In 2011, Disney released The Muppets (like puppets get it?), one of their first major Muppets projects since buying the colorful cast of puppets from The Jim Henson Company. The Muppets (especially Muppet Babies) played a part in shaping my childhood and imagination and jump-started my lifelong love of puppetry and theater. What kids—and parents—may not be aware of is that while the Muppets may be the puppet world’s A-listers, they’re not the only hand-stitched entertainers out there. Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre in Sag Harbor and Little Feet Puppet Theater in Coram are keeping the joy of puppetry alive with their innovative and fun puppet shows.
Having just opened two months ago, Little Feet Puppet Theater is still a work-in-progress, but the amount of love and care being put into the storefront space is inspiring. The theater is the brainchild of Donna Correa, who crafts each puppet by hand, writes the shows and performs in them. Correa discovered her love of puppetry only five years ago. “When I was a kid I didn’t think twice about puppets,” she explains. “Five years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and I went into painting. I needed something to do. My boyfriend does wood carvings, and I tried it myself one day and made a cute head and came up with the idea for marionettes.” The hobby has blossomed into an exciting new venture for Correa, who believes that live puppet theater is “a dying art” that more children need to see, rather than watching a movie or a TV show. Correa finds the live aspect the most exciting. “We make mistakes, and sometimes it’s hilarious,” she smiles.
The Little Feet Puppet Theater offers two shows at any given time. One show is usually a more traditional fairy tale, like Little Red Riding Hood, while the other is an original creation called Neon’s World, which follows a puppet named Neon in his various adventures. “Neon’s World is my own story. This week, he saves the princess,” Correa says, in next month’s installment, Neon goes into space. The most exciting and theatrical aspect of Neon’s World is that it’s performed under a blacklight, allowing for great special effects and colors. The Little Feet Puppet Theater also does birthday parties for kids and is developing educational programs.
Taking a look at the Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, I’m tempted to refer to it as “Masterpiece Theatre” for the under-10 set. Having developed and performed in a plethora of shows and programs, Liz Joyce draws from classic fairy tales and puts her own spin on stories like Little Red Riding Hood featuring hand puppets, Goldilocks & the Three Bears with miniature marionettes and The Three Little Pigs with marionettes.
“I was trained as a fine artist and art teacher but when I accidentally started making puppets, I apprenticed with a master puppeteer, worked with many puppeteers in New York and studied carving in Prague,” Joyce explains. All of her shows feature original, handmade puppets. Joyce appreciates her audience and loves engaging the community. “I love knowing the kids and families in our community,” she says. “The Goat brings joy to children! That makes me happy. Our pint-sized venue is the perfect size for kids to enjoy their first experiences of theater.”
Starting on July 8, Goat on a Boat, along with the Long Island Children’s Museum, will present “Puppets Take Long Island,” an eight-week festival across the island showcasing the best puppet theater there is and featuring everything from “giant puppets and marionettes to rod and shadow puppets.” The event features performances from many different puppeteers and production companies, most performing more than one show. The performances will be held at Goat on a Boat, Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City and Amagansett Square. And if reading this article has you wishing you could go to a puppet show without taking a kid, Puppets Take Long Island will present Puppet Slam—Puppets After Dark: Immature Entertainment for Mature Audiences for the 18-and-up crowd.
Little Feet Puppet Theater, 3455 New York 112, Coram, littlefeetpuppettheater.com, 631-316-5470
Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, 4 East Union Street, Sag Harbor, goatonaboat.org, 631-725-4193