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Real Life

How I Live: My job is child’s play

Performer Sarah Thomson has a passion for puppetry.

By Aroha Awarau
"I’ve always had a passion for puppetry. Although I’m perhaps best known for my role as Tracey Morrison on Shortland Street, after three years on the soap I swapped my scrubs for puppet strings and haven’t looked back. Nowadays, I’m a 29-year-old full-time puppeteer, voicing and performing the role of Fern, a forest fairy on the popular children’s programme The Moe Show.
I’ve always had a passion for puppetry. Growing up, my parents recorded (on VHS tapes!) all of The Muppet Show episodes. They even kindly edited out the ads for me!
I would watch Kermit and the rest of the gang over and over again – the show became a kind of surrogate babysitter!
Needless to say, The Muppets’ creator Jim Henson, who voiced Kermit and many other characters, and his friend Frank Oz, who voiced Miss Piggy, became my idols. Their show had the ability to children and adults alike, with a mixture of humour and pop culture references.
Shows like The Muppets’ inspired Sarah to give puppetry a go.
This is where my passion for puppetry was born. What I love about puppets is that you have the ability to really connect with children, without talking down to them or being condescending.
As the years went on, I learned how to make my own puppets, and became involved with shadow puppetry in theatre. I also helped a friend make marionette puppets for his band’s music video.
I was fortunate to find a full-time job doing what I love by working on The Moe Show. The children’s programme centres around Moe – a loveable furry creature who lives in a treehouse on Mt Moehau in the Coromandel Peninsula. Fern is one of Moe’s many friends.
I’ve been working on the show for about a year now. I first got involved when I was introduced to the show’s producer and Moe’s creator Jeremy Dillon. He knew I had a passion for puppetry and I was aware of his own work with puppets. He even got to spend time on the set of Sesame Street in New York!
He asked if I was interested in being involved with a puppet workshop, and our working relationship started from there.
I’m also a scriptwriter for the show. It is important for me to be able to create strong-willed young women, so it’s great that I can write Fern to be a role model to little girls. She’s confident and stands her ground – and she likes monster trucks. It’s not all about wearing pink and playing with dolls!
As a scriptwriter, Sarah has the ability to shape and develop Fern’s character.
Puppetry is very different from acting, mainly because I don’t have to worry about what I look like.
I’m lucky to be able to do what I do, because puppetry is a very small industry in New Zealand. Generally, this kind of work is skewed towards males – for instance, many of the female characters in The Muppets were voiced by men, not just Miss Piggy. So I love coming to work and getting to do something I’ve always loved and which brings me a lot of joy. It’s great to be connected to a puppet who is a strong female who knows what she wants.
I’d like to see Fern’s character expand. She doesn’t have to be an extension of me – I’d like to think she can be her very own person."

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