By Paige Harriman
Highland Park HS Student
Waving around Bleeckie, a muppet, Leslie Fleming squeaks out a hello. Hiding behind the blue fabric, she pretends like she doesn't exist, that her marionette is a real person. This is her way to audition for a TV show, a unique way to get her muppet on the program.
Unfortunately, this is not a casting call for Sesame Street. Bleeckie is trying out for "The Marriage Ref," a comic series about celebrities and their relationship referee. A producer stares at her, open-mouthed, unsure of how to respond.
"The Marriage Ref was doing auditions at the State Fair of Texas. Since I did a video shoot with Bleeckie at the fair that day, we decided to stop by the audition stand on our way out as a joke," Leslie said. "It's so much fun to catch people off-guard. The producers got a huge kick out of Bleeckie's audition. Of course, they were looking for humans, not muppets, which I knew."
Even though Fleming normally crafts her own puppets from scratch, Bleeckie was created at Fao Schwarz in New York City. A graduate of Highland Park High School and Southern Methodist University, Fleming then followed her dreams to New York City, where she got to pursue her passion of working in children's television. Her boyfriend took her to FAO Schwarz's Muppet WhatNot Workshop as a birthday and graduation gift. Fleming was graduating from New York University with her Master's in Children's Media, and had been working for Sesame Street, so the gift was very fitting.
"Some fun trivia is that the night that I made Bleeckie, Leslie Cararra-Rudolph, who plays Abby Cadabby on Sesame Street, helped break her in for me, and autographed Bleeckie's stomach with a sweet message," Fleming grins, reminiscing. "I'd met Leslie very briefly a couple of times while working at Sesame Street, but this time was definitely the most memorable."
From that moment on, Leslie and Bleeckie were inseparable. But Leslie had no idea how popular Bleeckie would become within the next few months. She started an online television show called "Bleeckie's Playdates," where 5-year-old Bleeckie would go on "playdates." These playdates took Bleeckie everywhere, from the online video chat service Chat Roulette, to the State Fair of Texas, and even to Hollywood!
"I still think that my favorite adventure of all has to be the State Fair," Fleming said. "It's always funny to watch how people react to a puppet amongst the large crowds, and especially how they respond to one who isn't afraid to ask something they'd never expect. It was also very fun to film, because Bleeckie not only got to interview all kinds of people, but she got to participate in a lot of the games at the fair, and even got to 'eat' the fried food."
This muppet was very auspicious: she caught the attention of most children and adults. Some claimed that she was from Sesame Street, while others asked for pictures with her. More than likely, they assumed she was a fair attraction.
"It was such an interesting experience," Fleming remarks. "My favorite reaction that I did not expect was all the parents who asked if she was a prize at the fair that they could win."
The crowning achievement was when Bleeckie interviewed Bill Bragg, the voice of Big Tex.
"He was very kind and charismatic, and incredibly engaging," Fleming said. "I still don't think Bleeckie is over the fact that she got to meet him! And I, for sure, am not over it, either."
These exploits do not go undocumented. Armed with a camera, Alan H. Rose films the muppet's escapades and posts them on YouTube. This channel is like an alternative universe: Fleming, ever the innovative puppeteer, has created a world that centers around the muppet.
"Bleeckie also LOVES learning, and I don't think she'll ever grow out of that," Leslie dreams, drifting off into her imagination. "That characteristic of her I think is what is most inspiring to kids, because she makes learning and school cool. I think that one day she'd make a great journalist, because she just really loves learning everyone's story."
Because Bleeckie has a lot of interviews coming up, plus an appearance on Wayne Brady's "Let's Make a Deal," she'll have to do some of her learning from home. But, definitely not all of it, or even most of it, according to Fleming.
"Bleeckie is not out of school, and probably would cry if I ever pulled her out to home-school her," Fleming continues. "She just has gotten to take a lot more excuse letters to her teacher lately because of all of her video shoots."
Bleeckie's escapades in Highland Park are filmed for a show called "Bleeckie's Playdates" (which can be watched online at https://www.youtube.com/bleeckie).