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His string instruments

Erik Sanko once never wanted people to know about his hobby of puppetry. 'The Fortune Teller' has helped get the secret out.

October 16, 2007|Rob Kendt | Special to The Times

More recently Sanko got the chance to construct a shockingly large puppet. Asked to write music and create a puppet show for a Kronos Quartet appearance at the 900-seat Brooklyn Academy of Music, he was initially stumped for ideas of sufficient size and substance for what he jokingly called the "fancy-pants" honor of such a commission.

Then Grindstaff reminded him of a longtime favorite puppet: a writer whose torso opens up as a barn-shaped doorway.

"Jessie just said, 'You should just make that puppet 15 feet tall and make the inside a marionette play,' " Sanko said with mock-frustration at his wife's artful pragmatism. "It's a brilliant idea."

Indeed it was. Sanko's 20-minute "Dear Mme.," which premiered at BAM on Oct. 3, throbbed with feeling and flashed with dark, quirky humor. The New York Times wrote that "Dear Mme.'s" figures "are obviously unreal but nevertheless convey a kind of subcutaneous humanity." This may sound like a lot for a puppet show to accomplish, but Sanko would seem to be the real thing: an artist with both the meticulous vision and unsullied creative drive of an inveterate tinkerer.

"This was something that I really enjoyed doing, and I didn't want it to be tainted by any kind of business thing or demand to deliver," Sanko explained of his reluctance to put his puppets in show business. "I thought if I had to be responsible for them, to crank them out, I would be a lot less attracted to them. I really wanted to keep it just my own private hobby."

Grindstaff isn't the only colleague who has nagged Sanko to emerge from his workshop.

"I've been encouraging him for years," Elfman said. "Some people take a little prodding to get through the door, but now that the door's open, it won't be closing soon."

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'The Fortune Teller'

Where: Freud Playhouse, UCLA, Westwood

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 5, 7 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday; 3 and 5 p.m. Oct. 28

Ends: Oct. 28

Price: $32

Contact: (310) 825-2101

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