Bruce Cannon's puppet magic
JASMIN K. WILLIAM Amsterdam News Staff | 5/31/2013, 12:03 p.m.
Bruce Cannon has all the right strings attached. Good thing too, because the multi-talented, Harlem-born Cannon is the artistic director of the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater. Cannon and his talented group of artists combine the classic skill of puppetry--particularly marionettes--with the best theater technology. Cannon knew at age 9 that he had a gift for the stage.
After graduating in 1974 from Harlem's High School of Music and Art, Cannon headed to Virginia State but returned to New York a year later, still not knowing what he wanted to do.
"I found myself back home just hanging out and my mom said, 'No. This is not going to work. You either go back to school or start looking for a job,'" Cannon told the AmNews.
He was in no hurry to go back to school, so he began looking for work and signed up for the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program. He got an interview with the city's parks department. His background in the arts and his training as a classical trombonist made him a perfect fit for the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, which is currently the product of a partnership between the City of New York Parks and Recreation and City Parks Foundation. The director of the theater just happened to be in the building, and 19-year-old Cannon got the assignment.
The first production he worked in was "Peter Pan." Cannon's job was keeping a spotlight on Peter Pan. Soon he was working the puppets himself and the rest, as they say, is history. Cannon became the director of the Swedish Cottage in 1997 and has held the job ever since. He is responsible for everything from operations, facility management and musical direction to auditioning and training puppeteers. Cannon does it all, but his specialty is marionettes, which require a high level of manual dexterity.
"You're working strings. Most puppets require half-movements, but with a marionette, you have to know where all the strings go and what each string controls. It's like playing an instrument. You have to know what string for what movement, and while you're executing one move, you're constantly preparing for the next move. It's a constant state of anticipation. My musical training really served me in that respect," Cannon said.
There are schools where one can learn the art of puppetry through a degree program, but interestingly enough, they do not teach marionettes. Cannon trained many of his puppeteers. Some went to Europe to further their skills.
"Many puppeteers, like myself, learned the old-fashioned way--through an apprentice program. You get hired with a puppet company and learn from master puppeteers. When I learned, all the puppeteers already had 15 or 20 years behind them. I was the new kid on the block. Now I'm the old guy," he said.
"I'm training the puppeteers who come in now. Most go into film because now they are using more puppets in film and animation. We're just the old, European style of classic puppetry that's almost gone out of vogue," Cannon said.