The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

So much has happened since the last update! I’ll have to do a catch up blog soon.  I got married in June (Yay!) and am no residing in New Jersey.  For the last year and a half, I got a job working at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre based in Central Park in New York City.

Marionettes, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I find to be the trickiest puppets I have worked with so far.  Strings were made to catch on anything and everything, they break from time to time (seemingly always at the most inconvenient moment), they take a whole different set of muscles than I had built up from rod puppets, and they require you to really think ahead of yourself somewhat, to preempt the next motion, because of the delay the strings create.  That being said, they are really very interesting to me: in short I find them cool as hell.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t had that much experience with them, or maybe it’s because there are so many brilliant modern marionette makers like Ronnie Burkett, Kevin Frisch, or Scott Land, that I find to be inspirational and awe inspiring.  When the opportunity came up to audition for the Swedish Cottage again, I jumped at the chance!

First we need to talk about the cottage building itself.  In Central Park, right off 81st Street and Central Park West, just a short walk into the park itself, is the cutest little puppet theatre.  It’s a cottage built for the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia and was transferred to Central Park in 1877.  For the last 80 years it has been home to a marionette theatre: Basil Twist, Bob Brown, Nicolas Coppola, just to name a few, are some of the famous puppeteers to pass through it’s adorably decorated wooden walls.

I auditioned and was offered a part time position with the company performing at the cottage itself and also on the road.

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Don’t you want to go in and drink some cocoa? You know you do.

The road show that is done is particularly a great program: all summer long, the van travels to all five boroughs and does free shows in the parks.  That’s right, you heard me, FREE shows in Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. From April to October, the Puppet Mobile can be requested by parks for festivals, or just fun days for the family, and will bring the crew out with the show and anybody can come.  I love this concept because it is in align with my belief that all children should be able to see and experience art.  When I joined, the show being performed was Cinderella Samba.  I had one day to learn the show, and then preform.  As nerve wracking as it was, my fellow puppeteers had my back and told me where I needed to go and when I was missing something.  Within a week or two, I felt like I memorized the show but that I didn’t really have the puppetry down.  The next year would sort of be on the job training for the puppetry.

The shows the cottage do are canned, which means you don’t preform live, you perform to a prerecorded track, which is very different from the style I am used to doing.  I feel there are pros and cons to this kind of performance.  The pros are that you get the opportunity to do a show many times, so you get the opportunity to practice the same character a lot without worrying about lines.  You also get the chance to perform multiple characters in a show because the puppeteer tracks rotate, so one day you might be Peter Pan and the next you’re a lost boy and a pirate.  This is beneficial in that every marionette is different in weight, movement, with different strengths and weaknesses.  The major downside is that after a year or performing this way, I felt I got lazy as a performer.  By the fourth of fifth month into a nine month run, there were days I knew I was just going through the motions, that my reactions weren’t in the moment and were just going along with what line is playing on the track.  It’s very hard to get out of that rut, and I think it’s super important for a performer using tracks to occasionally do a live show, it keeps all elements of the performer sharp.

I was super excited to be able to do the voice for Peter Pan for the production of Neverland: Peter Returns.  Bruce Cannon asked me if I would be willing to do it and I was so happy to oblige!  I also got to be a sexy mermaid and a lost boy.  I had a great time recording those lines and songs and it never ceased to crack me up when at the end of the show I would walk out and say goodbye and when asked who was the voice, I would say me, and children would look at me like I was an alien.

Recently I left the cottage after performing in five shows, it became financially impossible for me to maintain the distance to get to work and the cost of commuting, but I had a great time working with the staff while I was there.  I hope to be able to go back one day, I just need to readjust my goals for myself as a puppeteer and what I want to get out of puppetry and voice over.

 

I have more to say about the performance aspect and I’ll come back to it!

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