By Daniela Franco, Class of 2017
A silent, chilly and dimly lit room slowly fills with life as toddlers come in roaming and exploring the room. The children excitedly play with each other while some other kids sit quietly with their families.
A large foam mat faces the stage and minutes before the show is planned to start kids rush to take there front row seats on the floor mat. Quickly, as if hypnotized, silence fills the room and Beauty and the Beast begins.
Mike Leach, chief puppeteer and executive director of Puppetworks comes out and gives the children a short lesson on puppeteering and theatre etiquette.
Puppetworks brings traditional marionette puppets to JCTC-Kids theater. Marionette puppets have a long history of entertaining adults and children since the Medieval times.
“Children that see the puppets for the first time are mesmerized by the stories put on by the puppeteers and at times become scared due to the realistic movements,” explains Leach, while pointing at the scary looking green troll that hangs from the ceiling.
According to Leach, Puppetworks had its humble beginnings from the mind of a Brooklyn 3rd grader named, Nicolas Coppola. Coppola, enchanted by the marionette puppets he had seen in his elementary school P.S 200, received help from his mother and uncle to create his first marionette puppet.
At the age of nineteen Nicolas Coppola traveled with the professional Suzari Marionettes and took his skills to Fort Dix, New Jersey to perform for injured soldiers.
In 1962 the Suzari Marionettes was changed to the Nicolo Marionettes. Later in 1980 due to a decline in ticket sales the Nicolo Marionettes was replaced by what is now known as Puppetworks Inc, a non-profit organization.
The famous Puppetworks’ puppets have made appearances in the Smithsonian Institution, as well, as Macy’s holiday puppet display.
“These fairytales go way back, and the key question kids always ask is where do these stories come from ? Well, they come from literature and folklore and if children only see the story on a DVD or streaming on screen, they miss a lot, especially with Beauty & the Beast,”said Mike Leach.
Jessica Guisente, mother of two and resident of Jersey City attended the puppet works Beauty and the Beast production after her mother saw an ad in the Jersey Journal.
“It’s our first time and we enjoyed it. We will definitely be coming back,”said Guisente.
Artistic Director, Olga Levina from JCTC-Kids have been working with supporters to help keep ticket prices low.
The mission of JCTC-Kids is to bring art into an urban environment in which some children may not have the access to the arts.
“We subsidize children from low-income families and underserved populations, because we believe theater and the arts should benefit every child,” explained Olga Levina, Artistic Director at JCTC-Kids.
The show last 45 minutes and tickets can be purchased on jctcenter.org. Children’s tickets are nine dollars and adult tickets are ten dollars when purchased online. Tickets at the door are eleven dollars for children and twelve dollars for adults. The show is every Sunday at 1 pm beginning February 7th until June 12, 2016.
Puppetworks will also be presenting Alice and Wonderland at their Brooklyn location on 338 6th Ave.