Gordon Holey shows off one of his puppets, Dizzy Desi, in his home studio in Williamstown. Holey will debut his puppet show 'The Story Book' at the Clark Art Institute on Friday, Aug. 8.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Gordon Holey started out at Ohio State University majoring in materials science and engineering, which is the study of materials based on their composition and structure.
Now, he makes puppets.
Holey, a native Texan who has lived in Williamstown for two years, changed career paths after he impulsively tried out for a play as a college junior who had never performed before. He secured the lead, beating out master-level theater students, loved it so much that he changed his major his senior year and graduated in 2001 with a degree in theater.
Now, 13 years later, after working with Ohio-based Madcap Productions Puppet Theatre founder Jerry Handorf, making puppets for local theaters in Texas and working in a small theater in Beverly Hills, Calif., Holey has created his own troupe, The Puppet Brigade, and written his own show, "The Story Book," which he is premiering on stage at the Clark Art Institute on Friday, Aug. 8. He will perform two shows of "The Story Book," at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., as part of the Clark's participation in the Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Fridays series. Admission to the Clark and the puppet shows will be free; donations collected at the door will go toward future educational programs at the Clark as well as programs presented by The Puppet Brigade throughout the Northeast.
And Holey's goal is to bring The Puppet Brigade to as many people in the Northeast as possible. That's where "The Story Book" comes into play.
"I'd been making puppets for other people for a long time," he said. "I wanted to make some for myself."
So he started creating characters while working as a stay-at-home dad to his son Max, now 4. Since settling in Williamstown, an extra bedroom in his North Street house doubles as his studio, complete with a sewing machine and puppets decorating the walls. (His collection numbers around a dozen right now.) He made some connections at the Clark and has spent the last year honing the story to perfection in hopes of performing it to a live audience in his adopted hometown.
"I want to do this big show. I've been wanting to do this for a long time," he said. "I want as many people to see it as possible."
"The Story Book" revolves around a character named Silas the Storyteller, played by Holey himself. Silas is about to headline a grand storytelling festival but has lost his book. Using a lot of audience participation and three common fairy tales, Silas learns that maybe he doesn't need his book, after all.
"There's a lot of interaction," he said. "I encourage kids to yell at me. You never know what's going to happen."
What happens is fun, of course, but Holey sneaks in many teachable moments. With the "Sleeping Beauty" section of the story, he teaches kids about how stories are written, with a beginning, middle and end, and with "Little Red Riding Hood," he teaches kids about the role of the protagonist. He wants kids to learn to use their imaginations.
"They feel like they're making up the story with me," he said. "It's a lot of fun."
Because of the educational aspect of the show, Holey already has performed at the Williamstown Community Preschool and has reached out to local elementary schools to bring him in next year. He also hopes to participate in library summer reading programs in the future, too.
But the Clark Art appearance is a huge step up in public exposure for Holey, who hopes his show and his puppets will be embraced by the community.
"I'm very confident in my programs and my puppets," he said. "I have no doubt that when I get up on stage, the kids are going to love it."