Jim Racioppi started making puppets when he was 9-years-old.
“I learned a lot as a little boy watching TV,” Racioppi said. “There were lots of puppet shows from Europe.”
This was in the 1950s. Racioppi would eventually go on to study fine arts in college. His love of puppetry carried him through, as he toured with other companies.
Eventually he branched out on his own and founded the Paper Moon Puppet Theatre in 1989 in New Jersey, where he operated until moving to Maggie Valley in 2020. Racioppi’s repertoire includes classics like “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
“This is what I’ve been doing all my life,” Racioppi said. “It’s a labor of love, and I’ve never had to work a day in my life.”
Right now, Paper Moon Puppet Theatre is somewhat of a one-man show. Racioppi’s partner, John McAllister, helps with the administrative side, but when it comes to making puppets, building scenes and sets and creating scripts for his shows, it’s all Racioppi. But, he said it’s all part of the job: “You have to do that when you’re a puppeteer.”
One special part of his job is being able to match the type of puppet to the show he’s doing. Racioppi doesn’t limit himself to one puppet type — he makes marionettes, which are controlled by strings, and hand puppets, but marionettes are his favorites.
His puppets are intricately designed and highly detailed — the clothes alone look fit to be part of a major theatrical production, just scaled down to fit a puppet.
While Racioppi loves building and designing puppets, one of the best parts of the job is tapping into his imagination and the imaginations of the kids.
Racioppi remembers what he calls the best review he’s ever received.
He was doing a performance of “Pinocchio,” which included an underwater scene. After the show, Raccioppi noticed a little boy walking around the set. He looked at Racioppi and asked: “What did you do with all the water?”
“They do most of the work. It’s really their imagination. Kids make that leap,” said Racioppi. “You can have a cloth blowing with a fan underneath, and all of the sudden it’s water.”
Although Paper Moon Puppet Theatre no longer has a physical location, Racioppi’s goal is to continue reaching kids in WNC and beyond.
“Children respond to beautiful things,” he said.
While Racioppi’s first year in Maggie Valley was tough due to pandemic shutdowns and restrictions, he said he’s made a lot of friends in the community. This is what inspired him to work with the Rev. Gordon Pike to organize a show at First United Methodist Church of Canton.
“I’m excited about doing shows for kids and giving back to the community,” Racioppi said. “I love it down here.”
See Racioppi’s performance of “Cinderella” this Saturday, Jan. 15, at the First United Methodist Church in Canton.
The show will begin at 3 p.m. Admission is free, and any donations will aid Haywood County flood relief efforts.