Jess Gollé’s performance days are routine. She wakes up on a tour bus. At 8 a.m., she and the rest of the crew arrive at that day’s venue to prepare for their 6 p.m. show, “Bluey’s Big Play.” After a two-hour performance on stage, she and the rest of the cast participate in a meet-and-greet with fans before packing up and returning to the tour bus to travel to the next location.
Gollé may go to sleep in New York City and wake up in Washington, D.C., or another major city. And then the process repeats.
“It can get pretty exhausting,” Gollé told the Mississippi Free Press. “You’re trying to keep up with getting settled into a new city. As Austrailians, being in a foreign country, there’s new experiences to get used to and a different way of working.”
“It’s been a lot to process, but it’s also been like the most incredible experience,” the Brisbane native added. “It’s really hard to put into words how cool this has been to see so much of the country by road, on the bus and in so many different beautiful theaters.”
Gollé is a performer and puppeteer operating Bluey, the lead character in “Bluey’s Big Play,” which has been on a live-show tour across the United States since November 2022. “Bluey” is an Australian cartoon set in Brisbane centered on Bluey, a 6-year-old blue heeler dog, alongside her little sister Bingo and her parents Chilli and Bandit.
“Each episode basically shows the typical day in the life of an Australian family, but I think it’s so different because it just shows the rawness and the reality of family life,” Gollé explained. “‘Bluey’ has really shown parents how special it is to spend time with kids.”
Each episode always contains a game and a life lesson at the end. For example, “Bluey’s Big Play!” audiences will get the chance to experience Chilli teaching Bluey the importance of sisterhood.
“Bluey’s Big Play” will be traveling across America through 2023, stopping in Jackson, Miss. for two shows on Aug. 28 and Aug. 29 at Thalia Mara Hall.
‘Big Love for Bluey’
Jess Gollé has a background in dance, acting, film and theater, and she has worked with companies such as Walt Disney, Dreamworld and Village Roadshow theme parks. In 2019, Gollé helped with the development and coordination of “Bluey” live shows in Australia. Two years later, she became a production assistant and host and eventually landed a role as a puppeteer for the live shows, which she has been continuing for two years now.
“The acting allows me to help bring the puppet to life and relate to the character and the story,” she said. “I think my dance background really helps as well because it’s such a physical, moving show. We’re crawling in trenches. We’re jumping up with different props. So, the fitness that I have accumulated in dance over the years has really helped with that as well.”
Performers use Japanese Bunraku puppets that possess different triggers that move various parts, from the mouth to the eyelids. Two people control each puppet, with one person operating the head and another person manipulating the puppet’s feet and arms. Gollé, who is 5-foot-2, says her puppet is just as big as she, which can be physically taxing.
“It took me about a month to learn the show in full, especially when operating the head,” she said. “There’s a lot of muscle in your arms and your hands that you’ve never felt before. They hurt after a few times of doing the show, so building up that strength in your body and that fitness to hold up the puppet for about 45 to 50 minutes.”
Puppeteers disappear on stage, adding another layer of immersion to the show and further bringing the characters to life. Gollé has heard that most people do not pay much attention to the puppeteers on stage because the puppets’ performances are so captivating.
“You know you’ve done a good show when the audience don’t even notice you’re there and they just watch the puppet,” she said.
At the time of the Mississippi Free Press’ interview with Gollé, the tour was in Boston, Mass., the 50th show of their American tour. The Brisbane native said audiences have been incredible and excited so far, cheering the moment Bluey skips onto the stage. The tour has also highlighted how popular the cartoon’s brand has gotten over the last three years, she said.
“There’s such a big love for Bluey everywhere it seems,” the puppeteer said. “One of my favorite cities that I’ve been to is Lafayette, Louisiana. Places like that I would’ve never even thought of traveling to. But here I was performing in that city and the locals knew Bluey and all the references, games and characters.”
‘The Magic of Bluey’
Jess Gollé said being a representative for her home country in another nation by participating in “Bluey’s Big Play” has been really special for her, especially since she is able to share this experience with the cast and crew, who are also from various parts of Australia.
“I think the show itself has really given me another huge appreciation for family,” the 26-year-old said. “There’s certain aspects of the show that remind me of my family back home. And I think whilst being away from home and traveling on the road, it’s made me miss my family a lot.”
However, the show also helps her feel connected to her family because it provides a similar energy and happiness she feels when she is with them. Because of these feelings, she believes “Bluey” will stay with her for a long time.
“Even if I stop doing the show in years to come, I really hope to take the magic of Bluey with me wherever I go,” Gollé said.
“Bluey’s Big Play” will arrive at Thalia Mara Hall (255 E. Pascagoula St., Jackson) for two shows on Aug. 28 and Aug. 29, 2023. To purchase tickets now, visit events.bluey.tv. “Bluey,” the television series, is available in the United States on Disney+, DisneyNOW, Disney Junior and Disney Channel.