SUNBURY — Ernest Wachter has been making a living and entertaining crowds with 27-inch marionettes for 20 years.
He will perform with his gang of marionettes at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. on Friday and at 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday at the Sunbury Market House in downtown Sunbury.
The owner of Puppen Meister Productions got his start in the business two decades ago while attending regional German festivals where he’d demonstrate his glass-blowing technique and sell his wares, work he’d been doing for 30 years.
“I’d still be in glass-blowing if the market didn’t dry up,” the Middleburg resident said.
Anxious festival organizers skittish about the potential liability of glass-blowing demonstrations limited his ability to sell his handmade ornaments and led him into a new direction creating handmade marionettes.
“It just evolved,” Wachter said.
In order to increase sales of his marionettes, the self-described artist and entertainer decided to perform shows with them.
“I thought it would be a neat way to get kids interested and it just snowballed,” he said. “The shows quickly became more popular then the marionettes.”
Wachter said it wasn’t difficult to learn how to manipulate the stringed puppets.
“If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can do it,” he quipped. “It just takes coordination and practice, practice, practice.”
Each marionette has between 15 and 20 strings that help make it appear more life-like than a hand-held puppet.
Wachter has created more than 60 marionettes, including lead character Gus, and generally uses between 12 and 15 in each show. He performs year-round throughout the East Coast.
He performs variety shows filled with song and dance, finding inspiration from the Internet. All of his shows are pre-recorded, allowing him to concentrate on the marionettes’ movements during shows.
“Children don’t like stories — they get bored to tears. They want to see action and music they’ve never heard,” Wachter said.
The part of performing he likes best is seeing the reaction of the crowd.
“I set my stage up so I can watch the audience and see how the kids react,” Wachter said. “With the stage lighting, they have a hard time seeing the strings so it looks like (the marionettes) come alive.”
At age 64 and performing 47 weeks a year, Wachter said he’d like to slow down and hand over some of the puppetry work to someone else, but he hasn’t been able to find a replacement and only a handful of people are in the business in Pennsylvania.
“Because of the quality of our show, it’s getting popular. I’ve already booked three-fourths of next year,” he said.
Wachter will perform this Friday and Saturday at Sunbury Market House and will return to the Main Street location the first weekend of February and Easter weekend.