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Hicksville Focus: Puppet theater to reopen

Long Island Puppet Theatre & Museum owner Roman

Long Island Puppet Theatre & Museum owner Roman Valdes is preparing the Hicksville facility for a December reopening. (Nov. 7, 2011) Credit: T.C. McCarthy

The afternoon sun lit up the lobby of the Long Island Puppet Theatre & Museum as owner Roman Valdes glued a wood column together.

Sporting a pink sombrero to go with his T-shirt and jeans, Valdes was working feverishly to get the Hicksville theater back together in time for his expected Dec. 1 reopening.

The renovations had an unusual inspiration -- in May, a fire in a neighboring building ignited part of the theater’s vinyl facade, which firefighters quickly doused. Valdes said the blaze caused only a small amount of damage to the building, but enough that he had to close the theater for a little while  -- making it the perfect excuse for him to take some time off and give the 13-year-old business a face-lift.

“It gave us a chance to take a break and to rethink [the theater],” Valdes, 50, said of the renovations. “We said, ‘Let’s do something new.’”

In fall of 1997, Valdes was on his honeymoon with his wife, Eliza, in Paris when they came across a puppet theater. At the time, Valdes had been a puppeteer, puppet maker and general artist for six years. When he saw children laughing as they came running from the French theater, it occurred to him that Long Island needed one, too. The couple wanted to open in Hicksville because of its central location on the Island. They bought their Heitz Place location and converted what was an auto mechanic garage into the carnival-style theater that stands today.

The fire has inspired Valdes to unveil some new puppets, build a new stage, redesign the lobby and start an Internet-based television show using puppets to educate children about healthy living. He films the episodes in New Jersey and plans to air them on the theater’s website for free so that he can broadcast the theater’s message of mutual respect, healthy eating and cultural tolerance to children around the world.

“I’m a showman, and there is one specific audience that’s important to me and that’s children,” Valdes said. “I want to illuminate children with good messages, good morals, and to teach them the healthy way.”

This week, for the second installment of our “Town Focus” series, community journalist T.C. McCarthy will be embedded in the hamlet of Hicksville. Have a suggestion about someone he should meet or a place he should visit? We want to hear from you about how to get the full Hicksville experience. Reach out through Twitter, email or in the comments below.

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