Billy Bones starts class like most teachers do -- with the ringing of a bell. The instructor of Pirate School has got a whole lineup of lessons planned, including How to Stand Like a Pirate, Sword Etiquette and The History of the Jolly Roger pirate flag.
"For hundreds of years, I've been sailing the seas, training groups of kids on the secrets of the brotherhood and sisterhood of being a good pirate," Bones says.
Where does he find eager students? They're frequently attending a festival where Bones -- aka family entertainer David Engel of Westchester -- is scheduled to perform. It's hard to imagine a more appropriate venue for Engel's vaudeville-style, hourlong show than where he's scheduled to be this weekend -- the fourth annual Pirate Festival at the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville.
Dressed in red-and-white- striped pantaloons, a billowing white shirt and an oversized, three-cornered black hat with feathers, Engel takes charge of Pirate School with a hearty, "Ahoy, mates!" and the madcap action unfolds. His uniform includes a morass of gold necklaces and his trusty silver sword. He also blackens one of his teeth -- not much dental care at sea. "My show, at its heart, is a clown show," Engel says. "It has magic, puppetry, bubble play, eccentric props and slapstick humor."
Engel had the kids laughing at a performance last week at Babylon Elementary School for the kindergartners through second-graders. He launched right into his humor by teaching them to answer "Aye-aye" instead of "Yes."
"Do you like chocolate?" he asked them.
"Aye-aye!" they yelled.
"Do you like vacation?" he asked.
"Aye-aye!" they bellowed.
"What's on either side of your nose?"
"Aye-aye!" the kids replied. (Get it?)
Engel taught the kids to stand like a pirate -- feet apart, hands on hips, chin up high. He taught them the three most important things about being a pirate -- follow your heart, use your eyes and your brain (or, as he calls it, your noodle). He got them up to exercise -- "How else can you carry big boxes of gold?" Then he revealed the secrets of his treasure chest -- which included his boxer shorts decorated with hearts.
"One of my most requested routines," he had said before the show of the underwear gag. "Kids laugh, parents' eyes roll."
'SWASHBUCKLING MISTER ROGERS'
Engel, 48, came up with the concept of Pirate School years ago, when he would perform at children's birthday parties. "I loved the scene and the lure of the pirate," he says. "I always had an interest in the troubadours of old. I was inspired by the Lost Boys, Peter Pan, and Hollywood swashbucklers. I myself am smitten with the sea."
Engel thinks of himself as a "swashbuckling Mister Rogers." He has held Pirate School in California, Massachusetts, Florida, even the country of Jamaica. This is his second year at the Pirate Festival.
"My show allows kids the chance to live their dream," he says. "Kids are already halfway to being pirates. They love adventure, they love breaking rules, they love the idea of treasure, of a mysterious box with valuable contents."
Pirate School ends, of course, with a final exam, in which kids are instructed to engage in swordfights with their friends and parents using their index fingers as the imagined weapons. "I help facilitate a communal riot," Engel says proudly, "a communal boisterous playtime."
The rest of the fest
The Pirate Festival is two days of live entertainment, historical re-enactments, pirate costume contests, treasure hunts and even Jungle Bob's reptile show. Refreshments will be for sale, and a "thieves' market" will showcase pirate- and nautical-themed crafts vendors.
Long Island Maritime Museum, 88 West Ave., West Sayville.
INFO Free with festival admission of $8, free for children 5 and younger; 631-854-4974, thepiratefestival.org