I was walking home along Columbia Street when I was confronted by the ghostly, swaying, ten-foot figure of what was unmistakably a Ralph Lee puppet. Lee is the man who founded the Bread & Puppet Theatre and the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Sure enough, there was Ralph, inside a willowy, sad-face puppet, dancing to the sound of a nearby bango-guitar-harmonica trio. The occasion was the grand opening of a new puppet theatre, in the space that used to hold antique store General Nitemare.
Columbia Street can surprise you sometimes. A puppet theatre here? The company is called Clockworks, and apparently it is the second coming of a puppet theatre that was prominent in the East Village in the 1990s. It is run by a man who calls himself Jonny Clockworks (really Jonathan Edward Cross). They will be holding regular performances and cabarets, and classes for kids.
My kid was intrigued so we stayed for the show, which was quite entertaining, expertly executed, and lively (big crowd) and was capped by a performance by renowned puppeteer Basil Twist.
I include this news for the following historically-minded reasons:
- The new theatre's seating is actually made up of the pews of the nearby Christ Church, a historic Richard Upjohn church on Clinton Street.
- Jonny Clockworks made mention of the fact that he is carrying on the tradition of puppet theatre first founded in the area by the Sicilian puppet Star Theatre that once occupied 101 Union Street—just around the corner—in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
- Jonny told me that Clockworks is only the third business to occupy its building, after General Nitemare and an Italian hardware store that was there for more than 100 years.