Perhaps Brooklyn’s only serious puppet theater company with a permanent home, Puppetworks puts on several shows a year at its storefront space in Park Slope, usually adapting tales from classic children’s literature. (They’ll also be doing an adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street at Macy’s—on 34th Street!—from Thanksgiving to Christmas.) The group was founded in 1980 by puppeteer Nicolas Coppola, who still serves as artistic director. We spoke with Coppola and chief puppeteer Michael Leach about the artistic advantages of puppetry and what it’s like doing it in Brooklyn.
How long have you had the theater in Park Slope?
We will soon celebrate the 22nd year in our present location, although we have been based in Park Slope a bit longer, and appeared at BAM in concert with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in 1983 and 1984.
How has the neighborhood changed since you moved in?
We arrived as the area was experiencing a rejuvenation, and happily it has continued.
Have those changes been beneficial to the theater?
Park Slope has become a bit of a “homestead community,” so it has been a good place for a family-oriented theater.
Is puppetry just for kids?
The art form of puppetry is not age-exclusive—even shows specifically for adults have become very common. Although Puppetworks shows are enjoyed by even the youngest ones, our performances rely heavily on elements of classical music, theater, and literature, and so are entertaining for all ages.
How long does it take to develop a show?
A new production can take over a year or more as it involves scripting an adaptation of a classic story; carving, painting, and costuming marionettes; as well as creating scenery and all the other production jobs associated with theater, albeit on a smaller physical scale.
What’s the hardest part?
The hardest part? Funding. We are a “not-for-profit,” so we must always do more with less.
So, why puppetry? What can it do that other art forms can’t?
In our case, marionettes afford us the ability to present family-oriented, traditional-style live theater in an intimate surrounding and at an affordable price. In addition to our public shows, we frequently deal with low-income groups, and have often been their only exposure to live theater.
Does it have any limitations that can be frustrating?
Our biggest frustration is the need to combat the preconceived idea that puppets must be blue, furry or only for toddlers. This is usually cured after a trip to our theater.
Are there disadvantages?
Strings, and their amazing ability to get snagged in the strangest of places.
The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Nutcracker Sweets opens next Monday, December 26, and plays through January 8. More info here.