Airdronian Kim Cheel and Adjoa, an African grey parrot puppet, have much in common and it's not just because Cheel is the puppeteer behind Adjoa on the award-winning children's series Hey, Kujo! that is filmed and produced in Calgary.
"Adjoa is the curious one, [she] asks questions, is unafraid to ask questions, which I love. One of my biggest rules is that there are no stupid questions; that's such a cliche saying, but I still in my adult years, I will ask questions," Cheel said. "It's okay to not know something as long as you work to understand it and part of that is asking questions. So I love the fact that I get to portray a puppet who embodies me in that element."
Hey, Kujo! is a series geared towards preschool-aged children and according to the show's website, it is "dedicated to celebrating differences. It creates a diverse, inclusive and welcoming community by showing positive role models for Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community."
According to Cheel, the inspiration for Adjoa's character comes from the human world.
"The [the founder and host of the series] who plays Kujo [Randy Quansah], his parents had a parrot; so it's actually based on a real-life parrot!"
Cheel explained that each episode is centred around a question a child poses and the show brings on guests and experts to explore answers to those questions. She even divulged that in the new episodes premiering this fall, a very special guest will be featured from Airdrie. While she couldn't give too much information, she did hint the question surrounds something about sports.
"I thought that was really cool and I didn't know that till I showed up on set!" she said. "There's just a ton of people in various walks of life that you might not have even thought of asking the question. We all have our own bubble and this show allows you and encourages you to step outside the bubble of what you would actually think about; so adults can learn as well."
There are several lovable puppets on Hey, Kujo! who accompany the main character Kujo, who is played by Randy Quansah. In Ghanaian culture, the name Kujo refers to a boy who is born on a Monday, the fresh start of the week. Other (puppet) characters include Kweku, a great-horned owl, and Bernard who is an Indigenous beaver.
"I've always been involved in locally sourced and locally based art projects, which is always fun. I like the idea," Cheel said.
The show has amassed over one million views on various online platforms including, YouTube, KiDoodle.tv, and Sensical. tv. Cheel said the show is all about encouraging children to embrace their curiosity and to feel free to ask questions to those around them, as well as giving parents and caretakers the tools with which to explain the answers to those very questions in a way that's engaging, and educational.
Cheel who grew up watching all the classic puppet shows says that to this day she still finds inspiration in her beloved childhood characters.
"I am a fan of Gonzo. In my head right now, as you do this interview, I'm thinking of him as Charles Dickens and The Muppet Christmas Carol. I also like Kermit, of course, just because he's so proper," she said. "But when he lets loose boy does he ever let loose!"
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