Kidscreen »Archive» How Waffles + Mochi found their puppeteers
Significant strides have been made over the past year to improve behind-the-scenes diversity in the children’s entertainment industry. But when Higher Ground Productions started launching their new series Waffles + Mochi, the studio realized that a group was being left out of these inclusion efforts.
“The puppet community is very intimate,” says creative producer Qadriyyah Shamsid-Deen. “You will receive many recommendations for very famous people. [We heard], “ This person is really great because she is technically advanced and has worked on Sesame Street“. But what was really important to us was finding the right voice. Often this voice is in an under-represented community [where the talent] may not be represented by agents or have a detailed curriculum vitae. “
Produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company, Waffles + Mochi launches on Netflix this Tuesday. The hybrid series follows a pair of puppet characters as they explore a grocery store to discover and taste new foods from around the world. Michelle appears in every episode, along with other guest chefs and celebrities. Creators Erika Thormahlen and Jeremy Konner (Drunk story) are inspired by a frozen food aisle in a grocery market.
Shamsid-Deen and his team auditioned a large group of puppeteers to complete the cast, but they also reached out to everyone they could in the wider puppet community for recommendations. And YouTube and social media sites have helped them find people online who may not have been imbued with puppeteers, but who had tried something innovative on their own channels. The team also looked for foodies who could be trained as puppeteers, says Shamsid-Deen.
The show’s headliner is Michelle Zamora, who had helped Higher Ground find talent as a consultant before Shamsid-Deen realized she would be perfect as a Waffles.
“She’s a mother, but she was also the only person on set who was a Latinx woman and a puppeteer,” Shamsid-Deen says. “She was giving us a lot of technical advice – like how to eat a puppet – and we realized as we worked with her that she was Waffles.
Russ Walko stars as Mochi, with Jonathan Kidder, Diona Elisa Burnett, Taleia Gilliam, Andy Hayward, Piotr Michael and George Konner to complete the cast.
Higher Ground is collaborating with Partnership for a Healthier America on the show, and its mission is to encourage kids to learn more about food and inspire even the pickiest eaters to try something new. As an adult who dislikes lobster, this is a lesson Shamsid-Deen relates to.
“We want kids to see something that can turn them on, and put it in their mouths and say, ‘Hey, I like it or I don’t like it, and I’ve made up my mind. [by trying it],'” she says.