Our Zoom puppet is a bit like Dr. Who—every once in a while, he regenerates! We made the first one when the show opened at the National Arts Centre in 1999. About ten years later, after several cross-country tours and many performances, it was time for a new one. And now, with 20 performances of Zoom at Sea coming up at the Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe and the Shenkman Arts Centre, it was once again time for a fresh new fur on a dear old friend. But it’s hard to step into the same river twice.
To begin with, fabric has evolved. The first two incarnations were made with Arctic Fleece – a fairly new and innovative material in 1999. It’s soft, strong, flexible, and lovely to work with. But the fabric tends to pill after a while. And one day, our friend, well-known puppeteer Noreen Young introduced us to Antron fleece, sometimes known as Muppet Fleece. I had previously used Antron fleece for Roo, the opinionated dog in The Last Polar Bears, and the fabric stands up very well to a lot of use. The other big advantage that Antron fleece has over other kinds of man-made fabric is that you can dye it.
The fabric that Noreen Young gave us was a pure, bright white, and we wanted Zoom to be a bit more cream coloured, so we dipped the fabric in tea. After a few experiments, we discovered that the strength of the tea matters more than the soaking time. So we brewed up a pot of half-strength tea, stirred the fabric in for about a minute, and left it to dry overnight.
The next step is to lay the fabric out on bits of pattern that I move around for different characters – this head, that body, that tail. Then I cut it out, pin the pieces together, sew it up – and turned the whole thing right side out.
For some reason, the neck seemed a bit too long in this one, so I bravely cut off the head, to reposition it later and sew it on by hand.
But first, it was time to add eyes and shape the head, pulling stitches right across from the front of the face beside the nose, all the way to the back of the head. And embroider the features. It’s a bit tricky to copy the original embroidery design, and at the same time let a new expression emerge. This Zoom seems younger and perkier than the old one. (Well, I guess that’s not surprising!)
Knitting a new sweater was also fun. I found a pattern online and brought the old sweater to my local Michaels store, where the knitting consultant, Heidi, helped me choose the right yarn. I loved getting back into knitting. Previous projects included many penguins for The Last Polar Bears. I really enjoy knitting projects that involve creating 3D shapes, like the little sleeves and the hood. The hemp cord for the whiskers we also found at Michaels, on the very day that hemp products of all kinds became legal in Canada.
I have quite a large selection of buttons in my collection, but finally found the perfect ones for Zoom at Fabricland. If you look closely, you can see the anchors. Anchors away!
Zoom can hardly wait for his debut at Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe November 20–26 and the Shenkman Arts Centre Dec. 5–9. Each show will feature a different school choir—20 in all! More information about the show is here, and tickets are available online here.