Geoffrey Navias helped found the theater in 1980, and served as Executive Director for 34 years. Navias, moved to Syracuse in 1979 to work on a Creative Conflict Resolution project for school age children and served as the first Chairman of the Drama Department at the Metropolitan School for the Arts. While working as a staff person for American Friends Service Committee in Syracuse he was one of the founding members of Open Hand Theater. Originally housed in an old warehouse on Walton St., Open Hand Theater participated in the first community arts festival (in an old parking lot that is now the heart of Armory Square) before the theater moved to Plymouth Congregational Church.
Geoffrey and Open Hand Theater have performed and presented arts education programs in every elementary school in Syracuse and traveled through out the greater Central NY area. Known for giant puppets and commitment to inventive programing for children he serves on the New York State Council for the Arts, Arts Education Panel and is a recipient of the Syracuse Newspapers' 1997 "People of Achievement" Award.
In 1998 Open Hand Theater opened the International Mask and Puppet Museum on N. Salina Street in Syracuse, where Mr. Navias and the theater have played a leadership role in the revitalization of Syracuse’s North Side. In recognition, Open Hand Theater has received an award from Puppeteers of America, the annual Peace award from Peace Action of Central NY, and the 2003 Onondaga Citizen’s League Award for Service to the Community.
Mr. Navias has taught experimental theater for all ages and experience level, including Hand In Hand Youth Theater, a bilingual theater project at the Onondaga Indian Nation School, and the annual Open Hand Theater Performance Arts Circus Camps for children. Mr. Navias teaches a course at Syracuse University entitled Puppetry & Community.
Beyond Syracuse Geoffrey has performed in professional theaters in England, Russia, Finland, Canada, Rochester, and Off-Broadway. He has written and directed over ninety original theater productions for Open Hand Theater, with his most recent production premiering at the 2014 International Puppet Theatre Festival in Tampere Finland this past spring.
Navias and the company have collaborated extensively with other artists, directing productions with the Society for New Music, the Syracuse Vocal Ensemble, Halloween at the Landmark with author Bruce Coville, and Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Syracuse Opera and Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. Open Hand Theater toured award-winning productions in Russia and the US with Skomorokh Theater of Tomsk, Siberia. Geoffrey was co-recipient of the Best Director’s Award at the 1994 International Puppet Festival of Siberia and the Near East for this bilingual production of A Midsummer Nights Dream.
During his time with Open Hand Theater, Geoffrey and his wife Jennifer Hamlin-Navias have raised five children (all can juggle, stilt, or puppeteer) and have been working on their home, which was originally built as a tavern in 1797. At the time he stepped down from Open Hand Theater, Geoffrey Navias was the longest serving paid Executive Director of an Arts Organization in the greater Syracuse area. He is currently the Resident-Artist at the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park’s historic A-frame studio, where he continues to share his insight and creativity with the world.