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
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.