New puppet theater opens on Columbia Street

New puppet theater opens on Columbia Street
Photo by Tom Callan

There’s a new puppet master in town — but this guy isn’t going to stay behind the curtain.

Jonathan Edward Cross, an award-winning, internationally renowned puppeteer, opened his new ClockWorks Theater on May 1 with a kids parade down Columbia Street — the first phase of his mission to get puppet fans out of their chairs and up to the craft table.

“The education will always be a part of here,” Cross said. “There’s always going to be a lot going on.”

That hands-on approach to puppet magic was on full display for the parade, showcasing paper marionettes made by the kids themselves. After the parade, the brand new puppeteers performed shows with their creations and danced around the maypole (which is apparently what you do at these kinds of things).

“We had a thrilling, sold-out, standing-room-only event for the grand rebirth,” Cross said.

The theater kicks off its season in earnest on May 14 with a blacklight show and lessons in creating do-it-yourself blacklight puppets.

This revolution in puppetry has brought plenty of praise Cross’s way. He and his company have won, among other awards, the 2001 International Citation of Excellence in Theater award and the Award for Best Production from the Off-Off Broadway Review.

“Cross has been making wonderful things happen,” said Michael Yawney of the Review.

Besides the workshops, the ClockWorks Theater differs from the everyday puppet theater in another important way: This isn’t just kid stuff.

“We think our sophisticated, grown-up works will also bring more visitors down to the waterfront,” said Cross, whose work has appeared on MTV and Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim.”

“Our plays require real dramatic skills and oftentimes deep emotions,” he said, ticking off a list of subjects including death, lust and “the follies of humanity” — you know, the stuff Cookie Monster is too afraid to touch.

Cross’s themes are also far weightier than the child-like offerings at the only truly venerable marionnette theater in Brooklyn: Puppetworks in Park Slope.

“The ClockWorks is more expansive and avant-garde than simply the traditional marionette show,” Cross said. “Nic Coppola doesn’t intend to do anything adult over there. We offer a viable option, an alternative to that world.”

Mixed with the adult appeal and the interactivity, Cross said he hopes his new locale will mean success for his blend of adult appeal and hands-on crafts.

“The Columbia Waterfront District is a little slice of undestroyed New York, it is heaven,” Cross said. “Let us hope it stays that way.”

“Becoming” at ClockWorks Theater [196 Columbia St. between Degraw and Sackett streets, (212) 614-0001], May 14-June 25, Saturdays at 2 pm and 4 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, $10.

With lessons for kids in making their own puppets and puppet shows for adults, Jonathan Edward Cross is not your everyday puppeteer.
Photo by Tom Callan