- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Whether he’s directing a weekly puppet show or teaching art in front of a full classroom, Joe Santoro has a talent to share with children of all ages.

Santoro is the puppet master behind Wonderment Puppet Theater - a local children’s community theater, and the only one of its kind in the state.

“They don’t know what to expect when they walk in here,” Santoro said. “It’s like walking into a different world.”

Decorated with brightly painted walls and an array of puppets with unique personalities, the theater matches Santoro’s mission, which is to make guests comfortable and happy.

Santoro said he picked up his first puppet more than 30 years ago as a tool to educate special-needs students.

From there, his passion grew from just an educational endeavor to an entertainment opportunity after he was asked to perform during a birthday party.

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Santoro and his wife Jane moved to West Virginia in the ‘90s so he could pursue his teaching career.

And as the years progressed, so did Santoro’s artistic dream.

That’s why in 2007 Santoro purchased a permanent home in Martinsburg for Wonderment Puppet Theater.

Nearly every weekend guests can visit Santoro’s imaginative world, thanks to an ever-growing number of performances each season.

“It’s a one-person show. I wrote the script, produced and directed everything. When you see the lights coming off and on, that’s all me,” Santoro said.

Santoro said part of his inspiration has been the children and visitors he’s received throughout the years.

“You can see it here now,” Santoro said as he looked around the room. “Right now it’s just a house. What brings it alive are all the people who come in. That’s the lifeblood of this theater.”

The theater was fully alive on a recent weekend with a group of visitors who came to see Santoro’s winter show “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”

Children smiled and clapped as the show went on, followed by dancing to music put on by Party King, a puppet with pink hair, dark sunglasses and blue suede shoes.

To keep the theater going, Santoro spends his spare time away from teaching to come up with fresh scripts and sets.

“It takes me about six to eight months to finish a show. We used to have five shows a year, but we’ve added a sixth show this year,” he said.

After balancing a full-time teaching position at Hedgesville Elementary and two shows every weekend, it’s no surprise that the puppet master gets tired from time to time.

However, Santoro said finding the momentum to keep going has never been an issue.

“Sometimes I do get exhausted, but when the children come in and their eyes get big, I’m completely renewed,” he said. “The show must go on.”

The Wonderment Puppet Theater is hosting its winter show until March 1. The cost of admission is $5 per person over the age of two and shows are every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. with doors opening 20 minutes before showtime.

The theater is located at 412 W. King St. in Martinsburg.


Information from: The Journal, https://journal-news.net/

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