Talking With 'Bunnytown' Star Pinky Pinkerton
(Soundbite of song "Bunnytown")
ALISON STEWART, host:
Those in the know know that since November, a town full of bright, colorful, silly, one-tooth bunnies are appointment viewing for preschoolers and their parents, and I'm guessing a college kid or two, if you know what I mean. "Bunnytown" airs on kids cable channel Playhouse Disney, and it's the brainchild of David Rudman. He's been making puppets since he was a kid, but got his big break from a big name in puppeteering, Jim Henson.
Mr. DAVID RUDMAN (Creator, "Bunnytown"): I was ready to quit school, you know. It was what I wanted to do ever since I was eight years old, and I was 18 years old, and I was sitting in Jim Henson's office, and he, you know, said that we really want you to work for the company and I said all right, I'll quit college and come work for you right now and he said, no you should really stay in college, finish school, and you can work for us during your vacations. So that was a nice way to go to college, you know, working for "The Muppets" during my break. So I did "Muppets Take Manhattan" when I was 19.
Mr. RUDMAN: And I did "Labyrinth" when I was 21 or something like that and then I just would go back and forth between Connecticut and New York and work for them, so...
STEWART: You had two really great experiences it seems to me, working with Henson and "The Muppets." There's one, you got to assume the role of one of the great characters of all time, and you got to create a new character.
Mr. RUDMAN: Right.
STEWART: So let's talk about the new character. Who did you create?
Mr. RUDMAN: Baby Bear was the first, my first main character on the show. He was a one-time character. So originally, he was just in one script. One of the writers, Lou Berger, he wrote this one show where we did a Three Bears thing. Where Baby Bear came to Hooper's, not Hooper's, to the Fix-It Shop to get his chair fixed.
And it was written really funny, and he was kind of this ornery little guy, and he came there with Goldilocks, and he was complaining, and he was kind of aggravated that she kept breaking his chair. I think it would be kind of funny to give him a little speech impediment. To maybe soften his anger a little bit and make him cuter. And there were a lot of "R" words written in the script, so I was like break my chair, and porridge, and you drive me crazy.
So I thought it would be funny if he had trouble with his R's, it could be really funny. So he wound up sounding like, you know, "you dwive me cwazy lady," you'we always breaking my wee little chaiw." You know, "I'm trying to eat my powwidge." And you know, so...
STEWART: I like that's he's kind of like from Brooklyn.
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah, yeah.
STEWART: Sort of like the Bronx a little bit. In attitude and accent.
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah. So what happened was I went in and did the voice and did the character and it went really well and the writers really liked it. And the next season, a couple of the writers picked up on it, and he had a couple more shows and over time he just became one of the main characters.
STEWART: The other character was so well-established, Cookie Monster...
Mr. RUDMAN: Mm hm.
STEWART: Is so well-established. To step into being the voice and the person and the spirit behind Cookie Monster about ten years ago, were you nervous about that at all?
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah, I was. I grew up watching "Sesame Street," and Frank Oz created the character. You know he's brilliant. And I just - it was terrifying to step in and do this character and not have anybody know it's different. Frank still does the character every once in a while and he was just getting really busy so they said they need to have some other people come in and do the character. And so we all - all the puppeteers on the show auditioned for the characters, and so I wound up getting Cookie.
STEWART: Is that one of those things, you're like, "yes, I got Cookie"?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. RUDMAN: Yes, it was. At first it was like, oh, my God, Cookie? How am I going to pull this off? So I again, I studied what Frank did, and I tried to just do what he did and really get into the character. So it seems like it's working all right. And no one seems to notice much of a difference.
STEWART: At some point like most creative people when you're working in a great shop you do have dreams of doing your own thing. So you went off and started your own company.
Mr. RUDMAN: Right.
Mr. RUDMAN: Spiffy Pictures, yeah, with my brother Adam and my friend Todd Hannert.
STEWART: Spiffy Pictures has created "Bunnytown." What happens in "Bunnytown?"
Mr. RUDMAN: It's really - it's like a variety show. That's what we wanted to do with "Bunnytown," was create a variety show for pre-schoolers that's set in "Bunnytown." So we still - we have lots of great music. We have running gags that run throughout the show. We have funny segments with different characters, but it's segmented.
So we can move around and see what's going on all over "Bunnytown" all in one episode. We have pirate bunnies doing a song. And then we go and we have a super bunny scene. And then every once in a while, actually twice in every episode, a bunny runs out of "Bunnytown," and he runs through these tunnels and heads over to Peopletown.
Mr. RUDMAN: And he pops out in Peopletown and he sees what the characters and doing in Peopletown.
STEWART: Who's smarter, the bunnies or the peoples? In your show.
Mr. RUDMAN: I think, bunnies.
STEWART: The bunnies are smart, aren't they?
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah, the bunnies.
STEWART: I thought so, I didn't want to say so, but I thought the bunnies were definitely superior.
Mr. RUDMAN: I think so. No offense.
STEWART: The characters from "Bunnytown" that you've brought there today, they're small.
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah.
STEWART: The puppets you have created for this series. I don't know if it's just because I saw it on TV, I guess I thought it would be bigger than life. But they're only, what, about eight inches tall?
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah, they're tiny and they're just little rod puppets. And I think - we do this on a bunch of our shows. It just gives it a while new look. You know, most of the puppets on TV look like Muppets, or are shot like Muppets. So what we do, what we do on all these shows, we bring the scale down and treat them more like an animation, like an animated movie. We shoot in one camera. We storyboard everything.
Mr. RUDMAN: And we art-direct pretty much every shot and because the characters are so small, we can do a lot more with the props and the set. We can have them driving around in cars and we can have this big town set. And a big lake, you know, a character fishing on a big lake. That's stuff you can't really do with regular-size puppet characters because it would be just too huge of a set.
STEWART: Well, one thing I think is interesting I think about the puppets - puppets, right? That's the right language?
Mr. RUDMAN: They're puppets, right.
STEWART: Small, primary colors, one tooth.
Mr. RUDMAN: Right, blue noses.
STEWART: And blue noses. I'm guessing that's not the original looks of these puppets, that they've evolved over time.
Mr. RUDMAN: They've evolved a little bit. They've always had the overbite and the one tooth, that was sort of always there and the long ears. The noses have changed colors over time. I don't know what they were originally. But...
STEWART: I did notice, and this is completely a compliment, that the puppets are a little bit "lo-fi." The puppets are very simple. Your Super Bunny has got a carrot on his chest.
Mr. RUDMAN: Right.
STEWART: And he's just got a little, red, tiny cape.
Mr. RUDMAN: Yeah, that...
STEWART: That's great.
Mr. RUDMAN: I mean, the costumes are great on all these guys, and I think that's what - they're basically the same, you know, shape and style. And just the costumes sort of make them their own characters. Just by giving Little Bad Bunny this evil eyebrow and two yellow teeth, he looks evil.
STEWART: He looks like trouble.
Mr. RUDMAN: But I think again a lot of it is I was never a fan of really elaborate puppets. A lot of puppet characters have moving eyes and moving eyebrows and, you know, their faces move. And I pretty much like simplicity with the characters and let the characters come from the performers. Because I think, you know, it really comes down to whether the character is appealing or not. You could spend a million dollars on making this animatronic character, and you can get a pen and draw a little thing on your finger...
Mr. RUDMAN: And make him this character, you know, and whoever is more appealing, it just comes from the character.
STEWART: That was my conversation with David Rudman, co-creator of "Bunnytown," which airs on Playhouse Disney. But wait! We aren't finished blowing the lid off of "Bunnytown." While the felt feel-good bunnies, well, they're the stars of the show, there were humans featured, too. One of the residents of Peopletown is a sports commentator named Pinky Pinkerton and she's played by actress Polly Frame.
Yeah, that's the same Polly Frame who's appearing in a production of "Macbeth" in Brooklyn that's about to move to Broadway. From Shakespearian tragedy to children's TV, Polly Frame is all charm and Scottish brogue. She told me all about Pinky Pinkerton.
Ms. POLLY FRAME (Actress, "Bunnytown"): Well, she's a very glamorous sports announcer. There's a - in Peopletown, there's the Wacky World of Super Silly Sports, which Pinky Pinkerton is everyday announcing whatever sports are on. And she basically compares whatever contest is happening, takes the audience through it, takes them right up to the finish line and whoever wins. And normally involves her getting some kind of pie in the face or chucked into a puddle.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: Well, if you have to describe the Super Silly Sports, what kind of stupid people tricks are we talking about?
Ms. FRAME: Anything you could possibly imagine. We've had giant mice being chased by giant cats being chased by giant dogs.
STEWART: I enjoy the staring contest between the kid and the potato.
Ms. FRAME: The potato.
Ms. FRAME: (as Pinky Pinkerton) The match begins, ladies and gentlemen. McGoo (ph) versus Potato. Surely this will be one for the ages and we bring it to you live today. Here on Super Silly Sports.
STEWART: When you first read these scripts, what did you think about this project, where you have to navigate games where people stare at potatoes and giant cats chase giant mice and giant dogs chase them?
Ms. FRAME: I have no idea. My agent said, here are the scripts. He emailed me the scripts and said have another look. And I was thinking this was half "Monty Python" and half for kids. It was the most surrealist thing I've ever read, and I thought it was fantastic right from the start. But also it's so full of tongue twisters. It's actually the best exercise I've done as a warm up, in terms of what I'm doing in Shakespeare at the moment as well. Because you're so verbally warmed up because they are impossible to say.
STEWART: So your training as an actress really has come in handy. Not just that you are good at physical comedy. Or have a sense of humor. But some of your training really goes into your character Pinky Pinkerton.
Ms. FRAME: It does, yes, in the sense - actually, it's equally complicated and definitely demanding. Doing something like Pinky Pinkerton is to doing a Shakespeare or something more serious because it demands the same amount of energy, the same amount of focus and the same amount of dedication to what you're doing and what you're delivering. And in fact, children are probably a much harder audience than the audiences we're having in New York at the moment. Because you know if you slip up, they'll know it.
STEWART: We're speaking with Polly Frame. She's one of the stars of "Bunnytown" playing Pinky Pinkerton. But you've also been performing in "Macbeth" for a good part of a year, right?
Ms. FRAME: Yeah, that's right.
STEWART: Were you ever working on "Bunnytown" and "Macbeth" at the same time?
Ms. FRAME: Pretty much all the time, actually.
STEWART: No, really?
Ms. FRAME: Right from the start. I think I did the first - shot the first pilot for "Bunnytown" when we were in rehearsal for "Macbeth." So I was reading all of these wonderful "Bunnytown" scripts in the day and then in the evening doing, well, in terms of research for "Macbeth," watching lots of horror films.
STEWART: Oh, my gosh.
Ms. FRAME: And things like that, so it was the complete opposite. And throughout the summer when I was actually performing "Macbeth" in Chichester, I was coming back to London to shoot "Bunnytown" in the daytime. And there were times when I thought, well, what happens if I go on stage and I get an "oh, me" or an "oh, my" and instead of an "oh, hail Macbeth"?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FRAME: How will that work?
STEWART: When you were first starting out in theater, did you - did you think, "I want to be a dramatic actress" or "I want to be a comedic actress"? Do you have a preference?
Ms. FRAME: I didn't actually make a conscious choice. I'm lucky. I actually enjoy both very much. I think it's a very nice balance to be able to do the two. And in fact I think sometimes some of the best serious actors are the ones that can do comedy. That, she says, blowing her own trumpet.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: Blowing her own trumpet is Polly Frame. Polly, thanks for coming by the studios.
Ms. FRAME: Thank you very much.
STEWART: And if you have a continued interest in all things "Bunnytown" you got to check out the video on our website, npr.org/bryantpark. OK, that's it bunnies and people from Peopletown, no more Bryant Park today. We are so glad you are with us. We are always online at npr.org/bryantpark. Our staff includes Jacob Ganz, Dan Pashman, Ian Chillag, Win Rosenfeld, Angela Ellis, Caitlin Kenney, and Nathan Dule. Elsa Butler, Laura Silver, and William Hoffman light up our lives as interns.
Manoli Weatherall and Josh Rogosin are our technical directors. Tricia McKinney is our editor. Laura Conaway edits our website and our blog. Our senior producer is Matt Martinez, on vacation, come back soon, Matt. Sharon Hoffman is our executive producer. Rachel Martin, our newscaster. Come back soon, Rachel. We do miss you. Cassie McKinney is our sports analyst. Cassie, again, who are you picking for March Madness?
Ms. CASSIE MCKINNEY: Butler. Butler.
STEWART: I'm Alison Stewart, and this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.
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