Bluey, the Australian cartoon about a family of Blue Heeler dogs, is a well-deserved phenomenon. The show is on constantly at my house, which doesn’t bother me at all because, to use a cliche, it’s fun for the whole family. With the success of the show, the creators have now added a live stage show into the mix, Bluey’s Big Play. Bluey, Bingo, Bandit and Chilli are brought to life through puppetry and, having seen the show last year, it’s just as enjoyable watching it in real life.
Stephanie Stephens is an actor and puppeteer who brilliantly brings Bluey to life and calls her time on the show, which has been over 14 months, an “incredible experience and journey for me as a growing actor.”
I had a chance to talk with her before the production opened in San Diego where we talked about her audition for the show, touring America and how much she and the cast enjoy making their audiences of kids (and adults!) smile. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For tickets and more information on Bluey’s Big Play: Broadway San Diego
In your bio it says that you’ve seen every episode of Bluey twice. I have two little girls and they watch it every single day. They’re obsessed with it, so I’m pretty sure I’ve beaten that by like a million.
Stephanie Stephens: Oh, I love that. That’s so great. I have it on the background when I’m getting ready for work, and it’s just something you can put on all the time. I love it.
The show is all puppetry, so with you playing Bluey, what does that entail?
Stephanie Stephens: So, there’s puppetry and then there’s live actors. We’re not hidden in the show at all. We’re actually quite visible, but us as actors we tune into our puppets and we kind of go on the same emotional journey that they do just so that we can really get the storytelling across to the audience. And we are there with the characters going on the same journey that they are throughout the whole show. And it really helps you guys as an audience to tune into the storyline.
And more than often, you will find that people don’t really notice us as puppeteers and are actually just watching the puppets the whole time and really engaged in the story that way.
You’re completely right. I remember when we saw it last year, for the first couple minutes, I was watching the puppeteers and then pretty quickly, they just magically disappeared. It’s just amazing how the brain sort of filters you guys out.
Stephanie Stephens: Yeah, absolutely. It’s magical how we just blend into the set and the story. And before you know it, you’re just essentially watching another episode of Bluey.
What is the most difficult part of playing Bluey?
Stephanie Stephens: It’s like live theater, sometimes there’s things that can happen that we’re not used to. I think the most difficult part would be just remaining… Well, not so much difficult, more important, remaining engaged, remaining in the moment, live on stage and reacting to all the other actors around you and just ready for anything because as I said, it’s live theater, anything can happen. Sometimes we’ve been hit with surprises that we then just go, ‘okay, well, let’s just go with this and work as a team and see what happens.’
How did you want to start working in puppetry?
Stephanie Stephens: This is my first puppetry experience really. I come from a dance and a character actor background, so I’ve done a lot of that stuff through Disney and DreamWorks and our local theme parks at home. And when I got word that the puppetry job was up for grabs, I thought I’d go for it.
And it’s amazing the connection that I have made because it’s essentially the same thing… you’re acting. It’s not our voice, but we act through animation and movement and we portray the story. I found a strong connection and I was able to do that really well, essentially. I love it.
How did you get involved in the show?
Stephanie Stephens: Bluey’s Big Play in Australia was so big, they opened up auditions for a second cast, so that we could have two shows running at the same time. And I was involved with the Bluey family as well in another show called Bluey Lives. I was fortunate enough to audition for Bluey’s Big Play and got cast, and then we toured Australia for almost two years, going in and out of the pandemic and dealing with all that. So that’s how my Bluey journey began, and now I’m here on the US tour and absolutely love it.
With your audition never having done puppetry, what was that like? Did you walk in there and say, “Hey, I’m a newbie here. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Stephanie Stephens: I’ll say this, they knew that I hadn’t done anything puppetry before. I consider myself very lucky, to be honest. But I walked into the audition, and I just said, as every actor does in any audition, ‘I’m gonna give this my best shot, push yourself, step outside your comfort zone.’ And that is just the best way to progress because you never know what’s gonna happen.
And you walk out of an audition and sometimes you’re like, ‘yeah, I nailed that.’ Sometimes you’re just like, ‘oh, I’m really not sure.’ And it can go either way.
Even from getting the role to rehearsal… I consider myself a hard worker, so I practiced a lot. I really wanted to get a handle of all the mechanisms and what I could control. And then once I had that under my belt, then I start to explore the possibilities of different reactions and different breath and all those elements because believe it or not, it’s what brings the story together. There are so many layers. But it’s just an incredible experience and journey for me as a growing actor.
How do you like touring America?
Stephanie Stephens: Oh, it’s absolutely incredible. America really is bigger and better. Like you guys just absolutely go full out. We love our Australian audiences, and we weren’t sure how you guys were going to receive it on this end, but the reactions we’re getting from the audiences, they just blow our mind every time we go to a new city. It’s just a beautiful for us as Australians to bring something from our country over here to you guys to enjoy and that’s so rewarding in itself for us.
How many stops are you doing on this tour?
Stephanie Stephens: We’ve been on tour for 14 months now, and this we’re still on tour until October. So, we’re starting to do a lot of repeat venues. I honestly couldn’t tell you how many. I want to say maybe around 400 something so far.
I used to do a lot of children’s theater, obviously nothing on the level that you’re doing now, but there were so many just crazy things that would happen in the audience or on stage. What are some of the craziest things that have happened to you guys?
Stephanie Stephens: We’ve had venues that have ramps that go out into the seating areas. We’ve had little friends just come and wander up to us right in the middle of the show when our puppets are doing their thing. And we’re just, ‘what do you do?’ We’re running a track, and the story is not gonna stop. We just kind of keep our puppets engaged, but also continue our choreography. And it’s just… it brings joy as well, the element of, ‘This is live theater.’
And the kids are just so desperate to get up there and just be with Bluey and Bingo and that’s beautiful to see.
I’ve recently gone out and watched one of our productions, just to get a sense of a reminder of how big this impact is on all these audiences all across the country. And it’s just mind blowing. It gives you goosebumps. The kids just… It’s just really does remind you of the impact of what we’re doing and how great it is and how much you guys love it. We just get to do it every day and it really is the best job in the world.
It’s amazing watching you guys up there. I mean, you can tell that you guys are just part of a character. It’s just what you guys do is just brilliant. It’s just great.
Stephanie Stephens: Thank you so much. Honestly, it’s just magical for us. We come off stage and we look out into the audience, and we see a sea of people who are just loving the show; families, not just the kids, parents and grandparents too. And that’s just the most rewarding experience for us all.
It’s got to feel good for you. Seeing these kids smile and making their day.
Stephanie Stephens: It’s incredible. Honestly, sometimes in our meet and greet experience, we have parents come up just to say, “she’s been looking forward to this all month.” It’s like the fact that we get the opportunity to make that kid’s day is just an incredible experience for us as well.