Puppeteer Michelle Zamora has been the “puppet hustle” in Los Angeles for about 20 years. During this time, she worked on creative projects with everyone from Katy Perry to Snoop Dogg to Pee-wee Herman.
In her latest adventure, Zamora, from Brownsville, Texas, lends her voice and puppeteering skills to Waffles, one of the main characters in Netflix’s new original children’s series. Waffles + Mochi. The show, which stars former First Lady Michelle Obama, is designed to encourage children to eat healthy by introducing them to different foods, cultures and cooking facts.
For Zamora, she voices Waffles, who is part yeti and part waffle, and performs her moves. In an episode of the first series, Waffles and his sidekick Mochi eat gazpacho with famous Spanish chef José Andrés. In another, they take part in a cornbread cooking contest with a goofy character played by actress Rashida Jones (On the rocks).
“I think growing up we all started out as puppeteers when we were playing with our toys,” Zamora told Remezcla in a recent interview. “There is something magical about bringing life to inanimate objects and in our world. Puppets have the potential to do it all.
Zamora was inspired by all the puppet content she saw on television growing up as The puppet show, Monsieur Rogers neighborhood and Pee-wee’s playhouse. It wasn’t until later that she realized how lacking Latinx representation in the field was.
“There weren’t a lot of brown puppets or brown puppeteers or female puppeteers,” she said. “There weren’t that many people I saw that I could model my life on. I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me working with puppets.
Now Zamora has said that she can feel the weight of what it means to be a Latinx puppeteer on her shoulders. Before, she would go to big meetings with creative groups and not realize that she was the only woman of color there. Today is different. “It took me years to recognize it,” she said. “But now, I proudly train my puppet. “
In 2000, Zamora founded Viva la Puppet with her husband Matias to work with artists dedicated to the art of puppetry. As the CEO and Creative Director of the company, she said she is always on the lookout for diverse voices of emerging talent. Viva la Puppet built some of the puppets seen on Waffles + Mochi, including a drone that hangs around the First Lady for much of the series.
“There aren’t a lot of people of color who are puppeteers, so I want to make it my own,” Zamora said. “We have to be the ones who raise them and give them the experience they are looking for.
With Waffles + Mochi, Zamora is looking forward to furthering her career in puppetry and introducing new and interesting characters to audiences. She hopes this will inspire kids to recognize their creativity and talent, whether it’s in puppetry or something like music or the visual arts.
“Children should follow that little voice inside of them saying, ‘I have to do this,’” Zamora said. “Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from following your joy.”
Waffles + Mochi premieres on Netflix on March 16.