“It felt like being a child again,” said Emilie Rose Danno. “That’s why performers love what we do, we love the sense of play. Puppetry allows you to access that part of yourself.”
Singer, actress and now puppeteer Danno, is playing Piglet in Mercury Theater’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Adaptation. She says the role is a culmination of her upbringing, growing up in a Puerto Rican and Italian household in Glen Ellyn.
“Basically my family is like a giant salsa band,” Danno said. “I was a singer before I was an actor, because I just had all that influence. On the Italian side, my dad would take me around all the Italian bars and restaurants. I’d sing with all the Italian singers, and he would teach me all the Italian love songs and songs from the mafia movies. It just plays a big part in everything I do.”
In her first official role as a puppeteer, Danno says there are unexpected challenges that come with playing the 3-foot character. Like creating their voice.
“When I first was playing with it, it was a bit higher,” Danno said. “Like in my nose, but just not quite lower. Then I got the stutter down, and figured out how Piglet thinks and processes and the register got lower and lower.”
There’s also not upstaging her character.
“I tend to look at my puppet,” Danno said. “If I’m looking at another actor, I make sure their focus is on the puppet. I think I tend to embody it physically, but the biggest thing is the fact that I’m on my knees. So I am as little as Piglet, just little things so I’m not upstaging the puppet ever.”
But it’s these unique challenges that also come with unexpected rewards.
“It's just so different than anything I've ever done,” Danno said. “It brings out the child inside me. When you become an adult, life happens and you have so much weight to you. But I think life can be simpler than we make it, and it’s nice to have an escape.”
Will Rupert who plays Winnie the Pooh, agrees.
“Pooh is a character everyone has an experience with,” Rupert said. “He’s been around forever. There are movies from every decade for this character. That creates a sense of community because everyone has a story with that. How they grew up with those movies or TV shows or books. Our show does a good job of creating that community as well.”
While it may not be a traditional musical production, this story encourages appreciation for the art of puppetry for all ages.
“I think everyone has a Winnie the Pooh story,” Danno said. “I grew up with it. In the way it was written and the way it comes across, it’s meant to pull your heart strings a bit. I really think it’s for everybody. I can’t say it’s for one particular group of people, because I’ve seen it touch little kids’ hearts, my dad cried when he saw it.”
“Theater transports people to a different place,” Rupert said. “But there’s an even extra special show that makes you forget about the past two years.”
Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3
Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.