Liz Joyce travels far and wide to search for puppet shows to bring to Sag Harbor, and she acknowledges that puppeteers are not exactly in plentiful supply. “There aren’t many [puppetry companies],” she says. “We’ve changed our mission statement to include supporting new puppeteers.”
Recently, Joyce attended the La MaMa Puppet Festival in New York City, as well as other festivals in Vermont and Montreal. “Anything that’s going to have puppets, I’ll go,” Joyce says.
Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre has been entertaining and enriching the lives of East End kids since 2001. Founded by Sag Harbor resident Liz Joyce, the theater was originally housed at Christ Episcopal Church on East Union Street before partnering with Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts in 2015. Now, with a bigger performance space and a new direction, Joyce is excited for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.
The transition from the church space to Bay Street also changed the nonprofit company’s direction and mission statement. Goat on a Boat’s beginnings included classes for toddlers and birthday parties, which have since ceased in favor of bigger productions.
“A lot of people were sad about that,” Joyce says, “but now we focus on main stage puppet shows.” In addition to writing and building her own original work, like The Doubtful Sprout, an ecological “underground puppet adventure,” Goat on a Boat hosts other puppetry companies from around the country.
One such show, coming up on Saturday, November 24, is The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, from Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers. Based in Bar Harbor, Maine, Frogtown is run by three siblings who write, create and tour their original works. “It’s so fun and clever,” Joyce says of the company, noting that the story is not at all scary but indeed silly and fun for young audiences.
Audiences have always responded well to Goat on a Boat’s offerings, and Joyce believes this is because there’s something special about puppet theater. “These companies that come to Goat on a Boat…the shows they make, they’re making them,” she explains. “The shows are those puppeteers’ babies. Puppetry is a very personal art form. Everyone has a different picture of what a puppet show is in their mind. The puppets can take you places actors can’t. Once you fall into it, you’ll go wherever they take you.”
Joyce fell into the world of puppetry thanks to her background in art. “I went to art school, and I was certified to teach,” she explains. Joyce also apprenticed with the “late, great” puppeteer Terry Snyder. As a teacher, Joyce can see that puppetry can change a child’s life.
“Goat on a Boat considers puppetry to be the gateway to a lifelong love of theater,” Joyce says. “And when we were doing baby groups, those kids are now in their high school theater productions. I like to think we had something to do with that. Being exposed to theater at an early age is such a creative thing to share with kids. It’s so much more creative than [seeing something on screen]. A kid will tell you everything that happened in a puppet show and they’ll play it out.”
In the new year, Goat on a Boat will continue its slate of quality puppet shows for children. Additionally, Joyce is planning to host puppeteer Yael Rasooly’s show for adults, Paper Cut, in time for International Women’s Day, March 8. Most of all, Joyce hopes that families take some time during the holidays and head to Bay Street for a fun afternoon of theater. “We have a lot folks who come back time after time,” she says, “and they love it.”
Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre presents The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow on Saturday, November 24; The Joyfully Jolly Jamboree on Sunday, December 22; and Go Home Tiny Monster on Saturday, December 29. For tickets and more information, visit baystreet.org.