Ronny is a marionette puppeteer based in Williamsburg. He started making puppets in 2008 and performing with them at Grand Army plaza in Brooklyn. “Many of the early puppets I made were simply heads, and didn’t go further,” he says. “I am most interested in faces. I guess that’s why when I finally made a complete puppet it was Humpty Dumpty, because he is mostly face.”
“The marionette I am most proud of,” Ronny tells me, “is Humpty Dumpty’s girlfriend, also known as Lady EGGaga. In building her, I had to figure out how to do tricks I’d never seen other marionettes do. She can take the eggs in her hand and toss them into her mouth, turning them into her teeth. These same teeth are transformed into earrings she wears. Finally, she juggles them with her hair. When I first started, the tricks didn’t always work. The many strings have to be just the right length so all the tricks will work and she won’t become a tangled mess. This difficulty means she may be what I’m most proud of, but she is not my favorite to work. She is not through developing. I have ideas that she can even light up from inside and blow bubbles. The only problem is then she’ll be even more cumbersome to work than now. But hey, that’s the price you pay.”
Lucrecia Novoa, a Chilean artist and cultural educator currently based in the Bronx, combines masks, puppets, costumes, and dance to interpret the folk traditions of many cultures. In 1996, she attended a course in Massachusetts, where she learned not only techniques of mask and puppet making, but also how to mold gestures and expressions on the masks. “I believe art education must be a strong component of people's lives,” Lucrecia says. “They need to be motivated not only on an intellectual level, but should also receive tools that enhance their creative minds and personal talents.”
Lucrecia moved to New York City 17 years ago and worked as an electronic assembler at a factory until 2014, when she was commissioned by the Bronx Botanical Garden to make four skeletons for a Halloween event. “It’s kind of an excuse to make a connection with people,” she explains. “People go to museums to see art. I consider my puppets a piece of art. They go in the street. They dance with people. People can make a connection with them.”
Ashil Lee is a puppet maker and actress from Boston. She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2016 where she studied acting and minored in child and adolescent mental health studies. Today, she lives in East Harlem and makes puppies for Puppetsburg, a project that bills itself as “Puppet Theater for Babies.”
“I had been interested in puppetry since high school,” she says. “My sophomore year of college I started to teach myself how to make puppets, first looking up patterns and then experimenting with my own methods. I first made the friendly shark puppet out of an old towel. After reading a biography of Jim Henson and learning that he created many of his famous characters from old pieces of clothing, like Kermit was first made out of his mother’s old coat, I was inspired to seek inspiration all around me.”
“Right now,” Ashil tells me, “I’m working on a puppet couple that will accompany their human counterparts in their wedding next year.”
Ricky Syers lives in Dunellen, New Jersey with his 11 cats and hundreds of puppets. Growing up, he lived in 21 houses and changed schools nine times.
“I hated September,” he says of his childhood. “I was going somewhere I didn’t know anybody and I hated June because I had to say goodbye to all the friends.”
He has always spent a lot of time by himself, but every weekend Ricky goes to Washington Square Park where he and other parkgoers have created what he describes as a small community of people who look out for one another.
One of his favorite puppets is a dog called Rusty. He named him after one of his cats who died. I asked why he didn’t choose to make a cat instead of a dog. He told me: “When we think about a marionette, we think about something corky and gorky. A cat is elegant and smoothy, so I decided to do a dog.”
Robert james McArthur
While singing and playing the words of Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” Rob tells me about his life. He’s from Buffalo but lives on the Upper West Side with a roommate. Originally a musician, Rob is also a ventriloquist and celebrity impersonator. Elvis and Donald Trump are both in his repertoire.
Woody is his only dummy. They “met” three years ago when Rob bought him online. He tells me that Woody could be his little brother. The first time they performed together was for an opening act at a kids birthday party. Rob started brushing Woody’s hair and doing other simple things.
It was a five-minute show. People loved it, he says.