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Published January 4, 2014

Boasting a stellar cast and crew, Thank You For Being a Friend is a Golden Girls episode with a twist – the four ladies are puppets.

We had a chat with Darren Mapes, who plays Dorothy. TYFBAF will premiere on 7 January 2014 as part of Midsumma Festival.

Darren Mapes

I’ll admit I haven’t actually seen much of the Golden Girls – will that mean I won’t enjoy it as much as fans?  

Not at all, the show has such a wide appeal to a wide and varied audience.  I had a friend, who doesn’t know much about The Golden Girls come and help me run some lines the other night – they were useless because they kept laughing at the script. It’s very entertaining.

You’re the only man puppeteering a woman character. How did that come about?

Well, Bea Arthur, who played Dorothy, was quite iconic, and naturally had a very deep and unique voice. She was also quite tall, and I think the creatives found it difficult casting a woman who could accurately do the voice. It also adds a little extra comedic dimension to the show.

Is it a strange experience, or is puppeteering more conducive to playing characters of a different gender?

I think you had ever told me that I would be playing Dorothy from The Golden Girls, I would think you were very strange.  I don’t think it would be believable if I was doing drag, but the puppetry does free things up from my performance perspective and the audiences imagination.

How much puppet experience have you had? What kind of acting skills do and don’t translate into puppeteering?

This is my first time puppeteering.  We have been working closely with Luke Joslin, from Avenue Q, who is extremely accomplished. He has been showing us many tricks of the trade and training us to be as believable as possible. It’s much more difficult and physically demanding than I could have imagined, but a lot of fun. You have to be careful to always put the puppet first, and not let the actor, take over – that can sometimes be challenging.

All of the cast looks very accomplished. How did the show all come together? Are you all huge Golden Girls fans?

It’s a fantastic cast, and oddly we all in some way resemble our perspective Golden Girls. I’m not sure if that was Neil’s intention when casting, but it was just one of those auditions that went well for all of us. I remember The Golden Girls well, but I wouldn’t say I was a die-hard fan.  It’s been great re-visiting the TV series, though, making research very enjoyable. The writing really was so clever, and the characters very individual and loveable.

You’re also working with an excellent production team, including Matthew Henderson and Neil Gooding. How was that experience?

They have been an absolute joy to work with. Neil is really very encouraging and has the ability to put you at ease, which is great when we are all tackling a new and foreign genre. Matthew does a lot of work behind the scenes, but when he does pop into rehearsals, he seems to just laugh at us.

What kind of story can fans expect?

It’s really watching a Golden Girls episode, live on stage but with puppets. The set has been recreated, and looks amazing, and in true Golden Girls style, we tackle a few of the difficult social issues of the day.

And finally, you’re doing some Melbourne shows, but you’re also heading to Sydney, which is pretty exciting. Do you anticipate more or less the same response in each city? Which city do you think has the bigger Golden Girls fans?

I’m stunned at how many fans there are out there. I haven’t done that much work in Melbourne, so I’m excited to see how the show goes there, but I know that Sydney audiences are going to love it.

TYFBAF Landscape Image

Thank You For Being A Friend will be in Melbourne from 7 January 2014 and in Sydney from 14 February 2014. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.

For more information, check out the website at: http://www.thankyouforbeingafriend.com.au/.

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