Puppets, Banjos & Balls, Oh My!

Posted on 18 March 2010

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Julie Resnick and her daughters Mae and Chloe, and Joyce Shulman with daughter Maddie enjoy the Dreamlike Puppet Theatre’s “Three Bears and Three Pigs” at Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre last Saturday.

As a parent, Joyce Shulman experienced first-hand the necessity for parents of young children to find community.

“I think we were built to live with a larger sense of community,” Shulman said at “the Goat” on Monday. “Bringing a sense of community and giving parents the ability to connect with each other – Liz does this so well. I think it’s also good for our well-being.”

The “Liz,” Shulman refers to is puppeteer Liz Joyce, and “the Goat” is Joyce’s Sag Harbor-based Goat on a Boat Puppet Theatre, located on the lower level of the Christ Episcopal Church’s parish hall.

Joyce’s puppet theatre, one of only 50 established theatres in the United States, performs puppet shows every Saturday featuring Joyce’s own talent as well as performances by puppeteers from across the country. Joyce also hosts puppet playgroups on Monday, Thursday and Friday mornings for parents and children three and under, and Tot Art, an hour of crafts on Fridays for children two to four years old, in addition to special events like the celebration of the National Day of Puppetry on April 24, and this Saturday’s Bambini Ball, a fundraiser for the not-for-profit theatre.

Shulman has regularly attended Goat on a Boat with her two children, Mason and Maddie, for the last seven years.

“It’s a community place as well as a theatre and a lot of that is because of Liz’s personality and what she has to offer,” said Shulman, co-founder of Macaroni Kid, an online newsletter detailing regional, family-friendly activities.

Goat on a Boat draws throngs of families with children of all ages to Sag Harbor each Saturday, and Joyce’s Puppet Playgroups allow a younger audience to begin to appreciate theatre, music and the arts, while also giving parents an opportunity to connect with their children, and each other.

Developed in 2001 at the urging of several Goat on a Boat devotees, Joyce said she started out using free play with toys, playing music with her banjo, and developing a puppet series around Minky the Monkey – a puppet now so familiar with regulars that shrieks of joy can be heard when he appears on stage. Joyce has also developed a series of original songs built around stimulating activities designed to keep her young audience as engaged and focused as is possible, given their age range.

“With theatre, they hear sound, they think about what the sound is – their minds are filling in a lot of the gaps,” said Joyce. “The thing I love about it is afterwards, they go home and they talk about Minky. They start making up their own stories, and their own characters.”

The playgroup teaches children not only to appreciate art and theatre, but also the ability to sit and enjoy theatre.

“The nice thing is they do these playgroups and come back to weekend shows with the ability to enjoy them,” said Joyce.

Joyce takes pride in bringing shows to Goat on a Boat that local families might not have access to without a trip to Manhattan or beyond, like Gustafer Yellowgold and puppeteer Tom Knight. Joyce said that fundraisers like this Saturday’s Bambini Ball make all of it possible.

“It has this really creative, light hearted energy,” said Shulman of the ball. “Last time, my kids danced and played for the entire evening while I enjoyed a glass of wine and caught up with old friends.”

The family friendly Bambini Ball will feature a red carpet for parents and children alike to strut their stuff, adorned in their favorite costume or gown, as well as food, drinks, a live auction, dancing under a disco ball and maybe even a fire juggler.

“You have the ability as a parent to be in a party atmosphere where your children are having a ball, no pun intended, and you can hang out and participate in Liz’s goofy activities,” said Shulman. “It’s just got a great vibe.”

The Goat on the Boat’s puppet shows are every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. It’s Puppet Playgroup is held Monday, Thursday and Friday at 9:30 a.m. and Tot Art Fridays are at 10:30 a.m. The Bambini Ball will be held Saturday, March 20 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Christ Episcopal Church parish hall on East Union Street, Sag Harbor. The cost is $10 for children, $30 for adults. For more information on the ball, or activities at Goat on a Boat, visit http://goatonaboat.org.

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