Nick Barone – A California Original (1967 – 2014) 

By Randal Metz 

The families of the San Francisco Bay Area have suffered a great loss. Bay Area puppeteer Nick Barone passed away on Dec 18, after a two year battle with lung cancer. Nick was truly a renaissance puppeteer. He was skilled at many forms of theater, music, composition and puppetry. Nick built his first puppet when he was 5 years old. And once bitten by the bug, he began writing short stories and making home movies featuring his hand-made puppets. His early career and training took place back east where he lived with his family in New Jersey. While still a teenager, he immersed himself in as many art forms as he could find. And as a teenager he became known for his strong sense of scenic design and his painting skills. 

Nick eventually moved to Hollywood, California, and he began painting sets for the television industry. He was also skilled at window dressing and working as an artist for displays at Industrial advertising shows. But his biggest love was puppetry. He eventually settled in San Diego and became a prominent member of the San Diego Guild of Puppetry. He was a featured performer at The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater in Balboa Park. For almost 10 years he worked alongside various puppeteers developing his craft and sharing his own selftaught skills, particularly in creating foam moving mouth puppets. He became the Moving Mouth Puppetry Consultant for the Puppeteers of America. Nick also has served terms as President of the San Diego and San Francisco Puppetry Guilds. 

In 1996, he met his wife Rose Sage at a Regional convention, and resettled in the San Francisco Bay Area where she resided. At this point he focused on his own business of Nick Barone’s Puppets and began making a name for himself as one of the premier puppeteers in the Bay Area. He built puppets for film, television and live theater. One of his many challenging experiences was building an entire set of puppets for the Marin Theater Company’s production of Gilles Segal’s “The Puppetmaster of Lodz,“ for which he received critical acclaim. He has also received a Regional Page 9 Emmy for his work on Roger Mara’s, Snapdragon DVD Production of “The Mousecracker.” 

Nick was very well known for his engaging workshops that he shared with local puppeteers. He became one of the featured artist-lecturers at Peter and Debbie Allen’s yearly Puppetfest Midwest in Missouri. Nick was all about sharing a positive and making our puppet world a better place to be by sharing ideas, and forming lasting friendships with puppeteers, that in turn allowed us all to be able to call on each other for support and encouragement. His shows were original and funny. Besides designing his own mechanisms for puppets, he composed all of the original music and songs for his productions. He also manipulated his computer to record all of the voices, which he performed himself, changing the pitch and rhythms to create his characters. 

On a personal note, I will miss my friend and colleague dearly. Even though he was one of my peers, I also consider him a young mentor to my own craft. He was always available to bounce ideas off of. And Nick had a wonderful way of taking your own idea, and making it better, without changing it to incorporate his way of doing things. But I think, what I will miss most of all, is the absence of the show he was creating for me to present at the Storybook Puppet Theater. A zany takeoff of “The Little Red Hen”, it was to feature his dynamic style of moving mouth puppets that was sure to amaze and amuse the families that came to visit Children’s Fairyland. Nick’s influence and style will shine brightly in the works of those who had the chance to share time with this talented man. He will be missed…..and remembered!

Nick Barone’s Memorial, a gallery of images

OVERHEARD From Nick’s 11 year old nephew when he and his dad (Gino Barone, Nick’s brother) were sorting through the puppets. “It’s very sad. All these puppets have lost their voice.” That sums it up.

Nick’s friends and family came from far and wide to celebrate his life and mourn his passing. Above, Art Grueneberger, Debbie and Peter Allen who came from Missouri, Stacey Gordon who traveled from Arizona, Anita Coulter (LA area) and Matthew McGee (from Wash DC), Marsha McGee (Hanford), Art, Mike and Valerie. Thanks to Matthew and Randel McGee for the wonderful photos.