In an age of digital entertainment, puppet shows seem quaint, a relic from an earlier time, but the Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline is pulling strings to keep the artform alive.
Located in an old brownstone directly across from the Brookline Village T stop, the theater is small and cozy, with benches set up, almost church-like, but with room for children to roam.
The Theater caters to all kinds of puppets and audiences, large or small, young or old. Children’s shows are often rowdy, bustling with wobbly, wide-eyed, excited toddlers, but nevertheless always entertaining.
Founded by Mary Churchill in 1975, this year is the theater’s 40th anniversary. They are celebrating with more than 300 shows from both resident puppeteers, as well as guests.
“We really are the center for puppetry in New England,” says Communication Director and puppeteer Brenda Huggins, “Other companies are doing theater, but we are special in that we only do puppets.”
The theater has shows, classes and workshops all year round with times and performances varying depending on the time of year. “We do a lot in the summer” said Huggins, “We have puppet playtime, field trips and even camps.”
Though the theater is mainly oriented towards kids, it has shows for every age. Adults can enjoy “Slams,” which are theatrical mini-plays that use - or sometimes abuse - puppets for all or part of the drama.
The theater employs a few “resident puppeteers,” but many of its shows are put on by traveling puppeteers and companies.
New England native, Jim ‘Uncle Nappy” Napolitano is one such puppeteer.
Dubbed one of America’s most beloved shadow puppeteers, and a graduate of the University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts program, he has toured all over the country for the past 20 years.
Originally an acting major, he fell in love with puppetry while in his sophomore year.
Napolitano says he likes puppetry because it is more engaging than traditional theater.
“In puppetry, you can be everything, every part of the show,” said Napolitano — who is known for interacting with the audience — is a favorite among both children and their parents.
Napolitano’s most recent show at the Showplace even had a disclaimer for the parents: “Don’t get mad at me, get mad at the French,” when referring to a short tale of a pooping elephant.
He believes part of his success is aiming to please the entire audience, “I try and entertain the adults, if a big person is taking their little person to the show, they shouldn’t be bored.”
Napolitano travels every where from assisted living facilities to libraries to camps, from Conn. to Ottawa Canada.
“You might not eat steak and lobster every night, but if you hustle, you can make it,” said Napolitano.
Napolitano said that he enjoys puppetry because he knows that for some children it is an escape.
“You don’t know what’s going on in a kids life but if they can come here for 30 mins out of the week, they might forget about what is going on. It’s truly a gift,” Napolitano said.
The Puppet Showplace Theater is located at 32 Station St. in Brookline, directly across from the Brookline Village T stop. Patrons can purchase tickets at the box office, over the phone at 617-731-6400, or online at www.puppetshowplace.org