On December 31, 2015 the Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre gave it’s final performance. On January 23, 2016 the Lancaster Marionette Theatre opened.
When the Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre opened its doors in 1990, it was literally a hole in the wall with one large room that served as theatre and workshop. Over the years, Robert Brock, a proud native of Lancaster, has transformed the space into a charming jewel box of a theatre, with elevated theatre seats from the historic Fulton Opera House, a stained glass wall, and chandeliers surrounded by cherubs.
In 2001 the theatre became a non profit corporation, governed by a board of directors. In that same year, Brock’s parents purchased the building, allowing the theatre to keep it’s historic downtown location. Many renovations were then begun, including a box office, gift shop, stained glass wall leading into the John During Puppet Museum. A Pennsylvania State Historic Marker, honoring John Durang, first American born actor, dancer and puppeteer, born in Lancaster in 1768, has been placed in front of the theatre.
Over the past three months, Mark Dennis, an extremely talented and versatile friend of Brock’s, has volunteered his time to redesign the proscenium arch, create new ceiling frescos, install an Act Curtain, and add new crown moldings. “This is beyond my wildest dreams!” exclaims Brock, who will also be updating lighting to a “green” and more efficient system using LEDs, and improving the stage and marionette gallows. Sheryl Reitz Brinkman, long time colleague of Brock, has painted new cherubs which will be installed in the John Durang Puppet Museum, along with the cherubs that have been gracing the theatre’s ceiling. This little jewel box of a theatre is getting the Tiffany treatment.
These improvements and changes are due in large part to a generous gift from Dr Mary E. Kearns and Dr. Jon G. Walker, board members and long time friends and supporters of Brock. According to Dr. Walker, “There are very few cities that have residential marionette theatres. Mary and I believe in Rob’s art and talent. We hope he continues creating his unique brand of art for many years to come.”
When the theatre first opened, shows were performed with muppet style puppets and hand and rod puppets. However, after ten years of puppeteering with his arms in the air, Brock’s shoulders began to give out, and he transitioned all production into marionettes. He explains, “People are confused with the word puppet. I am often asked if I do puppets or marionettes? My answer is always the same, ‘All marionettes are puppets, but not all puppets are marionettes.’ People, particularly in the U.S., think of puppets as only for pre-schoolers. Our shows are pieces of theatre, with complex lighting and sets.” Brock writes all the scripts, “Shari Lewis used to say, ‘Never write down to children, always write up to them, it makes them more savvy.’” Brock couldn’t agree more. He also adds just enough grown-up humor to keep the parents, grandparents and yes, even adults who come without children, happy. Before each performance, he conducts tours of the back stage and explains how he makes the marionettes.
The Theatre has been written about in the New York Times. Two documentaries films have been made about Brock and the theatre, “One Buccaneer” premiered at the Philadelphia Film Festival and “Man With Puppet” won 2 awards at the Lancaster International Short Film Festival. Such celebrities as Lily Tomlin, Jane and Heather Henson, Christopher Durang and Marijane Landis have visited and have been charmed by the unique space. “When you get validated by people like that,” states Brock, “It doesn't get any better!”
Performances for “Grown-Ups” have become very popular. “LEGENDS: Divas & Dames”, a combination of marionettes and live performance, are unlike anything you might see anywhere else.
A lot has changed in 26 years, including the advent of the the internet, e-mail, and websites. Credit cards are now accepted, and tickets are sold online. The theatre has 5 star ratings on Facebook, Trip Advisor, and Yelp.
The Board of Directors of the Lancaster Marionette Theatre believe, that by rebranding, it is taking a visionary approach, which will offer the people of Susquehanna Valley, and the many visitors, an opportunity to experience this ancient and unique art form.
According to the author, “This is Fanny’s story”. Fanny was her grandma, who was born in Lancaster just after the civil war. Her life and times in Lancaster and New York City are vividly described by Broucht. This family saga includes impropriety, embezzlement, murder/suicide, and bootlegging. It is illustrated with family photos, as well as pictures of Lancaster and New York at the beginning of the 20thcentury.
All proceeds from the sale of the book will provide free tickets for inner-city students to attend performances at the Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre, where the author, aka Nanny Lou, serves as volunteer business manager. The cost of the deluxe color copy is $30.00, and the black and white is $15.00.
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