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Melchior Marionette Theatre: A DIY Success Story

Peggy Melchior never thought her puppet theater would be celebrating 28 years in Nashville. If she had, perhaps she would have built a permanent roof.

peggy melchior holding a witch marionette

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Peggy Melchior designs and makes the marionettes by hand, like this star of the Slightly Haunted Puppet Theatre, the Kitchen Witch.

Event Information

The Slightly Haunted Puppet Theatre

The 20-minute performance features a Juggling Scarecrow, Dancing Skeleton & Ghost, the Flying Purple People Eater and a Kitchen Witch.

92 South Van Buren Street, Nashville, IN

Thurs, Fri, Sat and Sun afternoons and early evenings throughout the month of October. Check their website for specific dates and times.

$5.00 (under two years old, free)

Melchior Marionette Theatre

Bare Bones Ambiance

Strolling down Van Buren Street in downtown Nashville, Indiana, you’ll pass the Melchior Marionette Theatre–unless you know what you’re looking for. It’s nestled between two buildings with only a narrow sidewalk leading to the 60-person outdoor seating area.

The newest-looking part of the theater is the benches. Owner and second-generation Peggy Melchior says the old benches lasted since the very first year of the theater and they had a distinct Nashville character, but it was just time to retire them.

What hasn’t been replaced since day one is the makeshift roof made of thick branch cover from a couple very old trees and some well-placed tarps. “Had we thought we were going to be here this long, maybe we would have built a permanent roof,” she says.

Over A Quarter Century On Strings

In fact, this is the 28th year for the Melchior Marionette Theater, where the weather adds to the ambiance, the tickets are only $5.00, and the popcorn is always free. She says snagging this prime–albeit cozily tucked away–location on Van Buren Street back in 1983 was a fluke.

One day, Melchior and her husband took a trip Nashville while their three kids stayed home with their grandparents. While she was on the lookout for old marionettes to purchase, she struck up a conversation with Alice Weaver, the legendary proprietor of the Ferguson House. Melchior lamented that there was nothing for kids to do in town other than the candy and ice cream shops. Weaver responded, “Well, why don’t you do something about it?”

They accepted the challenge:

It took about $500. We dragged all the wood from Helmsburg, built benches, built the stage and a little area for me to hang my marionettes. We opened on a Thursday and we had two college students from IU–not exactly the demographic I was interested in. They each paid a dollar, and I did my 20-minute show. I cried all the way home, because I thought this is never going to work, ever.

But then she had the idea to advertise by passing out fliers to anyone walking on the street. After a couple days of that, the audiences started to pick up. “I just hung in there, and now in October, we are full at almost every show.”

Marionettes And Special Effects

She performs two shows throughout the year that coincide with the rise in tourism. From mid-May to late September, it’s the Comedy Cabaret On Strings, which includes trick marionettes, like the opera singer whose neck goes up and who breaths and a bird who drinks a cocktail–all designed and handmade by Melchior herself.

Then in October, it’s the Slightly Haunted Puppet Theater. That show is narrated by Dracula, and features a skeleton, cat, ghost and the Kitchen Witch, the puppet she brought with her today.

She flies in on her broom, collects critters off the stage and adds them to her cauldron, all while dancing to the witch to “Fillet of a Fenny Snake” from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As she flies off, the cauldron explodes with a great puff of smoke.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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