The Long Island Puppet Theater and Museum in Hicksville is the only one of its kind. Photo by Judy Lombardi
A little less than four years ago, Roman Valdes came up with an idea that seemed a little bit strange to some people - he wanted to open a puppet theater on Long Island.
"My husband is an artist and he loves beauty and he wanted to give something beautiful to the children of Long Island," said Eliza Valdes. "He said 'lets open up a puppet theater' and I said 'ok' and helped him. A lot of people said we were crazy and it's wild and it might not work or whatever, but we took our chances."
What the Valdes' began on a chance has become known as the Long Island Puppet Theatre and Museum on Heitz Place in Hicksville. Referred to as the jewel box of Long Island by Mr. Valdes, the theater has been open and running strong for almost four years now. Today, the puppet museum is the largest in the country and the only one of its kind on Long Island.
As is evident in its name, the building contains both a museum section and a theater section. The museum houses hundreds of puppets from all around the world, from finger puppets and hand puppets to string puppets called marionettes, as well as various books and photographs about and of puppets. All of the puppets were either collected by Mr. Valdes as a child or during his travels as an adult.
Currently on display in the showcases are puppets from China, the United States and Russia as well as two, three-foot tall marionettes known as "Madame in Red" and "Madame in Blue," which were both carved, painted and dressed by Mr. Valdes himself.
Red curtains connect the museum and the theater. The walls are painted from floor to ceiling with magical murals of animals and fairies. The golden stage in the theater is a creation in and of itself, also the mastermind of Mr. Valdes.
"The stage is made of recycled wood that was collected from buildings such as the archway from an old building called the Russian Building on the upper east side of Manhattan," said Mrs. Valdes. "We purchased it from a company that buys and sells recycled wood. Then there was major, major work to do with it. We had to build it, paint it and gild it to look gold." The couple also feels that in addition to giving the theater a unique look, the use of recycled wood has helped the environment.
The Long Island Puppet theater usually puts on two or three different shows each year, from Christmas and Hanukah shows to classics such as Alice In Wonderland or the current running show, The Wizard Of Oz.
According to Mrs. Valdes, there are sometimes difficulties in putting on a show. "They're not easy to produce," she said. "People think it's like you roll the movie film and you have a show but this is different, it takes more patience when you have a limited work force. We don't have puppet makers and puppet dressmakers and regular puppeteers, we don't have that."
Perhaps that is because every aspect of the puppet show that goes on at the theater is created solely by the Valdes'. Mr. Valdes carves, paints and dresses each puppet himself, a process that can take anywhere from 10 to 14 days for each puppet. Both husband and wife are also responsible for the puppets during the show, as they act as puppeteers for all of Mr. Valdes' creations.
When they are not putting on shows at the theater, the Valdes' are traveling with "Madame in Red" and "Madame in Blue." They have traveled to schools, libraries and malls throughout the tri-state area, and the mesdames have shaken the hands of hundreds of thousands of children along the way.
As far as the theater and museum go, Mrs. Valdes refers to it as, "A place where a lot of artists and young aspiring artists can come and get inspired" because it is decorated with Mr. Valdes' paintings. Mrs. Valdes is hopeful that someday everybody on Long Island can come and enjoy the theater and be inspired.
"I want everybody on Long Island to find out about this place because it's becoming like a landmark," she said. "I'm surprised that we still have people who don't know about it. Even those who have heard about it can't imagine in their wildest dreams that this place exists. They are probably associating this puppet theater with a library puppet show, a simple little black curtain with a sock puppet. But this is not what it is. It's really a fantasy come alive."
The Long Island Puppet Theater and Museum is located at 10 Heitz Place in Hicksville. For more information about the museum and theater shows please call 932-5469.