In the ZANEWS world where President Zuma and his ample nephew, Khulubuse, might get to cruise around town in donkey cart, Tata and Tutu might get together for tea and a chat and Tim and Debora host the news everyday, it’s easy to believe that these puppets have a life of their own.
But unlike Pinocchio, ZANEWS puppets don’t come to life through magic.
It takes real tight green suits and hard work to get our puppets motivated, talking, moving and doing some of the strange things we get them to do.
It all starts around midday after scripts have been recorded in the sound-studio by our regular voice artists.
Puppeteers start their day with a cup of coffee and then move on to yoga and warm up exercises that build strength.
Strong necks and wrists enable the puppetteers to withstand carrying and moving the puppets who weigh about 3-4kgs for extended amounts of time.
After the 30-minute warm up, the crew jump into their skintight and incredibly revealing green spandex suits.
These are a firm favourite with resident chef, Reggie Tshijolo, who we can see has difficulty stifling a ululation when she sees some of the young men passing by her kitchen.
Well-known actor, Jason Potgieter feels his life would have been easier if the suits had been blue instead of green.
“Its a much more calming colour,” he opines.
There are a few methods that the masterful puppeteers use depending on the scene that is being shot.
‘Black Box Dialing’, is an old method of puppeteering that can usually be seen mostly on kiddies’ shows like Pumpkin Patch and MinaMoo.
This method is mostly used for fuller-body shots of characters (who don’t have bums and legs).
The second method is ‘Over-The-Shoulder’ used for studio shots with Tim and Debora and which require mostly upper body strength.
Puppets are “piggy-backed” and hitched up to rest on the actors’ shoulders, with one actor manipulating the arms and another standing behind to control the puppet’s facial expressions.
Only the Tim and Debora puppets have specific masters. Debora is brought to life by Roshina Ratnam and Geon Nel, and the Tim by Johan Vermaak and Lize-Meri Smallberger.
The rest of the puppeteers take whichever puppet fits on that day.
Obviously this was written in the morning, while all the puppeteers were still jolly.
Shooting generally continues into the afternoon and sometimes at night just so you can catch up with the ZANEWS spin cycle first thing the following morning.
We’re not sure what the puppets get up to when we leave the ZANEWS offices at night, but sometimes we do find them somewhere other than where we left them last.
Strange, very strange.