By Annette Hinkle
A Conversation with Liz Joyce, founder of Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre in Sag Harbor who talks about funding, the upcoming summer season and the annual Bambini Ball.
You just got a joint grant for summer programming along with the Long Island Children’s Museum in Nassau County. What’s the grant and what will it allow you to do?
It’s a NYSCA [New York State Council on the Arts] redevelopment grant that was secured by Jim Packard, the theater director at the Long Island Children’s Museum. He loves puppets and wanted to do something.
The reason it’s important is it’s taken the pressure off us. It’s expensive to bring puppeteers out here. We’re doing an eight-week festival this summer called “Puppets Take Long Island” with the grant. This way, they can perform at both locations — Goat on a Boat Thursday to Saturday, and from Monday to Wednesday they’ll be at the Long Island children’s museum.
This summer we’re also going to offer free shows outdoors in Amagansett Square on Fridays at 5:30. You can bring a picnic and Crossroads Music will be doing the sound.
We’ll have a couple of puppet shows from up island and I’m getting my friends from Prague – “Puppets in Prague” – back here. In 2000, I did a two week carving course with them – they do these amazing workshops and performances using all traditional Czech puppets. They’re going to come and we’re hoping to do a condensed version of the carving course for adults.
It seems you have been offering shows lately that are good for kids ad adults — like Gustafer Yellowgold. Is bringing in more grown-up programming part of your mission?
That’s part of my artistic direction. Musically, I love Gustafer because he appeals to kids and adults. A lot of kids bands are more “cream cheesy,” but I know I need to entertain the adults along with kids. It’s really not that hard to do. It’s just got to be a good performance that’s witty and with smart writing.
But finding the people who are doing that is the challenge, right?
Honestly, there aren’t that many puppeteers around. Live puppetry isn’t that easy to do and there’s not a lot of support. It’s not like Europe with great funding and in Prague and Mexico where they consider their artists to be treasures and send them out to promote the culture. We don’t do that here.
Now I’m also in the city doing my playgroup, “Puppet Romp and Sing,” and I’m training new puppeteers to do it. It’s part of my personal goal and one which I want to promote. So we don’t become extinct.
Goat on a Boat’s 5th annual Bambini Ball is this Saturday. Kids usually get left behind when parents go to fundraisers. But this one’s for them too.
When I tell the they’re all invited to the ball – their eyes light up. The guys get out their super hero costumes and the girls go for princessy attire. I’m still trying to find my gown. I usually get it at Salvation Army in Riverhead — they have a great formal wear section. But it was not up to snuff this time.
So what can ball guests look forward to this year?
Because we got the grant, this year’s ball will not have silent auctions and I’m not out there asking for money. It’s really a party. Carlos Lama will be DJing – and there will be a light dinner, food for kids, crafts, puppet shows, a performance by Jester Jim, adult beverages, dancing, games and a cake walk.
Cake walk? I thought that was just a cliché. How does it work.
It’s like musical chairs but you win a cake. We got 10 of them to give away.
So after the ball, what are some of your goals for the theater going forward?
Make it so it stays around and get more people in there. I alone can’t promote it the way it could be. We also need to do more programming for kids as they grow older. I’d like to make a speak easy for the middle schoolers.
Wouldn’t we all…
For more information on Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre visit www.goatonaboat.org to purchase.
Top: Liz Joyce (Tim Lee photo)