Halloween show on Greenwood Avenue has enthralled kids since 2007
on October 31, 2023
Every year, hundreds of costumed children and adults crowd onto handmade benches in an unassuming driveway in Oakland’s Glenview neighborhood to watch “Driveway Follies,” a free Halloween-themed marionette puppet show.
This year’s show features psychedelic skeletons stepping out of their skins, a blue-skinned magician, and Mysterious Mose, a creature with the ability to duplicate itself on stage in the most extraordinary way. Closing night is Halloween.
At the dress rehearsal, children disguised as unicorns, pirates and ninja turtles squirmed and squealed in front of the tiny stage as the sun set in pinks behind them. They waited impatiently for the orange patchwork curtain to rise. Parents sipped white wine and fixed uncooperative costumes. Some hoisted their kids onto their shoulders for a better view. When the head of Augusta the Ghost popped out of a hole on the side of the stage and flashed her enormous eyelashes, everyone went silent. The fun was beginning.
For the next hour kids and parents alike sat enthralled.
The show begins at sunset at 3854 Greenwood Ave. When one show ends, the puppeteers reset and start over, going until roughly 10 p.m. Between shows patrons can walk up a flight of stairs to the roof of Schmidt’s garage to view a creepy display of life-size animatronic witches, dangling spiders and ghoulish trees. Parking is available on Park Boulevard and surrounding streets.
The show’s founder, Larry Schmidt, launched Driveway Follies in 2007. Schmidt designed the puppets, carved their faces, and devised the spooky vaudevillian storylines. Initially, he planned to create a marionette ballet of Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” When that proved too difficult, he decided to create a Halloween spectacle instead.
Though Schmidt died in 2019, the show continues to draw crowds of roughly 1,000 people per night. Adrienne Suzio, a Follies puppeteer since 2016, says the show doesn’t do traditional advertising. Patrons hear about it through word of mouth, and that creates a feeling of having discovered something special.
Fred C Riley III, artistic director for Driveway Follies, says the secret to working with the marionettes is keeping them still. Unlike other puppets, marionettes use weights and individually attached strings to achieve the puppets’ smooth motion. Learning to create stillness in a puppet primed to move takes practice and is critical to the show’s success.
Fans turn out in droves. “I’ve seen the show six times a night for the last 13 years,” said neighbor Jim Wheaton. “It never gets old.”
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