Fri, Feb 8, 2013
As featured in the Daily News:
A beloved marionette theater that has been a Park Slope mainstay for more than 30 years is on the brink of closure after losing 70% of its business to the month-old bus driver’s strike.
More than half of the income at Puppetworks, on Sixth Avenue, comes from the 10-15 weekly trips by public school students, aged 6-8 — but last week, there were only three school trips because of the strike that began Jan. 18.
“At first I thought (the strike) would go for two weeks at most,” said Michael Leach, 48, the lead puppeteer. “Now I see this successfully killing us.
“There was a time when we had to turn away schools because we were so overbooked,” Leach added.
On a recent Friday morning, Puppetworks had only one show scheduled for the entire day — and that only because students from Public School 1 in Sunset Park took the subway.
“It was very difficult to have the children walk seven blocks in the freezing cold,” said Petronila Martinez, 50, a first-grade teacher. “They were complaining. But worse still since we didn’t have the bus, we had to ask parents to send $5 per student to fund the trip.”
But once Leach appeared on stage, students were glad they made the trip.
Puppetworks theater, founded in 1976 by marionette legend Nicolas Coppola, takes a hands-on approach to its theater. Performances such as “Cinderella” and “The Magic Flute” begin with a marionette tutorial that allows kids to take the strings themselves.
“They’re learning about characters in school right now,” said Martinez. “These performances help them make connections, and makes their writing stronger.”
For now, Puppetworks is hanging on thanks to birthday parties — but those are only scheduled on the weekends.
Leach is encouraging neighbors to perform birthday rites during the week.
When Friday’s show concluded at the theater, the children begged their teachers to stay longer. But it was time to head out for the long, cold trip back.
After everyone was gone, Leach stared pensively at the darkened space.
“I just don’t know what to do anymore,” he said. “Why is the world conspiring against a poor little puppet theater?”