Day 6·Q&A

Fraggle Rock's cast of puppets return to dance your COVID-19 cares away

Fraggle Rock: Rock On writer and executive producer John Tartaglia discusses what it's like to play Ernie on Sesame Street, how to film a puppet show when the cast and crew are all working from home, Gobo's Canadian accent and more.

The Fraggles are also self-isolating in their own caves in the series revival, airing on Apple TV+

New Doozertubes are delivered to the Fraggles’ caves, allowing them to come together for a favourite song Shine On, Shine On Me on Fraggle Rock: Rock On. (Apple TV)

Originally published May 8, 2020.

The Fraggles are back — and they're figuring out how to properly practise social distancing like the rest of us.

Fraggle Rock: Rock On debuted on Apple TV+ in April. The new series follows the same characters from the 1980s Jim Henson production that was made out of Toronto and aired on the CBC.

This time, however, all the main characters are self-isolating in their own caves, connected via video chat powered by a network of "Doozertubes" built by the ever-industrious Doozers.

John Tartaglia, a puppeteer, writer and executive producer of the show, spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about how to film a puppet show when the cast and crew are all working from home, Gobo's Canadian accent and more.

Here's part of their conversation.

What are you hoping kids will get out of watching Fraggle Rock: Rock On?

The original series is the reason I am a puppeteer. I can still see that first time seeing it on HBO, growing up here in the states, and I was about seven years old. And the very first character I saw on TV was Gobo. And I just remember I'd never seen anything else like it. It's what made me a puppeteer.

And the show really shaped who I am as a person today. I really believe that. All of the lessons about environmentalism and tolerance and diversity, and most especially, the interconnectedness of the world really sat with me, and made me extra aware growing up with those things. I'm so thankful ... that the show existed like that.

John Tartaglia is Tony and Emmy-nominated actor and puppeteer who is also a writer and executive producer with the new series Fraggle Rock: Rock On. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press)

So I think for me, I'm hoping we can continue that message on with what's going on right now in a 2020 kind of way. That —you know — we may be apart and we may be separated physically, but that we're still so connected as people. And we're connected to the earth and we're connected to each other and we're interdependent upon each other.

What makes the Fraggles a really great fit for what we're living through right now?

I think that the Fraggles have always been about connection, and they've always been about the power of togetherness, as well as the power of music. And I think that right now that's what we're all drawn to, right?

We're all craving ways to connect with each other. We're all craving our friendships. We're probably also realizing the things we take for granted, the things that bring us joy in our lives, like music, like playing games, like interacting in any way that we can. And I think that the Fraggles always kind of stood for that.

All the characters are physically distancing — and you and I are as well. And we have to use technology that brings us together. And this show was being shot in your homes on iPhones, which means we get to see cameos. Whose dog do we get to see when Uncle Matt goes exploring in someone's house?

That was my dog. And that was my apartment. And it's really funny because we definitely wanted to do a Traveling Matt feature and we wanted to kind of see, you know, Traveling Matt's observations on [what's going on with] the Silly Creatures — if you don't know the show, the Fraggles think of us as "Silly Creatures."

And of course, he doesn't really know the reasons why we're all kind of stuck inside. But we are. And we've got to be really funny to really have him explore the cave of a Silly Creature.

Uncle Travelling Matt uses a Doozertube to share his latest exciting adventure in Outer Space — exploring the cave of a Silly Creature (what the Fraggles call humans). (Apple TV)

Uncle Matt opens the closet door of that house, and there's an avalanche of stockpiled toilet paper that falls down. Was that your idea?

Yeah. In fact, we talked about it on a creative call. We're like, 'What are some funny things that can happen?' And the truth of the matter is, I didn't have that much toilet paper.

A likely story.

No, it's true! And one of our fellow producers actually brought it over. We did it very safe and sanitized. [She said], 'You could borrow this toilet paper.' But then she was like, 'But I need it back.' So I was like, I'm holding a goldmine here.

You played Ernie, which was originally created and voiced by Jim Henson. What was that like, to put that character on?

I got to do it for one season of a spinoff version of Sesame Street. I don't think I took a breath for about four weeks while we shot that, because I felt so honoured and overwhelmed and horrified at the same time.

But it was wonderful. I loved doing that. And ... when people ask me who are my favourite characters, Ernie is always in the top three. Especially cause it was continuing Jim's legacy. I felt very, very honoured to do that.

Gobo Fraggle organizes a talent show over Doozertubes in an episode of Fraggle Rock: Rock On. (Apple TV)

Fraggle Rock was originally produced in Toronto and aired on our network. So there's a lot of Canadians you're winning over right now. But it seems to me you're trying to give Gobo a slight Canadian accent.

Well, you know what? He actually had one in the original series. Jerry Nelson, who was the original performer of Gobo, and one of my mentors and heroes, he — and I don't know the exact genesis of it — but I know that Karen Prell, who performs Red Fraggle, who I get to work with now, said that he really felt that since the show was being filmed in Toronto, and since Jim loved Canada so much ... that it was a nice way to honour the Canadian world.

I grew up in south New Jersey. And ... Toronto and Canada to me were magical distant lands, you know. And I remember growing up watching Fraggle Rock and being like, "Oh, why is he saying 'Eh' at the end of a sentence? What did he say a-gayn instead of again?" And I was fascinated by it.

And I remember my mom was like, 'Oh, well, he's from Canada.' The first time I actually knew what Canada was, was because of Fraggle Rock.

I just really wanted to make sure that I kept that heritage and that legacy going — what Jerry started — in that tribute to Canada.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview produced by Laurie Allan. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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