Surviving COVID-19 With Puppets

Surviving COVID-19 With Puppets
Cow, the title character of Cow and COVID19: Don’t Lose Your Sh*t! Courtesy of Isabelle Garbani.

Equal parts informative, and entertaining, Cow and COVID19: Don’t Lose Your Sh*t! YouTube series consists of seven two- to three-minute YouTube videos, produced by Brooklyn-based sculpture artist Isabelle Garbani and her boyfriend, Dan.

Though the show is intended as a source of entertainment and information for those stuck at home, it’s also been an important outlet for Garbani, whose typical means of channeling creative energy, like working in her studio or performing for an audience, have been cut off. Garbani already had the puppets, she said, which she used to make Dan laugh. “It was like a very private joke.” One time, Garbani used Cow to give a French lesson to a visiting friend, whose hysterical laughter made her consider sharing their private joke with the public.

The series has also been a way for Garbani to inject humor back into her work. “I think as an artist, I feel like there’s not a lot of humor in a lot of artwork that we do,” she said. “I feel like we really need to laugh right now.”

It’s also a way to remind people that we won’t be stuck at home forever.

“It’s finite,” Garbani said. “And we have to remember that this is finite, and we will get out of this confinement — it doesn’t feel like it right now, but I feel like humor is something that can be very useful right now to just kind of recenter and relax a little bit.”

The actors? All puppets.

The eponymous Cow (a cow) narrates the show and serves as the mother to two twin elephants, Elephant and Tag (the latter named for the tag still attached to his body) and partner to Pig (a pig). Pengy and Sheepy, a penguin and a sheep, respectively, play supporting characters. Cow, a warm and maternal figure (even while she occasionally gets irritated with her family members) whose speech is inflected with the occasional ‘moo,’ introduces the theme at the beginning of each episode. Thus far, there’s Coping With Social Distancing 101, 102, and 103; How to Keep a Routine; Indoor Exercise; and How to Get Along With Your Family. Dan does the voice of Pengy, Sheepy, and Pig; Garbani voices Cow and the elephants.

While Garbani’s playful sense of humor features heavily throughout the show, Cow and COVID19 also touch on several sensitive topics related to coronavirus isolation. At the end of the most recent episode, How to Get Along With Your Family, Cow tells the audience that “If you are having problems, and fear for your safety, Bella has left a bunch of phone numbers at the end of this video.” A phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline follows, along with a number to text if someone is unable to speak.

“I know I’m using humor, but those are real problems, and it is a real problem that people can be actually stuck at home right now with their abuser and not able to actually get out of that situation,” Garbani said. “I wanted to use that opportunity to actually offer some real resources to people.”

Another video, Coping with Social Distancing 101, reminds viewers to stay polite and say hello to people when you’re outside your home. “Some people are not even looking up — say hello anyway,” Cow says. “Some people are scared — but we still need to be friendly, and keep a sense of a community.”

In yet another video, Cow suggests an activity called “Stoop Talk,” which involves chatting with your friend while one of them stands on the stoop, both at a safe six-foot distance from one another. Garbani said she began using “Stoop Talk” as a way to safely continue seeing her friends. Most of the guidelines for social distancing come from the CDC website and other government sources, Garbani said.

The project has taken on a life of its own since Garbani started. “It’s becoming more and more elaborate,” she said. Future videos might offer resources and ideas for parents dealing with the stress of homeschooling their children for the first time, Garbani said. She’s also planning to put on a kid-friendly play using the puppets, including resources for parents to put on a play with their kids.

On the Cow and COVID19 website, Garbani also offers an extensive list of resources for artists who have lost their livelihood due to COVID-19, from job boards for freelancers to a company hiring artists to sew medical gowns and face masks.

Watch Cow and COVID19 on YouTube, and check out the Cow and COVID19 website.

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