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By MARJORIE CLARK
Daily News Staff Writer
Oliver Wuztke was red in the face with laughter as puppeteer Dan Raynor fooled him again. Exactly where did that pencil go?
The audience was in on the trick. Raynor had tossed the pencil to his wife, Zan Raynor, while Oliver wasn't looking.
Parents and a dozen children laughed loudly, and often, at Dan Raynor's magic show before Stevens Puppets' production of "Beauty and the Beast" on Thursday at the Ketchikan Public Library.
The production featured a script based on the original French fairy tale published in 1740. The show told the tale of Beauty, who saves her father’s life by agreeing to take his place at the Beast’s castle. Each night the Beast asked Beauty to marry him, and she refused. When she discovered her father was sick with worry for her, the Beast agreed to let her return home. Upon her return, her father recovered, and she returned to her place at Beast’s side.
“You are beautiful on the inside, and that is more important that being beautiful on the outside,” Beauty said to the Beast.
The humor-infused tale highlighted many lessons for the children, including the Golden Rule and recognizing inner beauty.
The Raynors have been pulling the strings at Stevens Puppets for more than 20 years. The couple originally became acquainted with the company in 1993, when they purchased the company after a six-month apprenticeship and have expanded its reach beyond the Midwest, where they live.
"When we came on, the show went to 12 states," Dan Raynor said. "Now we're in 40."
After the show, Dan Raynor revealed that in each of the performances, one of his puppets runs into a post during an exit from the stage. The slapstick humor originated from his very first show — "The Wizard of Oz."
Raynor said that during that show, he operated the Wicked Witch of the West. The cue for her to exit the stage was a trill. One time, Raynor was caught off guard, and rushed to set aside the Dorothy and Toto puppets. In his haste, he snatched up the witch and rushed her off the stage, banging her into the support post along the way.
"The audience went nuts for it," Raynor said. "So in every show since then, one of my puppets runs into the post."
The collision is much to the chagrin of his wife, who makes the puppets by carving them from wood, painting their faces and sewing their costumes. In addition to creating the puppets, Zan Raynor paints the backdrops and writes the scripts.
"It took about four years to make Beauty and the Beast," Dan Raynor said, attributing the length of time to Zan Raynor completing a doctorate degree and teaching.
"It doesn't have to take that long," Zan Raynor laughed. "I just can't quit doing all this other stuff."
Stevens Puppets first came to Alaska in 2012, and performed "The Wizard of Oz." Last year, the couple performed "Rumpelstiltskin" for the 50th anniversary of the company. The performance was created in 1963 by the original owners, Martin and Margi Stevens, and was performed at the 1964 Worlds Fair.
Martin Stevens first started the puppet show in 1933. He was a renowned puppeteer and a recipient of the Peabody Award. Zan Raynor said some of Stevens work is on display at the Detroit Institute of Art.
Stevens’ original puppet productions focused on adult drama, including “Joan of Arc,” “The Passion Play” and “Cleopatra.” Raynor said Stevens’ later work transitioned into children’s stories with “The Wizard of Oz” and “Rumpelstiltskin.”
Zan Raynor completed work on “Beauty and the Beast” in 1999, and spent a decade refurbishing old productions and set pieces.
Stevens Puppets will visit 25 Alaska towns in 35 days, and perform 37 shows. Zan Raynor said the Alaska tour usually starts in Ketchikan, but this year they started in Juneau.
"It's a widely known fact that Ketchikan is my town in Alaska," Zan Raynor said. "It's not just because of Misty Fjords (National Monument), but it's the people who we've become friends with. The people are why we keep coming back."