Not the Vorhavens. No-one. There I was sitting on the first step in my front yard wondering how my ingenious marketing campaign of telephone pole advertising had gone awry. But a wise person once told me that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So, what little nuggets of wisdom did I take away from my foray into the entertainment business? If you build a Puppet Show, they will pay to see it. Just stay away from the front-yard carnivals.

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