By Annette Hinkle
Back in 2001, Liz Joyce opened Goat on a Boat Puppet Theater in the Parish hall of Sag Harbor’s Christ Episcopal Church. One of just 50 puppet theaters in the United States, “The Goat,” as it is affectionately known, was founded with a mission of introducing young children to theater while fostering a lifelong love of the creative arts.
Fourteen years later, Ms. Joyce’s earliest fans are now in high school and beyond … and Goat on a Boat is in the process of growing up a bit itself as well.
This week, Ms. Joyce will officially bid farewell to her longtime space as Goat on a Boat packs up and heads to a new home — the Bay Street Theater.
Ms. Joyce is excited about the possibilities the move will bring, not only artistically, but also from an operational perspective. With a full staff in place at Bay Street Theater, including box office and marketing personnel, Ms. Joyce can now relinquish some of the many duties that occupied her time in the past.
“Over the 14 years, as an artist I’ve watched my contemporaries develop their work while I’ve been very focused on the theater,” admits Ms. Joyce. “I’d like to broaden my work by increasing the size of my team. I’ve written, directed and done it all, which keeps the work small.”
“Puppets are small — but it’s time to open up and grow,” she adds.
While she’s excited about the change, Ms. Joyce also finds it bittersweet. While Goat on a Boat will still offer a full lineup of puppet shows going forward (Ms. Joyce feels her tie with Bay Street will attract many cutting edge puppeteers eager to perform in the space), she is giving up the puppet playgroups which she’s hosted since the beginning. Given the amount of programming now offered for babies and toddlers at libraries and museums, she feels it’s a role she no longer needs to fill.
Though the first regular Goat on a Boat programming at Bay Street won’t begin until Thanksgiving weekend, Ms. Joyce tested the waters in August by bringing in “Everybody Loves Pirates” by the Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers of Bar Harbor, Maine.
“I walked into Bay Street and 15 people were doing what I normally do,” says Ms. Joyce. “To be part of a team and part of this bigger theater is exciting. It’s just a nice fit.”
And it works both ways. The August show was a sell out and it not only brought in Ms. Joyce’s loyal fan base, but also many adult patrons of Bay Street Theater who came to see what Goat on a Boat is all about.
“It was such a euphoric feeling to sell out, be in the space and see how it works,” adds Ms. Joyce.
While many of the details of the partnership are still being worked out, the collaborative possibilities between Bay Street and Goat on a Boat seem endless. From creating puppet shows that tie into Bay Street’s educational initiatives to running puppet making workshops or even creating props that might be used in Bay Street productions, Ms. Joyce feels the sky’s the limit.
For Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street’s executive director, the partnership fills a void in the theater’s programming as well.
“We haven’t had puppetry and no real programming, quite frankly, for the pre-school to age seven group since KidStreet,” she explains. “Part of our mission is to support theatrical artists in whatever form that may be. We can help Liz with marketing. We also have a box office and a stage that is not used during those times when little kids are up and parents want programming for them.”
“Liz is at the top end of what she does and her piece of the theatrical world fits in nicely with what we do,” adds Ms. Mitchell. “I think it’s great for her, and good for us. There are not many things I think are a natural partnership — this is one of them.”
This fall and winter, Ms. Joyce plans to offer puppet shows at Bay Street on Saturdays during long holiday weekends and every week in March since, as Ms. Joyce notes, “it’s such a long, grueling month.”
By next summer, Ms. Joyce expects to have a full slate of shows scheduled for Bay Street (featuring primarily outside groups) and is also hoping to tap into the wider puppet network by bringing a puppet slam to Sag Harbor at some point in the future. Akin to a poetry slam, a puppet slam consists of short pieces performed by a number of different puppeteers in quick succession.
“From the Avant garde to family shows, it’s very exciting what’s happening in the world of puppetry,” says Ms. Joyce who currently sits on the board of The Jim Henson Foundation. “It’s really high tech meets low tech. With projectors and editing programs so accessible, it’s changing the way puppeteers are doing puppetry.”
But as she makes way for the future, Ms. Joyce is looking to jettison a good deal of the past, both figuratively and literally, and to that end, will host a Goat on a Boat yard sale this Saturday, September 12, 2015 at Christ Episcopal Church Parish Hall (4 Hampton Street, Sag Harbor).
The sale begins at 10 a.m. and Ms. Joyce will be selling puppets, craft materials and other objects she will no longer be needing. At 11 a.m., she’ll present “Minkie Grows Up,” a farewell puppet show starring Minkie the Monkey, a perennial favorite for generations of children.
“We started doing the playgroups the first year we opened and Minkie developed out of that,” she says. “So Minkie is going to do a little historic review send off.”
At 11:30 a.m., Joe Lauro and a couple friends will lead a musical stroll down to Bay Street Theater where a free puppet making workshop will be held at noon on the theater’s patio as part of HarborFest.