Marionette master brings magic to Carmel stage


By Pete Smith

Since the theatres of the Center for Performing Arts first opened to the public, a wide variety of shows and performers have wowed audiences. But audiences are in for a rare treat the weekend of March 22 when artist Joe Cashore brings his marionette show to the Tarkington stage.

Cashore has dedicated most of his career to perfecting the ancient artform, even building his own creations and manipulating them with a system only he knows how to use – all in the hope of giving an audience a taste of real magic.

It wasn’t without reason that Disney chose the story of Pinocchio, the puppet who wanted to become a real boy, when it wanted to create some movie magic in one of its earliest animated movies. But in an age of digital visual effects, it’s easy to forget what made things magical in the first place.

But watching an inanimate object suddenly spring to life with perfect human movements can certainly have that effect.

Cashore’s performances feature a series of short pieces, each with its own theme.

“Some of them are serious, some are humorous, some are emotionally challenging,” he said.

The full-length performance on March 22 is recommended for adults and children older than eight; the matinee the following day contains pieces that were performed the day before, but the show is shorter and suitable for adults and children six and older.

That’s because there’s very little dialogue during the performance, and music is necessary to convey the mood and emotions – but it also requires a quiet audience to make the illusion real.

“Sometimes it takes a long time to find the right music,” Cashore said.

He often uses classical music in his performances, but he also has built pieces around an existing work of music or even commissioned compositions to match a particular idea for a show.

Cashore said the combination of the music and the expressiveness of his marionettes has a unique quality.

His favorite compliment that he ever received was: “A guy came up after a show and said, ‘You know, looking at this opened a part of my brain that I didn’t know I had.’”

Cashore’s stories are all based on his observations of people.

He begins by story-boarding an idea, and then he eliminates everything that doesn’t express the point of the piece. No movement is wasted.

“If you keep it focused, it’s more powerful,” he said.

Cashore has also built more than 150 marionettes, but he only works with his 15 best.

He studied fine arts in school, worked for a while as a painter and carpenter, and then decided to pursue performance art as a fulltime career in the 1980s. So it wasn’t a technical ability he had to master, it was more that he had to overcome a sense of shyness.

“It was hard to step out on stage at first. I felt like I was hiding behind the marionettes,” he said. “But I’ve done it so much it’s no longer a problem.”

And his shows that focus on the richness of life and its possibilities have taken him to every state except the Dakotas, and all over Canada, Europe and Asia. But this performance will be his first in Carmel, and he hopes people will take the opportunity to come watch something different.

“The show is fun,” he said. “People will enjoy it. They really will.”

Cashore Marionettes ● “Life in Motion” at 7 p.m. March 22 ● “Simple Gifts” at 3 p.m. March 23 ● The Tarkington Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel ● Tickets start at $15 ● For more information visit