NYC’S 5 REMARKABLE PUPPET THEARERS
Most people’s interest in and knowledge of puppetry may be limited to their childhood TV viewing of Sesame Street or The Muppet Show. But limiting puppetry to the domain of kid’s amusement misses the richness of this distinctive art form, which has roots in New York City and global cultural relevance. When you start to search for it, puppetry can be found all throughout New York City.
Notable small screen inhabitants include Lambchop and Big Bird, while lions dance through Chinatown on Lunar New Year’s Eve and enormous puppets parade through Greenwich Village on Halloween. It was even said that the balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which were made by the renowned puppeteer Tony Sarg, were “upside-down marionettes.”
The artistic communities of New York City gave rise to some of the largest and most established puppet theater companies in the nation. Founded on the Lower East Side in the 1960s, Bread + Puppet is currently headquartered in Vermont.
Immigration had a significant impact on the history of puppetry in the five boroughs, as it did on much of New York City’s past. Many nations have a rich history with puppetry, which is why New York City is home to organizations like Chinese Theatre Works and the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT).
While many NYC-based puppet groups, such as Puppetsburg and Wonderspark Puppets, travel with their shows, there are still a few theaters that present only puppet productions for both adults and children. See below for the remaining puppet theaters in the city!
1. Puppetworks Inc.
Nestled in the center of Park Slope, Brooklyn, is the charming Puppetworks, Inc. theater. Nicolas Coppola, a lifelong puppeteer, founded it in 1991. Following years of touring the country with a different organization, Mr. Coppola desired to establish Puppetworks in a permanent location.
The theater has been a recognizable institution ever since he discovered the location on the intersection of 4th Street and 6th Avenue in 1991. Adults have happy memories of watching shows with their parents when they were younger, and today’s kids are just as fascinated by the puppets as their parents were.
The non-profit theater rotates 15 different productions, all of which are based on beloved children’s books including “Sleeping Beauty” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Although the marionettes steal the show, the artists who created the figures are equally as significant. The complicated yet endearing designs create a cozy, vintage vibe. Since its debut, school groups from all over the city have visited the theater, cementing its status as a beloved Park Slope landmark.
2. Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre
Not always a theater, this quaint marionette theater has a long Swedish heritage that precedes its Central Park location. Built in Sweden, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre was transported to America in 1876 to represent Sweden at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.
With its charming traditional Swedish style, the building is said to have attracted Frederick Law Olmsted’s attention right away. It is said that he was inspired to move it to New York, where it was put in Central Park in 1877. According to the Central Park Conservancy, the Cottage was originally utilized as a tool house, then as a bathroom, an entomological laboratory, and the Civil Defense headquarters. eventually was converted into a workshop for NYC Parks’ touring marionette play in 1947, and eventually became a permanent theater in the 1970s.
Since 1973, audiences of all ages have visited the theater to witness giants, genies, princesses, and paupers on the stage. The theater is now performing “Wake up, Daisy!”, a contemporary adaptation of Sleeping Beauty about a girl who lives in the center of New York City.
The delight of puppetry leaves the tiny hamlet as well, traveling throughout the five boroughs to present the show. Throughout the city, neighborhood parks, schools, and recreation centers host free puppet shows and seminars by the CityParks Puppet Mobile, the oldest continuously running organization of its kind in the United States.
3. HERE- Dream Music Puppetry
Since its founding in 1993, HERE has been one of New York City’s most active art organizations, putting on engaging and thought-provoking multidisciplinary art performances. The theater challenges preconceived notions about art by fostering an open community from its Lower Manhattan location. The Dorothy B. Williams Theatre within the venue was designed specifically for puppet performances, which made the setting ideal for this unusual kind of art.
The theater takes a fresh approach to the age-old craft of puppetry by focusing their productions on puppet pieces that incorporate live music as a cooperative component. Every performance is distinct and contemporary, presenting puppetry as entertainment for an increasingly mature audience.
Themes covered by the shows range from loneliness to love, and anything from life-sized realistic humans to tiny puppets and marionette animals are used. These shows dispel the myth that puppetry is only a cheap kind of entertainment and instead show how moving it can be to unite people and ideals.
Soon, HERE will host its yearly Holiday Puppet Parlor, honoring fresh puppetry shorts. The dates of this two-day event are December 18 and 19.
4. Teatro SEA
One of the top Latino children’s theaters and bilingual arts-and-education organizations in the nation is Teatro SEA. In addition to motivating education and moving from New York to Florida to San Juan, they blend theater plays with art classes. Thanks to the founder Dr. Manual A. Morán’s artistic supervision, the theater’s programs reach over 75,000 children and young adults annually.
Notoriety for the theater also extends to its organization of the International Puppet Fringe Festival. The only puppet festival in the state of New York brings together world-renowned puppeteers and troupes. The Village Halloween Parade’s creator, puppeteer Ralph Lee, was honored at this summer’s festival.
“Halloween in August” was the theme, paying homage to the famous New York celebration. In addition to the more than fifty captivating performances, there were workshops, panels, open mics, and cabarets. The festival demonstrates that puppetry is more than just a thing for kids’ birthday parties or neon monsters on TV. It can be a very complex craft that is ingrained in the traditions and cultures of many different nations.
New York undoubtedly offers a show to expand your artistic horizons, whether you’re interested in taking your kids to a sweet local puppet show or going to an adult performance with cutting-edge puppets.
5. Penny Jones and Co. Puppets
Since the 1970s, Penny Jones & Co. Puppets have been a mainstay in children’s theater. The theater’s repertory comprises unique stories with puppet ballet, live music, original compositions, and more, in addition to classical adaptations for the stage.
Penny offers a variety of activities, such as kid-focused workshops and puppet pageants with participation ranging from thirty to ninety-nine. At this little theater located inside the Westbeth Artist Housing, puppetry, storytelling, movement, and the arts are combined.
The theater’s creator, Penny Jones, has created over 28 puppet productions and has taught and performed all across the United States and Europe. Her whimsical creations for a Barnes & Noble exhibit and the medieval fresco characters she produced for a show at Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center are just two examples of her varied puppetry approach.