Remembering master puppeteer Bob Kramer, who delighted St. Louis audiences for decades
A puppet by itself is a work of art: designed with great deliberation and crafted with the choicest materials. It can stand on its own as a piece worthy of admiration, yet what gives any puppet or marionette life is its puppeteer, the human who animates the art with their voice, their energy, their imagination and their heart.
On Jan. 20, the arts community suffered profound loss due to a fire that overtook Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood. Fire investigators were unable to identify where or how the fire started in the two-story building that contained a 125-seat theater, workshop, gift shop and residence.
Bob Kramer, 77, died in the fire. Firefighters rescued his longtime partner, Dug Feltch. Feltch suffered from smoke inhalation and was transported to a hospital where he was unconscious for four days.
“The doctor said the recovery was just miraculous, and I believe it because there was so much support, so much love and so much thoughtfulness,” Feltch said on St. Louis on the Air.
A GoFundMe campaign to benefit Feltch has raised nearly $70,000.
Feltch and Kramer met decades ago when Feltch, who is also a master puppeteer, was touring with a marionette show called “Pinocchio.” The show featured life-size marionettes and played several times at the downtown American Theatre.
Since the fire at Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes, Feltch has gone back to see what remains. The building is now reduced to a pile of bricks and twisted metal, and it’s unclear if any of the hundreds of marionettes that lie below the rubble can be saved. A neighbor was able to recover a suitcase and a watch.
“I couldn’t get close yet, and it’s still devastating to think about that,” Feltch said of his recent visit. “But I have to keep going back to the overwhelming love and support and testimonials. I feel like it's just incredibly wonderful. You don't realize the effect you've had on people.”
The future of Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes is uncertain. Feltch said he’s already received some “very stern notices” from people that he is not to retire. He said that seeing children’s faces makes his work worthwhile — and it’s what keeps him going.
To hear more from Dug Feltch and to listen to an excerpt of a 2015 interview with Bob Kramer, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com.