“Go Home Tiny Monster” is a new puppet play by The Gottabees which will premiere at Symphony Space in NYC this January. Bonnie Duncan, the creator of the UNIMA Award winning and critically acclaimed “Squirrel Stole My Underpants,” is proud to present this fun newly-crafted handmade musical puppetry adventure at Symphony Space in NYC on Saturday, January 19th. The plot reads as follows:
One day, Sylvie and her family suddenly find themselves in need of a new home. Luckily, they have an audience full of people who can help them find a new place to live. “Go Home Tiny Monster” features Bonnie Duncan and The Gottabees’ trademark mix of puppetry, joyously absurd silliness, physical theater, live music, and surprising poignancy.
Bonnie recently discussed this show via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in puppetry and how would you describe your relationship with Symphony Space?
Bonnie Duncan (BD): I was initially drawn to puppetry as an extension of my work in theater and dance. When I was 22, I decided to build a puppet and then shared it with some children I was teaching and they were smitten. And so was I – I began experimenting with different styles and approaches to puppetry performance. These experiments evolved over the years in terms of style of puppetry, context of the puppet on stage, and types of audiences. I deeply love sharing the stage with puppets and the heightened theatrical world they create.
Symphony Space was an early champion of our work when we performed our first show “Squirrel Stole My Underpants” a few years back. It has meant so much that they have become such a strong, vibrant venue for family audiences in New York City. It is a true joy to perform at Symphony Space!
MM: You have such a delightful and vibrant imagination, where do all your story ideas come from?
BD: Our ideas come from what’s around us. We start out brainstorming themes — we talk about ideas, we collect pictures of things we find beautiful or odd, we read lots of books, we interview friends and children about topics, we listen to music, we go see other shows. When something resonates – an image, idea, a sound, an experience, or physical material — we experiment in the studio. These experiments lead to kernels for our shows. Once these kernels are popping, we get Tony and Brendan, our musicians, involved. They develop the music right alongside us. Their involvement is key to our process and to the way we are able to tell stories.
MM: What inspired “Go Home Tiny Monster” and what about its plot do you most enjoy?
BD: “Go Home Tiny Monster’ is inspired by true events – four of us were displaced from our homes (two by house fire and two by weather-related water damage) and this show attempts to make sense of our share experiences and to celebrate the communities of friends and strangers who helped us all get back on our feet and into our homes. What I love about this show is its seemingly simple plot structure alongside a truly complex theme. As Sylvie, the beloved main character of all of our shows, navigates this story, she is courageous and vulnerable and silly and smart all at once and getting to play her is a wonderful challenge and joy.
MM: The story focuses on moving and finding a new home. Why do you think the relocation process is such a good subject for a children’s play?
BD: We, as creators, posed these questions to ourselves as we created this show — how can we use our seemingly silly, magical, illogical style of puppet theater to “talk” with children and families about what it’s like to not have a home? How can we have the audience actually help build a home for the characters on stage, together as a community? How can this shared experience inspire families to take action in their communities to help those displaced from their homes?
Children are seeing and experiencing some really difficult things right now and we want to create an age-appropriate safe space where they can ask questions and be empowered to help.
MM: Are any of the character’s personalities inspired by real people?
BD: My husband (the show’s director) and I lost our home for six months due to weather-related damages. At the time, we had four-year-old twins and a six-year-old and lived in over 20 different places. When we were creating this show, we kept going back to our experiences as a family and how we all reacted to our situation. Those real events shaped every character in the story and informed how we play each moment on stage.
MM: How did you create the puppets for this and what does the actual puppetry process involve?
BD: We were working on the beginnings of this show at the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and I knew I wanted to have little monsters who lived with me. The first day there, I met Marte Ekhougen and she offered her amazing monsters to us. It was serendipitous, and they fit so beautifully into our world. Over the development of the show, Marte watched rehearsals and created new monsters for us to experiment with. When we found monsters we loved, Marte and I worked together to figure out how the puppets best moved and that informed the puppet’s character. Because I play Sylvie (our main character) alongside the puppet characters, I have to work as just the puppeteer first, then work as an actor, and then try to do it all at the same time – often with 2-4 puppets at once. It is a challenge I am still mastering…
MM: What experiences do you hope fans take away from this show?
BD: We always hope that audiences see a bit of themselves in our characters. We hope this leads families to talk about how they can help people in their communities and make an action plan as a family. People lose their homes for all sorts of reasons and building empathy for this experience among children and adults feels very meaningful for us.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
BD: We look forward to seeing everyone at Symphony Space January 19th.
For more information about Bonnie Duncan and The Gottabees, visit their website.
Symphony Space tickets are available now: https://www.symphonyspace.org/events/just-kidding-go-home-tiny-monster
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