Ahoy Red Hook! Pirate clown sails into the Waterfront Museum - Brooklyn Paper

Ahoy Red Hook! Pirate clown sails into the Waterfront Museum

Shiver me timbers: David Engel has been playing the part of comedic-pirate Billy Bones for a quarter century, passing on the intricacies of swashbuckling to eager young buccaneers.
David Engel

Yo ho ho and a bottle of fun!

“Pirate School” is in session aboard the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge on Oct. 5, with a family-friendly vaudeville act and pirate-training session led by Billy Bones the Good Pirate. The man behind this clowning buccaneer act said that while the show is made for kids, parents will like it too.

“Everyone has a bit of swashbuckle in them,” said David Engel, who has been playing the Billy Bones character for 25 years.

The show takes the form of a school for pirates, with Engel teaching his pupils how to talk, walk, and laugh like a sea dog. He said youngsters take to the role like fish to water.

“Kids are naturally like pirates,” Engel said. “They have the spirit of adventure, they get into mischief, and they basically behave like they’re drunk.”

The whole show is interactive, with audience members taking to their feet to learn how to swagger, pillage, and plunder (safely and legally, of course). There is even a sword fighting demonstration with imaginary swords. And as with any good slapstick act, the clown goes down.

“It’s safe for the audience, but it’s anything but safe for me,” Engel said. “I sword fight myself and lose.”

Engel first started performing as Billy Bones at birthday parties in the late 1980s. He was working as an actor and needed some extra cash, he said. Plus he wanted a challenge.

“I thought I’d perform for the hardest audience know to man,” he said. “Kids birthday parties.”

They took to Billy Bones right away, and Engel knew he was on to something.

He started performing at the Waterfront Museum, which is housed in a 100-year-old wooden barge docked off of Conover Street in Red Hook, in 2002. And he comes back for shows often, because there is no better place for a pirate-clown to perform.

“Of all the places I’ve performed, I think the barge is the most magical,” Engel said. “It really is a perfect marriage of location and theme.”

“Pirate School!” at the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge [290 Conover St. between Reed Street and New York Harbor in Red Hook, (718) 624–4719, www.water‌front‌museu‌m.org]. Oct. 5 at 1 pm. $15 adults, $12 kids ($13 and $10 advance).

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.

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