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Entertainment, with Strings Attached
Photo by
John Davis
Growing up in Valparaiso, Indiana, Chris Kraft would put on puppet shows for his father and his friends. "It's how I learned to improvise and handle an audience," he says.

These days, as clinical co-director of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit and an instructor in human sexuality in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Kraft works with couples re-stoking their cooled romances and individuals who suffer from gender identity issues. During his seven years at Hopkins, he has rekindled his love for old-style marionettes and raucous, often interactive shows. He has added around 60 antique puppets to the 20 he collected as a kid, transformed a room in his Baltimore basement into a velvet-curtained puppet theater, and now puts on shows for neighborhood kids.

"I love the spontaneity of it," says Kraft, 46. "It's like when I'm teaching, the students and I will sometimes get into this spontaneous interaction that leads me to say, 'I can't believe that we just did that.' That, and I love to make people laugh."

He also loves to perform. By the time he was 12, Kraft was making 50 or more trips a year to birthday parties, country clubs, and talent shows. In high school, he added magic tricks. After graduation, he traveled to Los Angeles to dance and sing in musical theater productions, occasionally brushing with greatness. He pocketed a whopping $250 as one of several tuxedoed dancing suitors in Madonna's "Material Girl" video.

But he tired of the grind and uncertainty of show biz. So he switched his career to the study of psychology, earned his PhD, and eventually left California. ("Everybody in L.A. who works in psychology thinks they're a sexuality expert," he explains.) Now his career as a puppeteer has come full circle. "I'll do shows with my neighbors," he says. "It can get pretty crazy."
— Michael Anft


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