Hey kids, follow the blue pawprint! Watch as Steve breaks out of the oversized TV set he's trapped behind and "skidoos" out to the screaming kids and their parents. Accompany Blue as she ambles about, sometimes hiding from Steve, roaming the cartoon grounds outside Steve and Blue's house. Or check out the inside of the house: the kitchen, populated by Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper and little Paprika; the bedroom, with little, shuffling bunny slippers on the floor at the foot of the bed; or the bathroom, inhabited by Slippery Soap, a large bar of walking pink soap. Sit back as they skidoo up and into the solar system, joined by the sun, the space shuttle, and the nine planets.
For those of you without young children, a translation may be in order. Blue's Clues Live! is a live interactive show based on the popular Nickelodeon series for preschoolers. For the recent US and Canadian tour, puppet designer and constructor Yvette Helin was responsible for taking the cartoon characters and translating them into their 3D counterparts. As in the series, an actor (different from the one on the TV show) plays Steve, but onstage, all the animated characters are puppets. Armed with crayons and Handy Dandy notebooks given to each person as he or she enters the auditorium, the children help Steve solve a puzzle: What is the most spectacular place? Steve at first thinks it's the venue housing the performance, but by show's end we know better. All clues point home.
Helin designed and constructed Blue and constructed the costume puppets that were conceived by costume designer Gregg Barnes. Among the costume puppets were Blue, Slippery Soap, and the alarm clock Tickety-Tock, plus rod puppets, like Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper, which were floor-operated.
Some pieces, such as Mail Box, and a shooting star, fell under the aegis of set designer David Gallo. Lighting designer is Tom Sturge; the sound designer on Blue's Clues Live! is Peter Hylenski.
Helin had already proven her Nickelodeon mettle with her work as a vendor on the live Rugrats tour (she constructed the bodies and shoes for the main characters, cumulatively known as the "babies"), and she again needed to figure out how to make the transition from TV to stage. She says, "A lot of the characters in the show translated well into puppets. It was pretty smooth. Scale became different--the relationship of each element to each other on the stage was different from what it is on television."
Nickelodeon, Helin points out, wanted the characters to essentially match their animated counterparts, so the designer remained true to the series and essentially matched colors. So Helin focused on the very basic aspect of making her designs visible. Blue, a costume puppet, was approximately 3' to 4' high, with an oversized head. The hand puppets Salt and Pepper (which are tiny on the show) were made to be 20"-24". Placed on a counter, they were operated from below with puppeteers moving their arms up and down while concealed inside the sink unit. Helin describes a simple but "sophisticated arm mechanism of bar stock and pivots and springs." The space under the unit was so small that only two people could fit, which meant that one person controls both Salt and Pepper and the other controls Paprika.
An actress is inside the Blue costume, flopping around the stage as the clued-in dog. Her hands and feet correspond to Blue's paws (the front paws have handles). There were actually two Blues per show so that she could exit on one side of the stage and then suddenly reappear on the other. At one point Helin considered making Blue a puppet that would be manipulated from behind, but the Nickelodeon powers-that-be wanted Blue and Steve to be alone onstage at times. Helin constructed the Blues from "several different types of foam, fleece fabric, some aluminum thrown in there, some hardware elements--and leather." She has created two more costumes, which should last through the Orlando, FL closing on August 20.
The show also features what Helin terms "half puppets," including the moving pink bunny slippers that were connected to a puppeteer's feet. In addition, there is a scene that takes place in Storybook Forest with hand puppets of the Three Little Pigs, made of foam. "Now we do everything with foam," says Helin.
There was only one scene when Blue was represented as a puppet: the solar system scene, where she "floats" in space, held up by a puppeteer, who manipulates two red poles attached to Blue's head.
The solar system scene featured a backdrop of stars and a parade of the nine planets as the children learn which is which through song. Steve floats within the solar system, secure in a harness. The planets, sun, and a rocket in the solar system scene are made of cast carbon graphite, which is, according to Helin, "an aerospace material that is very light when cast--it's lighter than fiberglass, and it worked quite nicely." The latter were placed on long poles with strings attached that were manipulated by the operators.
The result was a genuinely fun--the kids cheered wildly for Blue and her puppet pals--show with costumes and puppets of great charm and appeal. Yes, even for adults. Notes Helin, "Everyone has his or her favorites. There was one guy who said, 'I just love that shovel and pail.' And he was this big executive type."
Go to Nickjr.com and download the Quicktime or Realvideo Mrs. Pepper demo (see how her internal structure results in external movement) and the video of Blue being constructed (http://www.nickjr.com/bluesclues/bluesclues_live/scoop.html).