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History Of The Sicilian Puppets

These puppets are the last remaining of a collection of three hundred built at the turn of the century by Sebastiano Zappala, known as the greatest craftsman in his field. Standing between four and five feet tall, their bodies are constructed of steel reinforced hardwood covered with hemp and canvas over which they wear their costumes and hand embossed brass armor. Their heads are hand-carved out of solid walnut and painted with fine detail. The style of their costumes ranges from the heavy full plate armor of the western European knights to the flowing colorful robes worn by the Moors of North Africa. Each main character is identifiable by the color of his costume and his coat of arms.


From a structure called "the bridge", standing six feet above the stage floor, the puppeteers move the eighty pound figures with two steel rods, one going through the head into the torso and the other to the sword : a heavy string controls the left hand which bears the shield. With their characteristic stilted walk, these large puppets bring to life a world of history, fantasy and mystery. They act out in all the glory and spirit of the Crusades, the battles of knights and kings and the struggle of heroes against villains and evil wizards. Glory, fame, justice, love and impossible dreams are pursued by the great characters as the plots unfold before the audience. Comic relief is provided by a traditional comic figure which also acts as a link between the audience and the ancient
characters on stage.

Aside from the great physical involvement required to move these heavy figures and manage them in combat, the puppeteer must have the skill to play several roles during each performance. This requires his ability to become a Christian, a Moor, an Emperor, a villain or a peasant. His emotional energy must therefore be equally conveyed to each of the characters making them become alive and believable on stage. "A puppet can be the greatest piece of craftsmanship in the world, but without a soul, it will remain a puppet."

The scripts are based on ancient European poems such as Turoldus' "La Chanson de Roland", Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso", Boiardo's "Orlando Innamorato", Tasso's "Gerusalemme Liberata", and other stories and legends of the middle ages. The performances are presented in a strictly traditional form with dialogues improvised from a general outline of the plot (typical of the Commedia dell'arte") with live backstage effects such as rolling drums, blaring horns and hair-raising battle sounds.


The puppets came to the United States in 1963 after performing for over fifty years in Catania Sicily. Grace Weil, who collected puppets from all over the world, went to Sicily and attended a show at Cavaliere Macri's Theater. After the show Mrs. Weil became friends with Cavaliere. In 1960 she purchased this small Theater in Stony Creek with the intentions of opening an International puppet museum. Later she brought Cavalier's son Salvatore over from Sicily to restore a collection of Palermo puppets she had purchased. Sal informed Mrs. Weil about Sabastiano Zappala's puppets which were being stored at a small Theater in Sicily. Mrs. Weil then proceded to purchased the collection and arranged to have them shipped to the United States.

After a long period of intense training under the tutelage of Sal, Mrs. Weil's son Jim was ready to perform in front of an audience and the birth of "The Macri-Weil Sicilian Puppet Theater" came about in 1963. Using the Puppet House as their home they went on to perform in theater's, universities, museums and puppet festivals throughout America. In 1973 Sal and Jim began training Tim Gable and Joe Davis in the art of Sicilian puppetry and the puppet troupe began to grow. Sadly, in 1999 Salvatore Macri after 36 years of performing with the troupe retired. He also requested that his family name be retired. To respect his wishes we will no longer perform under the name Macri-Weil. We will now be known as " The Sicilian Puppets of Sebastiano Zappala ". We will always be grateful to Sal for helping to teach us this beautiful and unique art-form, and hope he has a long and happy retirement.

The Sicilian Puppets of Sebastiano Zappala are available to perform throughout America. They are also on display at the Theater and available to do demonstrations for schools and tour groups. For more information call us at (203) 488 - 5752 or write us at The Puppet House 128 Thimble Island Rd. Stony Creek CT 06405.

History of The Theater

The Puppet House was originally built in 1903 as a silent Movie Theater called " The Lyric Theater". In 1920 The Parish Players, a Stony Creek Community Theater group purchased the building and opened it as The Stony Creek Theater. At this time the stage area and fly gallery were added on. The Parish Players in collaboration with Lee Shubert went on to produce the world premiere of " Death Takes a Holiday ".

In the 1930's the Theater became a Professional summer stock house. Such stars as Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and many other members of the Mercury Players performed here. They began experimenting with film, which was to include a Stony Creek production of " To Much Johnson " a Farce written by William Gillette.

During W.W.II, the building was transformed into a parachute factory and did it's part to help in the war effort. After the war the building became a woman's garment factory. Through this era of its history many locals were employed here. Oil stains can still be seen in the floor from the sewing machines. The factory moved out in 1959 and the Theater was about to start a new chapter in its history.

In 1960, Grace Weil, a local puppet collector, decided she needed a place to display her puppets. she purchased the building with the intentions of opening an International puppet museum. Shortly after she acquired the Sicilian puppets that now adorn the walls. Mrs. Weil proceeded to transform the building back into a Theater and named it The International Puppet Museum. Unfortunately Grace passed away shortly after the puppets began performing in 1963. Her son Jim Weil then took over the building and kept it alive with puppet shows and allowing various Theater groups, bands and artist to showcase their art here. He always believed that the Theater belonged to Stony Creek and the community. With his love for music and the arts, the puppet House soon became a valuable community cultural resource for the shoreline and Connecticut.

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