The Student News Site of Ithaca College

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Ithaca Week

Crankie Cabaret Forges a Community Through Vintage Art Form

Bob Asta spins his crankie, The Tail, which is a collaboration with Melanie Bush about a runaway pet iguana with a missing tail. (Photo by Zachary Gregg/Ithaca Week)

Tucked away amidst the industrial shops on Cherry Street stands an unassuming warehouse, with no marking other than a red circle with a stem. This is not another lighting appliance showroom, it is the Cherry Artspace.

Spray-painted pool noodles and egg crates scatter the floor inside, where puppeteer Lily Gershon is preparing for opening night of the third annual Crankie Cabaret.
Gershon heads the Lilypad Puppet Theatre, producing an annual showcase of crankies at the Cherry Artspace in Ithaca. Historically known as a moving panorama, a crankie is a 19th century art form consisting of a long illustrated scroll wound onto two spools, which is loaded into a viewing box. The spools are spun – or crankedby hand, allowing for the illustration to move across the screen.
“This has a lot of potential,” Gershon said. “Because you can add music to it, you can add puppetry to it, you have the visual art element, you have storytelling. So, you can do whatever you want with it.”
Gershon, who also works with children and schools, said she has been in the puppetry business for about 5 years. (Photo courtesy of Lily Gershon)

A former English teacher who stumbled into puppetry, Gershon said that she and her partner, Matthew Ocone, first encountered the old art form at a puppet convention. There, they saw a performance by papercut artist and fellow puppeteer Katherine Fahey.

“We heard that in Baltimore, (Fahey) did a whole festival, just like we’re doing now,” Gershon said. “We went to see it, we loved it, and we were like, ‘we got to have this in Ithaca. We can do this.’”

In its third annual installment, the Crankie Cabaret held five shows from Thursday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 10.

Gershon said that she especially enjoys the teamwork and collaboration involved in organizing the performances.

“My favorite part is getting everyone together and working together as a crew, and kind of seeing how we can help people make their ideas come to life,” Gershon said. “Which is why I don’t think I am going to get bored of this. Because it’s not just like ‘Oh, I need to churn out this piece of art,’ it’s like a whole group of people who inspire each other, and are so creative and fun to work with.”

Writer and actor AJ Sage is one of the members of this emerging crankie community. Accompanied by the visual artistry of his collaborator Tori Oxalis, Sage wrote and performed a narrative monologue for their piece, We Are Still Married, described as a “plaintive reminder that love is never a finish line.”

AJ Sage (left) and Tori Oxalis (right) practice their crankie the night before the first show. Sage said that he wanted to create a personal narrative. (Photo by Zachary Gregg/Ithaca Week)

As a long-time performance artist, Sage said that he doesn’t consider himself particularly talented in visual arts, but he appreciated the opportunity to become involved.

“When they asked me about it, I felt a little embarrassed. Like ‘you know all I can draw is stick figures, right,’” Sage said as he laughed. “I’ve seen the last couple Crankie Cabarets, and I was out there thinking, ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, it’s such a shame that I can’t participate in it.’ And now, it turns out that I can.”

Sage also said that he values the community of artists that has been forged through the Crankie Cabaret.

“I’m part of about a dozen artistic groups in this community, and all of them are supportive on some level of the support spectrum,” Sage said. “But this particular group of artists, despite the fact that were not spending tons and tons of time together all year round, it’s a very safe environment in which to work and I really appreciate that.”

Gershon plans to continue building this artistic community.

“As long as there’s people who are inspired and want to make them, and as long as I’m not bored doing this, I think I’m just going to keep doing it,” Gershon said.

As Ocone, who hosted the show, said to the audience:

“We want to make Ithaca the crankiest place in the world!”

Leave a Comment
Donate to Ithaca Week

Your donation will support the student journalists of Ithaca College. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Ithaca Week

Comments (0)

All Ithaca Week Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *