It’s a sweaty, surprising and energizing job to be a wombat for a day.
Just ask GBH-ers Ali Fernandes, Rebecca Ferullo and Rori Miller, who volunteered to dress up as one during the debut week ofWork It Out Wombats!, GBH’s new children’s program. In early March, the three—all part of GBH’s Creative team—took turns taking on the city dressed as Zeke, the youngest marsupial brother of Malik and Zadie, grandchild of Super and the keeper of Snout the stuffed animal.
At locales such as Franklin Park Zoo, Boston City Hall, Boston Children's Museum and the Boston Common, the three delivered their best renditions of the “wombat wiggle,” encountering superfans, bawling children and excited adults. They hid in bathrooms to change their costume between locations. They met GBH President and CEO Susan Goldberg and hosts Margery Eagan and Jim Braude of Boston Public Radio at GBH’s Boston Public Library Studio broadcast.
The costume, sized to fit people who are 5’2”-5’6” (Ali, Rebecca and Rori are all 5’3”), is an unwieldy, hi-tech/low-tech contraption that can be a challenge to put on.
“It takes at least two people to get it on—if you have a third person, that's even better,” said Rebecca.
“You put on this deflated thing, and then there's a fan in the back that blows air to inflate it like a balloon,” said Rori. “There’s electrically and mechanically engineered parts to it, which makes it very high-tech.”
But there’s also a low-tech metal bar that reaches from their torso, above their head to support the weight of the costume.
“Wearing the costume was physically more than I expected because of its mass,” said Rebecca. “I don’t think you could do a whole day without breaks.”
But that didn’t keep them from completely enjoying themselves, with the three unanimously describing the experience fun and rewarding, enjoyng Zeke’s bright yellow soft coat attracting fans of all ages.
“There is a therapeutic nature about Zeke because of his fuzziness,” said Ali. “A lot of people were stroking him, which I hadn’t expected, but think that really added to the interaction.”
Ali attracted a “superfan,” Ruby, at the library. “She was attached to me the whole entire time, wanting to know everything about the show, Zeke and wombats. She had so many questions, which was so great.”
At every outing, Zeke was introduced and escorted by Jacqui Kelliher or Erin Callanan of GBH’s Marketing and Communications division, who spoke on behalf of the wombat, answering all the questions—and helping Zeke through tight situations.
“The costume’s head is remarkably big,” said Rori. “When I went through doorways, Jacqui had to push and squeeze my head to get it through.”
Rori also encountered a superfan, Maddie. “She loved Wombats! already, even though it was a really new show. But when I walked out in the costume, she started bawling. I don't think she expect him to be so big.”
The three had never donned a character costume before, but all said they’d do it again in a heartbeat.
“I watched the show beforehand to know the character a bit more, and I love it,” said Ali. “It's about problem-solving and family, and I'm really excited to see how it is received by the public.”
If the first numbers are a sign of what’s to come, the reception is beyond enthusiastic. Wombats! videos were streamed more than 23 million times in the first two weeks on PBS KIDS video platforms and saw 1.7M views on the PBS KIDS YouTube channel.