"Honey Goodenough"

Go Behind the Scenes of National Marionette Theatre

One Father, Two Sons, 114 years of Marionette Performance!
by Guest Blogger: Honey Goodenough, puppeteer
Honey and the Cricket from NMT's "Pinocchio."
Performing with the National Marionette Theatre (NMT) is like performing with a piece of history. The National Marionette Theatre has been part of the Syrotiak family since 1967 when it was founded after the World's Fair in NYC. Father, David Syrotiak Sr. saw his first puppet show in second grade and was hooked. He began building marionettes at age 11, with the guidance of Rufus and Margo Rose. By lying about his age, he started performing professionally at 15 with The Berkely Marionettes.  In the summer of 1953, he toured with the Suzari Marionettes, and later Nicolo Marionettes performing with fellow contemporaries such as Wayland Flowers, Nick Coppola, and Pady Blackwood.
Signed book by Rufus and Margo Rose, pioneer marionettists,
given to David Syrotiak Sr. at the age of 12 (1948)

He enlisted in the Army to qualify for the GI Bill, where he wrangled his way into The Special Services, where he commandeered his own puppet workshop and performed cabaret style marionette performances for fellow US troops. Some of his duties included hosting and greeting performers such as Velma Middleton and Louis Armstrong. After completing his term in the Army, he attended The Silvermine School of Art in Connecticut. His performance credits include Sid and Marty Kroft and Bil Baird, performing shows at the New York World's Fair alongside fellow performers such as Carolee Wilcox, who later became the shop manager for Henson Associates.

A scene from NMT's "Pinocchio."
All four of the Syrotiak children, including Maggie, Catie, David Jr. and Peter have performed and voiced characters for The National Marionette Theatre.  David's wife, Marianna, has performed with the company for many years, and even now the legacy is being shared with Steven Syrotiak, David and Marianna's 15 year old son, who joins the company as a sound tech and crew for their production of "Peter and the Wolf." This week at Puppet Showplace Theatre we are performing "Pinocchio," which is the only show where all four of the Syrotiak siblings voice characters.
Joining a Legacy

I joined the company in January, and began rehearsing under the direction of David J. and Peter Syrotiak.  I first began by running sound for "Peter and the Wolf," and shortly after was invited to perform "Sleeping Beauty" and have now joined them for this week's performances of "Pinocchio."  One of the highlights of the training process has been performing with the Syrotiak brothers, and then receiving notes from their father, David. When you add all their years of marionette performance together it totals 114 years.  In my brief time touring with the company, we have been hosted in some of the most lovely theaters and museums throughout the Northeast. I am proud to say that this native Texan has now toured all of the New England states - sometimes all in the same day!  I enjoy the long drives and the view of the New England countryside as well as sampling the local fare - my favorite being fresh New England lobster! The Syrotiaks are not only are meticulous marionettists, but are equally as passionate about cuisine and are amazing chefs!

Honey rehearsing "Sleeping Beauty" with David Sr.
Housed in the Green Mountains of Battleboro (VT), The National Marionette Theatre has a beautiful workshop/performance space where they rehearse and build all their shows. It is 1600 square feet filled with marionette shows and memories. They house 350 marionettes from more than 20 different shows that range throughout their repertoire. Touring is a conglomeration of performers. Since we all live in different states spanning from Pennsylvania to New York and Vermont, we convene at the studio to collect the show, pack the car, and then drive to the venue for sometimes more than 11 hours.  

The Syrotiak Technique

The Syrotiaks perform with American style airplane controls but with several unique modifications. They use a yoke string on their marionette's arms which connect their puppet's hands and forearms, this creates a subtle automatic wrist action. They also use elbow strings on almost all of their marionettes, which gives their puppets a broad range of action and variety of expression. The most surprising modification for a new puppeteer to their company is that they perform with gloved hands and without a proscenium. The performance and the performers are in full view of the audience at all times. On a number of occasions, our audience  has remarked on our intricate manipulation and performer cooperation throughout the show. Many of the scenes require quick passes from one puppeteer to the next. The backstage action is as delicately choreographed as the performance on stage. Our audiences see a show within a show! 

Honey, David Jr. and Peter Syrotiak after a performance of "Peter and the Wolf"

Journey from Apprentice to Master

After 12 years of training with marionettes in New Jersey and throughout the NYC area, I still consider myself a student of the craft.  I have been fortunate to have  studied with marionette artists such as Phillip Huber, Jim Rose, Nicholas Coppola, Steve Widerman, Kevin Frisch and Jim Raccioppi. The more I learn from the Syrotiak family and fellow performers, the more I learn about the rich history of marionette performance throughout the United States. Now when I compare marionette styles and controls, I not only see the puppet, but also the influences of all the marionette performers that came before me. The art of puppetry is a living curriculum that is best shared through apprenticeship and practical experience. This community truly is a family of performers united by their passion for puppetry.

David Sr, Honey, and Paul Vincent Davis (Puppet Showplace Aritst-in-Residence Emeritus)

More about… “Puppet Pandemic: The Boston Outbreak!"

This Saturday night - January 22nd - at 8pm, the Puppet Showplace Slam is proud to present "Puppet Pandemic: The Boston Outbreak", a showcase of works curated and cultivated by alumni of the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference. In addition to the performed pieces — 13 in all — the Puppet Pandemic organizers will be holding a raffle filled with amazing puppet items, including a personalized voicemail recording by a Sesame Street character! The funds raised by the raffle as well as donations to Puppet Pandemic will benefit the Alumni Scholarship to attend the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

The scholarship was founded on the belief that puppetry is a contagious art form. The Alumni Scholarship is meant to support artists and encourage them to propagate provocative theatrical works.

Performing artists who have benefitted from the scholarship include 2010 recipients Jonathan Little, Alissa Hunnicutt, Elizabeth Hara, and Marta Mozelle Macrostie.

There will be 13 different pieces performed as part of the program. Below is more information about the performers.

Frankie Cordero has worked as a puppeteer/designer/builder/director in NYC for the past 10 years. Theater: Lemony Snicket's "The Composer is Dead" at Berkeley Rep, "Walking with Dinosaurs," "Ko'olau" with Tom Lee, "Bride" with Lone Wolf Tribe, "Madama Butterfly" at The Met Opera. TV: Comedy Central/McDonald's commercials, "Sesame Street," "Oobi," "Its a Big, Big World," "Jack's Big Music Show," and many music videos and pilots. Directing/Producing: "The Whole World and You," (Atlantic Record's), "IRL FILES" (The Motorola Backflip Phone). www.frankiecordero.com

Melissa Dunphy plays strings on the side, but her day job is composing. Her best-known work, The Gonzales Cantata (see www.gonzalescantata.com), was performed at the 2009 Philly Fringe, receiving rave press and reviews from The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Harper's Magazine, The Huffington Post, and Rachel Maddow. She has composed and performed music for many Philadelphia-area theaters and is currently getting a Ph.D. in composition at UPenn. More information at www.melissadunphy.com

Thomas Getchell I am currently working on my MFA thesis project at the University of Connecticut, a cabaret marionette performance called Proleptic Voice: A Visual Poem. The show, which was inspired by Emily Dickinsonʼs prose “I Heard a Fly Buzz--When I Died,” will run February 18-19. I did my undergraduate studies in theatre and dance at California State University Sacramento, where I learned about puppetry from professor Richard Bay.

Honey Goodenough is a producer, puppeteer, clown, costume designer, and arts educator. She received her MA in Educational Theater from NYU in 2006. Her theatrical credits include Phantom Limb's "The Fortune Teller" at HERE Arts Space, Puppetworks, and The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater. Video credits include puppetry for "Clap your Hands" by Sia, and puppet costume construction for "IRL FILES," web ad for Collegehumor.com. You can also find her clowning around NYC hospitals for the Starlight Children's Foundation. She is very proud to consider Puppet Showplace a fellow sponsor of Puppet Pandemic and the NPC Alumni Scholarship. And yes, Honey Goodenough is her real name.

Elizabeth Hara is a costume and puppet builder who has worked for Parsons-Meares (Spiderman, The Lion King, and Shrek the Musical), The Jim Henson Company, Puppet Heap, and the Puppet Kitchen. Liz has lived in New york City for 3 years, but still goes home to Minnesota every year for the State Fair. She likes dirty jokes, candy, and dancing.

Alissa Hunnicutt is the resident puppeteer at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC. She is an alumnus of the O’Neill Puppetry Conference, has performed at Great Small Works’ International Toy Theater Festival and is a regular in both puppet theater and slams around the tri-state area. Alissa debuted her full-length cabaret show “The Kid Inside” in 2010 and was a featured performer at the Orlando Puppet Festival. www.alissahunnicutt.com

Bradley Kemp is a composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in NYC. He is a member of chamber-punk ensemble Anti-Social Music and creates electronic music under the name b-radius. Kemp is currently developing a puppet play with live music based around the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire centennial, which received a Jim Henson Foundation Seed Grant. www.catapultparlor.com

Jonathan Little has attended the National Puppetry Conference twice and is an award recipient of the Puppet Pandemic Alumni Scholarship. Jonathan graduated from the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston. He is an accomplished dancer as well as puppeteer having studied with Boston Ballet. Jonathan toured with Kaiju Big Battle performing as Giant Club Sandwiches to the furry super hero Slo Feng. He is currently the primary puppet builder for Little's Creatures and a skilled puppeteer with a wide range of characters.

Marta Mozelle MacRostie is an NYC-based puppeteer, puppet builder, theater educator, and jazz vocalist. Recent credits include Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead at Berkeley Repertory Theater in CA and Puss in Boots at the New Victory Theater dir. Moises Kaufman (Off-Broadway). Marta appears on an ongoing basis with the puppet company Chinese Theater Works in NYC. She has studied at Umass Amherst, UConn, and of course at O'Neill National Puppetry Conference.

Ian Sweetman is a three-time veteran of the O'Neill National Puppetry Conference. In addition to the NPC, Ian's puppet work has been seen all along the Atlantic coast with productions in Florida, Maryland, New York and Connecticut. Recently, Ian completed a run with Phantom Limb Company's "The Fortune Teller" at the HERE Arts Center in New York City.