A Community Gathering Field Trip to the See Puppets of New York

Molly Larrison, Community Gathering Committee Co-Chair, and Nadine Thomas, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
It may have been April Fool’s Day but this was no hoax.

The Parents Association Community Gathering Committee (CGC), in collaboration with educators from the Museum of the City of New York, organized a wonderful afternoon event…in-person.  Yes, in-person!  It had been way too long since the CGC was able to finalize a cultural outing for our St. B’s community.  The Puppets of New York exhibit did not disappoint our families.  The exhibit was a diverse collection of puppets, each with its own story to tell.

After the Junior School group reached its 20-person limit, the team quickly opened enrollment in the later group for anyone interested in learning about these city treasures. The Community Gathering Committee was thrilled to be able to accommodate all the families that were interested in seeing what the museum had to offer.  Of course, the more the merrier.  While the first group actively designed their own puppets, the second round of families met with Maeve, another MCNY educator, who discussed the history and experiences of the range of puppets on display, from Tatiana to Duke Ellington. 

The first group began their tour by meeting Titanya, the Queen of the Fairies.  All involved tilted their heads upward to see this magnificent puppet in its entirety.  After a few guesses, the boys learned that it takes six puppeteers to manipulate the enormous extremities of Titanya.  The students attentively watched a video of her (and her handlers) in action.  Time flew by as the students navigated the exhibit space and learned about the many varieties of puppets including a cheetah from The Lion King.  We learned that there were nine types of puppets in this exhibition, and we observed hand puppets, Bunraku-style puppets, rod puppets, marionettes, giant puppets, shadow puppets, ventriloquist puppets, humanette, and hybrid puppets.  The students participated in a hands-on experience at the shadow box, and patiently waited their turn to control a shadow puppet.  The tour ended with a crowd favorite, Oscar the Grouch.  We learned that Jim Henson instructed all who handled Oscar that he should never be washed and that remains to this day.  Oscar The Grouch was inspired by a grumpy waiter and an NYC taxi cab driver.  Who knew?  (It sounds like a question for Mr. Demeny’s class.) 

Junior School students who were a part of the first tour were able to join the Puppet Making Workshop.  Charlotte, one of the educators at MCNY, led us through this final stage of the afternoon.  Each student was invited to create a puppet based on something inspirational.  At the end of the workshop each student presented their puppet to their fellow schoolmates which brought on lots of laughs and cheers.  The parents and chaperones might have had more fun than the kids as they created their own puppets too.

A curious aspect of puppets is that their identity doesn’t exist within our typical social constraints, so they can say things and discuss difficult topics that may otherwise feel uncomfortable.  The museum described it well: "Today, New York City is a global capital of puppetry, where old traditions and innovation intersect seamlessly...a puppet can do and say things that might be physically impossible, socially unacceptable, or politically unwise for a person to do or say."  We were surprised to learn the puppets on display were all originals, borrowed from different puppeteers and collectors.  MCNY cared for each one, and on April 3, the puppets returned to their homes.

It was with perseverance and attention to the latest (and quickly changing) COVID protocols, that a small team of parents successfully planned this special trip.  The PA CGC would like to extend a special thank you to MCNY educators Maeve, Sarah, and Charlotte, who coordinated an informative and fun event for all.