Review of Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre’s “The Princess, The Emperor, and The Duck” PLUS an interview with Artistic Director Bruce Cannon
by Waverly Winchester, 9 years old, Manhattan
Every year, since I was very little, my mom has taken me to the adorable Swedish Cottage in Central Park to see the Marionette shows. That’s also where we had our awesome Kindergarten graduation party – I love it there! You feel like you’re in a whole different place, far from the city. This summer’s show, The Princess, The Emperor, and The Duck” actually does take you very far away – to Africa, to China, and then right back home to Central Park. It is actually three shows in one, and the shows are fairy tales we all know and love by Hans Christian Andersen, told by the amazing marionette puppets in their own unique way!
Before the show starts, a cute and funny little Owl practices clapping and laughing with us, and then we all flap our wings and fly to Africa for the first story. This one is one of my all time favorites – The Princess and The Pea. The music is really beautiful in this show and the puppets wear really nice costumes – especially the Queen! She is funny, too, and tries to trick the Princess but her trick doesn’t work! The marionettes sing, dance, and act just like real actors! I love the sound of the rain in this show, too. This show teaches that you really never know who a person is just by their appearance, so you should just be nice to everyone!
Here’s the Owl again, and we flap our wings and fly to China, for a story about an Emperor who wants the best clothing in the world and spends lots of money on “invisible clothes” that only smart people can see. He ends up getting tricked and learning that people love you for who you are, not for what you wear. There is beautiful scenery in this show – especially the beautiful lanterns. The costumes are also very cool! You can see them here – aren’t they amazing!! As you see, The Emperor already had the most beautiful clothes so he shouldn’t have wasted his money!
For the last little show, we flap our wings and fly right back home to NYC’s Central Park, where we actually are! We meet a duck who isn’t really a duck, who doesn’t belong anywhere. Can you guess which one he is in the picture below?
You probably already know the story of The Ugly Duckling and these puppets tell it in a really great way! You almost forget they’re puppets! You almost can’t believe there are people up there pulling strings…but it’s true! This show also has beautiful scenery like Central Park at night and a very pretty sunrise. It teaches you that it’s ok to not fit in and that sooner or later you find out who you are and where you belong. I think that everyone, even adults, should see this show before it’s over in September because it teaches you very important lessons – but also because the marionettes are incredible – you’re never too old for the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre in Central Park!
After the show I was lucky enough to get to hang out with the Theatre’s Artistic Director, Bruce Cannon! I learned that there is a lot that goes into making these amazing shows happen. Read and learn for yourself!
What does the Artistic Director do?
The Artistic Director is responsible for the vision of the theatre – deciding which shows we’re going to do, deciding the titles of the show….he or she is the glue that keeps it all together. We have to make sure the puppets are being made on time, the costumes are right, the scenery, the lighting design…all the elements that are in a Broadway show, we have to do that but on a smaller scale. The Artistic Director has to make sure that all those elements are there, on time, so we can open with a wonderful production.
How long have you been the Artistic Director here?
I’ve been here since 1975. I became the Artistic Director in 1997.
Were you ever a Puppeteer?
I started here as a Puppeteer. I don’t perform as much now, but I certainly can still perform.I couldn’t become the Artistic Director without having been a Puppeteer! That wouldn’t be too wise…
How many people work behind the scenes at a show?
Our shows are always designed for four puppeteers and one lighting designer. We have a rotating staff – we do shows 7 days a week so we don’t want to burn anyone out! We also have a touring show that goes out to parks and playgrounds…they don’t have the lighting so that’s four puppeteers.
Do the puppets only move with strings?
We’re the Marionette Theater so that’s our specialty, but there are all kinds of ways to move puppets. There are Hand Puppets, Shadow Puppets, all different cultures have some type of puppetry. I think Marionette Puppets are the most unique and the most difficult to work with. The only puppet that isn’t a Marionette Puppet in this show is the Owl. He’s a Rod Puppet.
Where are the puppets made? How are they made?
First of all, like anything, it starts with a design. You have to sketch them out, draw the scale, a mechanical drawing, then carve out all the body parts, sculpt the heads, casting the heads (putting plastic wood into a mold, it’s like a putty that gets hardened after air reaches it), then once you get all the body parts together you have to “joint” it, every body part has to come together…they have to be able to move like we move. Then comes the costuming and painting. Then, finally, stringing them up, making the control and putting them onto the control.
Back in the day, we used to make all of our puppets here, now that room has been renovated and made into a party room. That used to be our Puppet Workshop. We have a smaller area now with Doug, who is our primary puppet maker. We also have a puppet shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
How many years has Nickadoo been around?
That’s a good question! Nickadoo was built for Sleeping Beauty which is coming up on its 20 year anniversary in 2020, so I would say Nickadoo is about 18 years old.
How many puppets are back there? Just the ones from this show?
We have puppets back there – all the puppets you saw from this show, there are puppets stored all over, ones we will need when we pull out the Halloween and Holiday shows, some upstairs, we also have puppets in other buildings as well.
Which is your favorite puppet?
Wow….that’s like asking Mommy who is her favorite child!! I think that I probably would say I like Pippi, because I like the way she moves, also Nickadoo….I like the Peter Pan puppets because that was one of my favorite shows…I think all puppeteers have a warm cozy feeling for the first shows they did. Peter Pan was the first show I did so that one is special for me.
What does it take to be a puppeteer?
You have to be a performer, but you also have to be an artist. Puppetry is a marriage between the Fine Arts and the Performing Arts. You have to build the product, like a painting or sculpture. Then you have to bring it to life. So you’re not only making your art but it has to come alive and perform.
Do you have any advice for kids who want to do something out of the ordinary?
First of all I’d say “don’t be afraid to be different.” I think we are all made differently, with different talents. We are not all made to be a doctor or lawyer, we all have different mindsets. It’s important for you to follow your dreams and your instincts. It’s also important to be exposed to as many different things as possible, because that’s the only way you’re going to find out who you are. Some kids don’t like puppets. Some kids don’t like clowns. Some kids don’t like Santa Claus! You will not know that unless you’re exposed to different things. Try different things! Experiment!
Thanks to City Parks Foundation, Bruce Cannon, and of course, the Puppeteers and the Marionettes! Go see the show!