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Behind the Scenes

Interview with Nina Keogh

This interview was done via Email by Laurie Russell in 1997.

First of all, Nina, what are you doing these days?

I'm working on a show called GUESS WHAT for the CBC (shown nationally in Canada-pre school show). I'm pitching three projects that involve actors and puppets (and they include Jeff Hyslop!)

What shows are you currently working on?

Although these aren't shows I'm working on right now these Shows on the air: Friendly Giant, Today's Special, Bookmice, Hello Mrs. Cherrywinkle, Groundling Marsh, Telefrançais, Readalong , Mr. Dress UP and some others that are in reruns.

You've made it clear that "Today's Special" has a special place in your heart. What made that show a memorable experience for you?

I think the whole team was so amazing. We were together for many years and became like a family. Held together by our director Clive Vanderburgh. He and I had lunch the other day and he has put out his own CD., as has Jeff.

These days everyone is doing reunion specials, even the Monkees! Is there any hope of a "Today's Special" reunion special?

I guess we will always hold out hope. There will be a new head of the children's department at TVO and perhaps s/he will think it's a great idea!

Do you have a favorite episode of "Today's Special"?

[A Visit to the] Opera was one and also Phil's visit. Opera was just so exciting to work on and sing such great stuff in a recording studio. Usually we sang LIVE! and Phil's visit was a very heavy, emotional show to do because Muffy was the victim and I really got into the part, as did Gerrard Parkes who played Phil.

How much say did you have over your character Muffy? Were you able to make any contributions to the development of her character?

As with most characters in a long running show, the characters evolve and change until they settle into something that is also comfortable for the actor. As I got to know Muffy, I was able to make the odd comment on whether she would say "that" or not. Mostly, the writers had the rhyming thing down pretty well with the help of the Webster's rhyming dictionary!

Do you actually participate in the construction of the puppets you work with? If so, did you have any part in creating the Muffy puppets you worked with on the show?

I have very often created the puppets for a show I'm doing. In the case of BOOKMICE (TVO), I created the six characters. On Mr DressUP (CBC), I created Truffles. Muffy and Sam were created by my friend Noreen Young, and Mrs. Pennypacker was created by me.

I am interested in the mechanics of the Muffy puppet -- how her arms and mouth movements were controlled. Did it take more than one person to work it?

Muffy was a simple hand and rod puppet. My right hand went up inside her mouth and my left hand operated the arm rods that go to her wrists. Watch carefully and you'll see it happening.

It's interesting how you managed to show emotions on Muffy's face even without moving facial parts like eyebrows that raise or eyes that move. One example I can think of is in "Cookies". When Jeff came up to the roof to apologize to Jodie for eating all her cookies, Muffy gave Jodie a sideways glance which said even louder than words, "sure, sure, sure". Then she turned towards the cameras and rolled her eyes heavenward. Since Muffy's eyes don't move I've often wondered how you come up with ways to make her face seem so expressive. I was particularly impressed with the way you made her seem to be rolling her eyes. Do you look at the monitor to see how certain expressions come off?

Interestingly enough, many many puppets, famous or not have no moving parts but because they are operated well and the lines are delivered convincingly, these characters appear to frown, smile, look side to side or roll their eyes. Most credit should be given to the viewer who uses their imagination and fills in the "blanks".

Were you working from a standing position (as Jim Henson's Muppets do) or a crouching position (the more traditional puppeteer method)?

On T.S. we were most often sitting on rolling stools.

Often Muffy had to sing two-part or four-part harmony -- what is your background as a singer, and was it difficult for you to learn to sing harmony?

I'm certainly not a pro singer but I have always loved singing in harmony (my mum and I did all the time), so it was just plain fun to be able to do it on national television.

Do the Today's Special alumni keep in touch?

I probably more than the rest do keep in touch.  Well, it's more than that!  Bob Dermer is a very good pal, Jeff and I are working together on a project (even though he is in Vancouver), and Nerene is a news anchor here in Toronto and when we get on the phone, we talk and talk and talk!!  I'm online with many of the crew that worked the show.

On Today's Special, I've seen Muffy in many positions. The kind of positions that I wonder how they were done are the ones where Muffy is on her scooter (like in the scene on "Our Story" where Muffy is coming to the store for the first time). Muffy moves, and the scooter moves, and there's no puppeteer in sight. And I don't see any strings. How is this done?

That Muffy, one of many, was a remote controlled "doll".  I operated her and the scooter off camera.  Her head turned and nodded and her one foot just moved back and forward so it looked like she was pushing on the sidewalk or the floor.

On "Wheels", how did Muffy ride the tricycle? Was that a remote-controlled "doll" as well?

Yes.  Remote control driving the pedals which forced her legs to go around too, making it look like she was actually driving the thing.

In some early Today's Special episodes, the role of Muffy is played by you and Bob Stutt. Why was it two people in these earlier episodes, and then only one later on?

Bob Stutt took over just the puppeteering role and lip-synched to my pre-recorded voice.  I was having a baby at the time and just couldn't do it for those few shows.  I did work right up to pretty well "delivery" time, though!

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