July is the perfect time to visit the New
York Puppet Library – a cool, bewitching space that’s actually
located inside the arch in Grand Army Plaza – because Brooklyn
families will be able to enjoy two charming puppet shows there
The Puppet Library hosts delightful shows for all ages, and on
Saturday afternoons, it opens its collection of large and small
puppets to the public, who are invited to browse and borrow.
You won’t find Big Bird, Mickey Mouse or SpongeBob at the New
York Puppet Library. Instead there’s an extraordinary assembly
of original, handmade creatures, characters and animals – from
parade puppets to masks to marionettes – littering the landings
and bunched along the railings of the spiral staircase leading
up to the loft-like performance space atop the Soldier’s and
Sailor’s Memorial Arch. It’s a climb that casts a spell of enchantment,
as each corkscrew turn creates a new vista of fantasies.
Theater in miniature
On July 1 and 8, "Ting!," the story of an inept matchmaking
angel, will come to the tiny theater. Rolande Duprey, the artistic
director of Purple Rock Productions Puppet Company in Hartford,
Conn., spent two years developing the one-woman show, in which
hand puppets at times operate their own small marionettes, a
metaphor for human relationships.
Most of us will identify with the angel Ting, who can’t fly,
can’t play the harp, and lives in a "confusing world of
random junk and chaotic, unfinished assignments she has either
forgotten to do or left aside." Ting’s "hidden talent,"
as hinted by the show’s press materials, is an ability to encourage
love – all kinds of love. The play is "almost fully nonverbal,"
says Duprey, and uses music and pantomime to tell the story of
Ting’s "mission of bringing two lovers together."
"She starts out inept, and [is] kicked out of the band [of
angels] for not being able to play instruments," Duprey
told GO Brooklyn. "She consistently encounters obstacles,
and through a series of episodes, she discovers how love transforms
"Ting!" will be preceded by a short performance by
Adelka Polak, featuring large angel and demon puppets. Although
all ages are welcome to attend "Ting!," younger children
may not be able to follow the complex narrative, so Duprey recommends
the show for ages 12 through adult.
If you’re looking for something to do with wee folk, they’ll
be enchanted by "P. T. Widdle’s Suitcase of Wonders,"
a toy theater magic show for all ages by Peter Ross appearing
at the Memorial Arch on July 22 and 29. The show features Smallini,
the world’s tiniest magician, who will perform feats of legerdemain,
like levitating a doll and making a four-inch elephant disappear!
Illusionist Ross delighted audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse in
DUMBO last year when he performed his miniature magic show as
part of the Great Small Works Seventh International Toy Theater
Festival. His nostalgic handbill lists tricks with names like
"The Living Skull," "Spooky Rabbit" and "Water
Torture Cell," an homage to Houdini. The audience is further
advised that "conversation is permitted between tricks."
Theresa Linnihan, head librarian at the Puppet Library, told
GO Brooklyn, "We saw [Ross] at the Toy Theater Festival,
and his show was just charming." He was booked for the Memorial
Arch space for that August, and returns this summer with an updated
version of the show.
"I have a new Egyptian-themed illusion, ’The Mummy’s Journey,’
" says Ross, "and another new trick called ’Marie Antoinette.’
" Ross, by day a computer teacher at Columbia Prep, also
gives magic lessons and workshops in Brooklyn, along with partner
Howard Rappaport, with whom he co-founded "Park Slope Magic"
to promote the thaumaturgic arts in the community.
The New York Puppet Library is a well-kept secret, perhaps because
of an unusual location, which from appearances should hold nothing
more than bats and a few spare light bulbs for the parks department
maintenance crew. But the Library houses many wonderful hand-carved
Czechoslovakian marionettes, originally discovered 20 years ago
in a Manhattan church.
The antique marionettes are kept preserved, but "if anyone
wants to see them, we’ll be happy to take them out of their bags,"
says librarian Linnihan.
The library’s collection also includes newer puppets, such as
the figure of Haman in a guillotine-like wheeled chair, ornamented
with dragon heads. Operated by a system of pulleys and mechanical
gears, the chair is "a contraption that was builtfor a slapstick
version of the Book of Esther," says Linnihan. "You
should see it in action: the dragons on the chair move, and [Haman’s]
chair rises up with him as the villain rises in power."
Although the Grand Army Plaza, where the Central Library meets
the gateway to Prospect Park, is a popular destination, it’s
a bit intimidating crossing the busy traffic circle, and requires
some caution. Still, the chance to see the arch and its celebrated
Beaux Arts sculptures up close, is itself worth the trouble.
While you’re waiting for the show to begin, you can cool off
with a stroll by the nearby Bailey Fountain and enjoy its refreshing
plumes of water. A picturesque cluster of mythical and allegorical
art nouveau statuary, the fountain was restored in 2004 at a
cost of $1.5 million, and makes an ideal photo backdrop.
All told, the New York Puppet Library has seven more shows in
store for puppet-lovers this season, which runs from May through
October. There will be pageants, plays, live music and magic,
culminating with a "Try-on-a-Puppet Halloween Extravaganza."
Don’t miss the chance to explore this fabulous cultural treasure
in the heart of Brooklyn..
"Ting!" will be performed
Saturday July 1 and 8, at 2 pm and 7 pm and "P. T. Widdle’s
Suitcase of Wonders" will be performed July 22 and 29 at
2 pm at The New York Puppet Library in the Soldier’s and Sailor’s
Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza. The puppet library is open
Saturdays, from noon to 4 pm, from May to October. There is a
$10 suggested donation for performances, and $5 donation suggested
for the library itself. For more information, call (718) 853-7350.