Tristan Tom is out to spread a message of acceptance into the world through puppets.
He invites children between the ages of 2 and 8 to visit Pride Films & Plays, 4139 N. Broadway, where his velvet friends will be reading works such as I am Jazz and Red: A Crayon's Story at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays throughout August. Each week, audiences will be treated to a different show with a LGBT youth-oriented workshop offered the first week.
South Dakota native Tom worked with Sesame Street Live, both nationally and internationally, before this. He brings a teaching background to the table and hopes to change young people's lives while entertaining them.
Windy City Times: Did you grow up always loving puppets?
Tristan Tom: I was into Sesame Street. One moment that burned into my head was Mr. Hooper [played by Will Lee] passing away. That set in stone what puppets could do for a person. It is beyond a silly bobble head on a stick. It can be a lifeline to your soul.
You see kids that might not be able to respond or say anything but the minute you give them a puppet there is a personality suddenly that is not normally seen.
WCT: Did you study puppets in school?
TT: It wasn't offered where I went to college. I've been honing my skills in the last few years, and doing it myself. I was employed in other realms that allowed me to experiment with different mediums, and materials. I did mascot designs, and things like that.
I worked for Care Bears Live Stage Show briefly; that gave me the ability to fashion these creations together.
WCT: You created these puppets?
TT: Correct. This one is based off of my partner of 10 years named Brandon. Grandma Dorothy is based off the relationship of his grandmother. Their characters are different but that is who I designed them after.
When I was teaching the students really enjoyed the dog so that is why he is here. I really like working with that age group, so that is why we are doing it from ages 2 to 8.
I created these puppets in my classroom to see how the children would respond.
WCT: You are currently a teacher?
TT: I substitute-teach now. The other day I substitute-taught for 1-year- olds. That is why I start with 2-year-olds in this show because there is a different understanding in that age bracket.
A 1-and-a-half-year-old can be frightened by these puppets. A 2-year-old is more inquisitive. They are more likely to check things out. I try to gear it more towards the two and up range.
WCT: Where do their parents buy tickets?
TT: It is donation-based at the door for $10.
I am not going to turn a voracious reader away if they want to experience some silliness with these guys.
The kids take three items from Grandma's magic purse and out it into a machine. Out pops a book to read.
I am the live character to keep the kids from climbing all over the puppets, but also encourages them to come up and interact with the machine and puppets.
WCT: How did you choose the books?
TT: I sat and read a lot. I reached out to my librarian friends. They sent me a list. I didn't know about books like Piggy Bunny with hundreds of books like it out there.
I wanted to go local with Women & Children First. They did wonders and ordered a book I needed.
I went into book stores and libraries to pick out what I thought would be best. One is for trans children such as I Am Jazz. It is written for a six year old. I hope attendees who are around eight years old might find their true selves with these stories.
WCT: Are parents told beforehand about the subjects?
TT: It is really not so in your face. Piggy Bunny is about a pig who wants to be the Easter Bunny. It is all suggestive. There is one about different types of families: two moms, two dads, or moms and dads.
I want to inform and still entertain. I leave it out there for people to make what they want to of it. The performance allows for interaction and discovering something new in a book.
It is an experiment for all of us. You never know what is going to happen.
WCT: Did you see Broadway's Avenue Q?
TT: Yes. One of the cast members played Kate Monster for Avenue Q in the past. I am excited to work with people who have been around puppets. There is Benjamin Ponce as Brandon, Katharine Jordan as Grandma D, and Khloe Janel as Fifi Lafontaine. I play the Mr. T role, which is the mediator.
I hope this can promote theater for younger people.
WCT: Was there a certain style that these puppets were modeled after?
TT: I did cartooning so they follow my drawing style. I went off of my own sketches and did not try to be like Jim Henson.
WCT: Are kids or adults a tougher audience?
TT: I think kids are. Adults have a preconceived setup of what a show can be. With kids you create a structure and have to maintain their attention.
Visit TristanTomDesigns.weebly.com and PrideFilmsAndPlays.com for more details.