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Mermaid Parade organizers host international puppet show

puppet show
Italian puppetry company Di Filippo Marionette will perform a skit featuring an acrobatic bicyclist.
Courtesy of Brendan Schweda

Brooklynites can let their imaginations run wild on March 21 when a colorful collection of marionettes and papier-mâché figures come to life at the virtual “Puppets Come Home” puppet slam hosted in honor of World Puppetry Day, said the event’s organizer. 

“There’s going to be different styles — some hand puppets, some Italian marionettes, stop motion,” said Brendan Schweda, the producer of the show and a regional director for the non-profit Puppeteers of America.

The international puppet show, hosted by Coney Island USA, will feature performances from Kenya, Costa Rica, Turkey, Chile, Israel, Thailand, and beyond, with each skit employing a different medium, like masks and stop motion video.

puppet show
Turkish puppeteer Duygu Bayar Ekren will perform a skit during the March 21 puppetry slam.Courtesy of Brendan Schweda

The performances will also cover a variety of topics ranging from silly to serious. One skit stars a character doing a circus routine on a bike, while another will depict the life cycle of an ant colony, the organizer said.

“[It’s about] how they deal with members of their community passing, how they move on,” Schweda said. “You see a cycle of life that’s not too different from what we go through”

The puppet show will also feature an informal tour of the Coney Island USA building — where the art organization has its museum, the sideshow theater, and the “freak bar” — as well as a discussion with Paul Zaloom, an actor and puppeteer who performed with the famous troupe, Bread and Puppet.

The “adults only” show, which will broadcast at 9 pm on Coney Island USA’s website, comes as part of a century-long tradition of puppetry in Coney Island, Schweda said.

puppet show
A skit by Thai puppeteer Puppets by Jae will shed light on the life cycle of ants.Courtesy of Brendan Schweda

Puppets first came to the People’s Playground in the mid- to late-1800s in the form of the popular slapstick puppet routine Punch and Judy, which began in England in the 17th century.

As the times evolved, so did the puppetry. By the early 1970s, Bread and Puppet was putting on avant-garde puppet shows tackling political themes that used large, papier-mâché puppets inside its short-lived Surf Avenue theater.

Schweda said that “Puppets Come Home” — a series he’s hosted with Coney Island USA since 2018 — aims to continue Bread and Puppet’s Coney Island legacy by showcasing puppetry innovation from around the world.

My main motivation is to produce these works and get people out there and give cutting-edge new puppeteers a platform,” he said. 

Puppets Come Home at Coney Island USA [www.coneyisland.com/puppets, (718) 372-5159]. March 21 at 9 pm. Adults only. 

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