Monday, July 5, 2010

Welcome to Nigeria!

As I got off the plane, walking through the connecting tunnel, the lights went out and flickered back on a second later.

"Welcome to Nigeria!" the attendant at the other end, happily declared.

It's that sense of humor about themselves and their country that you get from Nigerians. They know everything that is wrong; they know it's far from perfect, if it ever will be. They even admit that they were never meant to be "a country." Nigerians are tribal and the three main tribes that still exist comprise the west/south west, east/south east and north. It was, once again, the brilliant minds of the British and French and others, who decided how to carve up and slice out Africa (for themselves first). And it's stuck.

That's enough history. Let's deal with the present.

I'm here to audition and train puppeteers, to consult with the director, and basically help in anyway I can the newest Sesame Workshop co-production, "Sesame Square," Nigeria's very own "Sesame Street." This is the latest version to be added to Sesame's global franchise; think Starbucks with a curriculum. It will be a half hour with inserts from our Sesame with voices dubbed in; in English the official language of Nigeria, by locals to give Ernie, Bert, and Grover Nigerian accents. But the beginning, middle links and the end of the show are on the set of the Square.

The Square's stars will be Kami and Zikwe. Kami is basd on South Africa's Sesame character who lives being HIV positive, as a way to educate, not just kids, that ANYONE HIV + is NOT contagious, dangerous, or a freak. Zikwe is her bigger burly friend with a hear of gold, blah, blah, blah..... You know, the usual. What's interesting is that his name won't be Zikwe here.... maybe. They've run a contest to have him named and the winning name is to be announced at midnight.... of the day they begining shooting. YES! The puppeteers will have worked with scripts and practiced saying Zikwe and then when they walk in the first day, "Oh by the way his name is now 'Master Abercrombe Fitch, Esq.' Cheers!"

That might not seem much to you or I (and it's still a pain)but these are people, not just brand-new-puppeteers, but EVERYONE, who have NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE. Entire production teams for these co-productions, in cases, are people (writer, directors, producers,camera and sound operators, etc.)who have never tried to entertain and then educate; educate through entertainment before, let alone put on a puppet show.I spent over two weeks last year in India just working with their writers to get them up to speed on how to "write Sesame." Here I will work with the director on the best camera angles to shoot Muppets. It's amazing how Sesame has to teach others how to do "Sesame" before these people can begin to teach their country's children.

You don't appreciate "schtick" until you see people who've never had it.("Laugh! There are children in India who've never had vaudeville!")

So yesterday I started the auditions and saw twenty-four potential puppeteers out of whom, three were good. And women. Maybe not a big deal to you but for those in "puppetdom," you know how it can be quite the "boys'club." But here, these three kickd the guys' butt. They were very good and coming back again today to continue. So "Kami" will be set. Now we got more guys in coming for "Zikwe" (or whatever his name is; check your watch). And because the rehearsal space in the office building wasn't ready yet, I did the auditions in front of a mirror in the building's lobby. Yup. And that's fine. It still worked and I still saw what I needed to see. And when it comes to "going with the flow," well I will take this moment to brag.... after my first trip to South Africa, I AM THE MASTER.(But that's another blog.)

More details tomorrow.


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