For most people, their interest and knowledge of puppetry might not extend much further than watching The Muppet Show or Sesame Street on TV as a child. However, relegating puppetry to the realm of children’s entertainment ignores the diversity of this unique art form, one which holds cultural significance across the globe and deep roots in New York City. From famous small screen residents of NYC like Lambchop and Big Bird, to the lions that dance down the streets of Chinatown for Lunar New Year and the giant puppets that parade through Greenwich Village on Halloween, when you start to look for it, puppetry pops up everywhere in New York City. Even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloons, created by master puppeteer Tony Sarg, were once referred to as “upside-down marionettes.”
Some of the country’s biggest and oldest puppet theater companies sprang out of New York City’s artistic enclaves. Bread + Puppet, now based in Vermont, was founded in the 1960s on the Lower East Side. Like much of New York City’s history, the history of puppetry in the five boroughs was largely influenced by immigration. Puppetry figures into the cultural heritage of many countries and as a result, New York City boasts companies like the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre (CAMT) and Chinese Theatre Works. While many NYC-based puppet companies take their shows on the road, like Puppetsburg, and Wonderspark Puppets, a few theaters dedicated solely to puppet productions – for children and adults – still exist. Check out the city’s remaining puppet theaters below!
1. Puppetworks Inc.
In the heart of Park Slope, Brooklyn sits the quaint Puppetworks, Inc. theater, founded in 1991 by lifelong puppeteer Nicolas Coppola. After spending years on the road touring with another company, Mr. Coppola wanted to settle down at a permanent home for Puppetworks. Ever since he found the space on the corner of 6th Avenue and 4th Street in 1991, the theater has been an iconic institution. Adults fondly remember catching shows with their parents when they were younger, and the youth of today is just as enthralled as their parents were with the puppets.
The non-profit theater features 15 different shows to cycle through, all based on classic children’s tales like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Sleeping Beauty.” Marionettes are the stars of the show, but the artists behind the characters are just as important. The designs are intricate yet charming and have a comforting old-school feel. School classes from all over the city have come to the theater since its opening, making it an iconic neighborhood institution in Park Slope.