By Emily J. Weitz
They’re popping up all over: from the Goat on a Boat home base in Sag Harbor to outdoor venues like Amagansett Square, puppets are taking the Hamptons, and the rest of Long Island as well. Liz Joyce, the founder of Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, has introduced thousands of kids to puppets over the years, and she’s thrilled to help bring a flood of puppet performances and workshops to the community this summer through Puppets Take Long Island.
“Puppetry is a child’s introduction to theater,” she says. “When kids come to Goat on a Boat, it’s often their first connection with theater and we hope it’s a lifelong connection.”
But anyone who’s been to Goat on a Boat knows that the shows are not just for kids. Puppet shows, with their original scripts and their costumes and sets, can be real theater, and can invoke the imaginations of audiences of all ages. That’s one reason Joyce collaborated with Jim Packard, theater director at the Long Island Children’s Museum, to arrange Puppets Take Long Island. It is an eight-week long celebration of the magic of puppetry, featuring puppet troupes from all over the United States and Europe.
Last week, Puppets in Prague did a free puppet show of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Amagansett Square to a crowd of about 50 people, all set up on blankets and lounge chairs across the green. This week at the same venue, Z Puppets Rosenschnoz, from Minnesota, will present A La Carte, a show featuring a clown chef attempting to cook a puppet lobster. They’ll proceed to perform in 10 different locations across Long Island as part of the Puppets Take Long Island festival.
Z Puppets Rosenschnoz is a husband and wife team, accompanied by an accordion player who enhances each performance with live music.
“We do all original shows that combine puppets, physical comedy, and live music,” says Chris Griffith, one of the founders and performers. “We travel all over the country performing and teaching about puppetry and related theatrical things.”
Griffith came from a background in street performance and juggling, which have strongly impacted his skills in puppetry.
“Street performing gives an immediate reaction,” says Griffith. “You either have an audience or you don’t and there’s no in between. You learn what keeps and captivates an audience.”
His wife, Shari Aronson, came from a playwriting background, and she found herself wanting to get more playful.
“We met in the middle and found a performance style that works for both of us,” says Griffith.
One of the reasons Griffith and his wife have fallen in love with puppetry is that it speaks to children and adults on a deep, resonating level.
“Puppets can bypass language,” Griffith says, “and go straight to the part of us that responds non-verbally. We try to use minimal language, or use language in a way that’s different or surprising.”
For example, in A La Carte, the French chef speaks mostly gibberish that sounds a bit French, but everyone can understand him anyway.
“That frees us up,” says Griffith. “We’re not too wordy or intellectual, and we tap into a deeper source.”
Tapping into that deeper place awakens the imaginations of audience and performer alike.
“In order to make a puppet seem alive,” says Griffith, “the puppeteer has to use their imagination, and the audience brings their imagination, and they have to meet in the middle, in a magical place.”
In that imaginary place, where reality is suspended, puppets are permitted to explore all sorts of themes that would be hard to access with live performers, or for young children.
“Puppets are metaphors,” says Griffith. “You’re never going to create a puppet that is exactly like a dog, and the more you make it exactly like a dog, the less interesting. The more abstract, the more metaphorical. Then it interacts with that visual, non-verbal part of your brain. Puppets require a bit of playfulness. In any theatre you have to suspend your disbelief and buy into it. And with puppets, you have to do that even more, to become playful, and to use your imagination.”
Joyce feels the exact same way, and that’s why she finds puppets to be an unparalleled introduction to theater for kids.
“There’s a moment in theater,” she says, “that you can’t recreate with a computer or on a screen. It’s that moment where your reality is suspended and you are lost in that moment.”
Z Puppets Rosenshnoz perform at 5:30 p.m. this Friday, July 26, 2013 in Amagansett Square. For a schedule of Puppets Take Long Island performances visit the website at www.puppetstakelongisland.com.