New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.

"As it is with all children, before the adult world manages to put out their fires, Nicole was always an artist. However, in Nicole, the fire never stopped burning." – Steve Appel

Nicole at Bello ManiaGrowing up, any kid looks forward to the wonder and spectacle of the circus, but for Nicole Appel, a certain performer held a special place in her heart. Now 25, Nicole first saw Bello Nock (of Bello Mania fame) at the age of nine when he was performing with The Big Apple Circus. A professional artist who falls on the autism spectrum, Nicole has always felt a strong connection to Bello. And, while he hasn't inspired her to take up his brand of thrill-seeking acrobatics, he has inspired her artistically.

When Nicole's father Steve—also a visual artist—heard that Bello would be returning to New York City once more, he reached out to The New Victory to arrange a meeting between the two. He wrote to Bello: 

"Your performances, in the finest tradition of the circus, are islands of innocent enchantment in a sometimes broken world, grounded in an unconditional love for your audience. Nicole's drawings, in a similar way, removed as they are from the institutionalized trappings of the art world, are also islands of innocent enchantment. The two of you are, in this way, I believe, kindred spirits."

The New Victory arranged a meeting between Nicole and Bello where she gave him a copy of her drawing, Bello the Clown. We took a moment to interview her to learn more about her connection to Bello and what it was like to meet him!

How long have you been a fan of Bello's?
I'm 25 years old. I was nine years old when I saw Bello at the Big Apple Circus for the first time, at Cunningham Park, in Queens. The Big Apple Circus comes to Cunningham Park every Spring. It's less than a block from our house. The first time I saw him, he made me feel very happy. I loved him!

When did you first start going to the circus?
We started going to the circus when I was a little girl. We never missed a year. We've been to the circus at Cunningham Park, at Lincoln Center, and at Ringling Bros. We've also seen Cirque de Soleil on Randall's Island, and in Las Vegas. And, of course, we've seen many performances at the New Victory Theater. 
Nicole Meets Bello
Nicole Meets Bello!
Nicole Appel meets Bello after a performance of Bello Mania. She presents him with a custom piece of artwork!

What about Bello and his show is most interesting to you as a New Vic theatergoer? As an artist?
I've loved seeing him riding on his little bicycle, doing magic tricks, climbing chairs and poles. He's a very funny clown. He makes me laugh! 

Bello and his daughter perform together. My dad is an artist just like me. We love to draw together. It's great for dads and daughters to be able to work together. We're all artists and we love each other!

Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I love running. I belong to The Alley Pond Strider running club. Four years ago, I ran the New York City Marathon. I enjoy camping and hiking. I've been camping and hiking in the Adirondacks, Anza Borrego, Death Valley, and Yosemite. This winter we're going camping in New Mexico near Moab. I also enjoy traveling very much. I've been to Paris and next Sunday we're going to Barcelona to visit a Spanish friend named Pilar. We'll visit the Dali Museum, the Picasso Museum, and the Miro Museum. It should be a lot of fun. I'm very excited!

Can you tell us more about your artwork?    
I do my artwork at an art studio in Brooklyn called the LAND Gallery. I go there three days a week. Since 2014 I've had lots shows at different places. I've had shows at The Outsider Art Fair for the past three years. Bello likes to make people happy. I do too! People like my artwork. I've sold many drawings since 2014. You can see my Bello the Clown drawing and some of my other drawings at the Land Gallery website.

How do you decide the focus/theme/subject of each piece you create?
I do my drawings as gifts for people I love. My drawings are about them. They show the things that they like. 

How long do you work on a piece, or when do you know that it's finished? What are you working on now?
Most of my drawings take about 6 weeks to do. But sometimes, a drawing can take a very long time…half a year or more. I know when it's finished when there's no more white space!

Right now I'm working on my Barcelona drawing. It shows paintings by Picasso, Dali, and Miro. They all lived in Barcelona. 

What was it like to meet Bello?
Bello is very handsome and kind. We hugged each other, he gave me a red rose and I gave him one too. I gave him a copy of the Circus Drawing that I did for him. I signed it, "Nicole loves Bello." He signed my drawing, "Bello loves Nicole." It made me feel very happy. I love Bello! He's the best clown in the world! I love The New Victory Theater too. It's the best theater in the world!

Bello Mania Icon Interested in getting inspired, just like Nicole? Check out The New Victory Theater’s Pinterest board to find exciting activities for the whole family!
Posted by Beth Henderson

Pied Piper Finale SceneThe New Victory Theater presents different styles of puppetry for all ages. This season alone we've had jungle creature hand puppets in Handa's Surprise, monkey rod puppets in Caps for Sale and a variety of dream-like creatures from shadow puppets to Bunraku puppets in The Star Keeper. Our latest show, THE PIED PIPER, features the magnificent work of the Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company.

Carlo Colla & Sons is a family company rooted in history. In the late 1700s, Giovanbattista Colla used marionettes to entertain and educate his children in comedy, drama and the classic arts. Five generations later, Carlo Colla & Sons is still practicing the art form and is one of the most respected puppetry companies in the world. We're thrilled to share this beautiful work of art with school and family audiences and so are our New Victory Teaching Artists! We asked them some questions in anticipation of the show…..

What do you love about puppetry?
I love the idea that as a puppeteer, one can disappear behind, and in service to, the puppet/object one is manipulating. That, and there's something so wonderful and mesmerizing about breathing life into something that was inanimate. – Josh Rice

For me, the most attractive thing about puppetry is that puppetry allows the puppeteers and the audience to see things from a different point of view. I often consider a puppeteer as a cameraman who can provide the audience with a zoomed in view, as close to inside of someone's head; or a zoomed out view, as far as the whole universe. A puppetry world won't exist without the audience's willing suspension of disbelief. To witness something that is impossible becoming possible is thrilling. It frees us from limitation and gives us wings to fly as high as our imagination can go. – Spica Wobbe

Puppets sometimes illuminate the human experience in a way that human performers cannot.  They are also an extraordinary tool for talking about tricky subjects. – Liz Parker

I love puppetry because it blends so many art forms together. Dance, theater, visual design, music and more! – Spencer Lott

Behind the Scenes of The Pied Piper
A look behind the scenes of Carlo Colla & Sons' The Pied Piper. Manager Piero Corbella demonstrates puppetry for a school audience.
What's special about the Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company?
This company is special because they are keeping alive a traditional art form, and have for almost 200 years, all within the same family.  That's older than many things in America! – Josh Rice

The Colla company is special because their storytelling reflects their art form. They use traditional theater techniques to tell traditional stories to modern audiences. Their shows serve as a living history lesson, giving us a glimpse into the evolution of puppet theater. – Spencer Lott

Why is important to keep old art forms like the Collas' alive?
The world is changing every second. The past seems to be moving further and further away from us faster and faster in these modern times. However, nothing can replace a Thanksgiving dinner or the national anthem before a ball game. Traditions ground you and remind you who you are and why you are here. No matter how high tech our world becomes, we have to make sure that the string that connects us to the past is always there. – Spica Wobbe

This week, I had the privilege of trying a virtual reality headset for the first time.   I feared that this experience might show me a glimpse of a future where today's performance arts are obsolete.   Though the experience was spectacular, it actually served to affirm my opinion of the importance and timeless value of performance arts that have been practiced and perfected over generations.  Shows like The Pied Piper invite audiences to take an active leap of the imagination.  While a virtual landscape can submerge us in another reality, the tangible beauty of a hand-carved puppet brought to life by the live talent of a trained human hand... well, that allows us all to see the possibility and magic of our own reality! – Liz Parker



The Colla family has been in the marionette business since the 19th century, spending their first 100 years touring northern Italy. You can follow in their footsteps with the Pied Piper's FAMILY ACTIVITY!

Posted by Beth Henderson
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