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Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

Exterior of Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater Woodwork of Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater Hanging puppet, Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

Nestled near the west side of Central Park, not far from the American Museum of Natural History and Belvedere Castle, sits a little wooden cottage. Scandinavian in design, it has high arched windows framed with beautifully carved elements, and wood weathered from seeing the turn of 140 New York summers and winters. Imported from Sweden in 1876 as Sweden’s exhibit for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, it was brought to New York and Central Park the following year by Fredrick Law Olmsted, one of the park’s designers. Since 1947 the cottage has been home to marionette productions, and today visiting the permanent theater there for a show is a delightful way to spend an hour.

Interior of the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater from the Shakespeare Garden Cinderella puppet, Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater Shakespeare Garden behind Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater

Run by the City Parks Foundation, a nonprofit offering a range of programming in parks throughout New York City’s five boroughs, the productions at the theater today are a continuation of a “Marionette Touring Company” founded in 1939 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Much about a visit here feels like a charming step back in time from the busy pace of today’s modern world.

We went to the theater for the first time earlier this week, taking a break from a hot summer morning in the park to step inside the cottage, marveling at the marionettes from past performances suspended from the ceiling as decorations, and finding a seat on the simple wooden benches in the theater. The current performance, “The Princess, the Emperor, and the Duck,” runs through September and regales children with modern versions of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tales. Now set in Ethiopia (The Princess), China (The Emperor) and Central Park (the Duck), the short tales focus on lessons that are as central today as they were when originally written – stories that like the theater they’re performed in have stood the test of time.

From the moment the lights in the theater darkened until the curtains closed on the final scene, my daughter sat completely captivated by the performance. The marionettes engaged the children in the audience throughout the production, drawing them into the tales by asking questions and having them stand to stretch a bit. The hour-long performance passed quickly, and after it ended one of the marionettists came on stage to show one of the marionettes more closely, explaining how the numerous strings moved various parts of the puppet and demonstrating the techniques employed to produce different movements. Such fun to get a glimpse at how the marionettes work, and we can’t wait to come back for the next show.

Further details:

  • Information on the current performance, including showtimes and ticket prices (currently $8 for children 18 months and older and $12 for adults), can be found on the City Parks Foundation website, which includes a link to purchase tickets online.
  • The B and C subway lines stop at 81st St – Museum of Natural History, and the M79 bus stops at 81st Street and Central Park West. From there it’s about a 5 minute walk to the theater, and parking for bicycles and strollers is provided.
  • Don’t miss the Central Park’s Shakespeare Garden, found directly to the east of the theater. Done in the English country style and planted with flowers and plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s writings, it’s a beautiful place to spend a few minutes. We brought our lunch and enjoyed it on one of the garden’s beautiful wooden benches.

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