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...
Bruce Cannon's puppet magic

How does he keep today's tech-savvy, plugged-in generation interested in puppets? In his new show, called "Little Red's Hood," the gadget-happy heroine is all over the place, but there is a wolf on the loose.

"Little Red buys some cupcakes online for Grandma but is so busy texting on her phone that she doesn't realize that Grandma is gone. Her mission is to get the cupcakes to Grandma. She uses her GPS and social media to help. All the references are there. The whole story is about kids not paying attention. Meanwhile, the wolf is following her to get the cupcakes.

"I was curious to see how the little ones would react to it. There is enough physical stuff to make them laugh, but there is also clearly a message about paying attention and not just being on your phone," he said.

Cannon uses the art of his puppetry to reach today's contemporary audience.

"We took Cinderella to Brazil, calling it 'Cinderella Samba.' I did a holiday show called 'The Three Bears Holiday Bash' and something called 'Three,' which are all modern. We do the classics, but I think it's important for them to see new versions and multicultural characters. It's so empowering. It's important for kids to see puppeteers of color; when kids see me doing puppets, they say, 'I can do that too,'" he said.

Cannon is busy running the show at the Swedish Cottage, but he also does Puppets in the Park, an outreach program and workshop for kids that he started in 1984. There's another program called One Shots, where kids can take a puppet with them. Cannon also does comprehensive workshops, which are mini versions of the professional experience. Kids work on a story, make the puppets and do the voices. It all culminates with a performance.

Cannon loves his job and his audience. His performances have won him rave reviews from the New York Times and others, as well as legions of fans. He's brought his puppet magic to Harlem Week, Lincoln Center, the Children's Museum of Manhattan, the Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Children's Museum, the Henry Street Settlement, the Harlem School of the Arts, Dance Theater of Harlem, the Apollo Theatre, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Newark Museum, Schomburg library, Barnes & Noble and the Audelco Awards.

Cannon performs a popular one-man show called "Harlem River Drive." The show, which features contemporary characters, themes and music, is done cabaret-style with Cannon dressed in all black.

"'Harlem River Drive' is interesting because it's a history of Harlem and a cabaret show all in one. I would like to do a film version of it with multimedia and a back screen where you could actually see all the landmarks and places that are mentioned. I find that if you give kids that much history-lecturing in a classroom setting, it would be so boring, but here you've got 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds literally listening to history. I think it's a powerful way to teach children," he concluded.

To learn more about performances at the Swedish Cottage, visit www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre.

Learn more about Bruce Cannon's work at ww.brucecannonspuppetry.com.