MANKATO — Fernando isn’t just the tattooed, foul-mouthed puppet who stars in the next iteration of Mankato Mosaic’s popular Bar Tales series.
Fernando is an extension of Tommy Emery’s lifetime of creative passion and, more importantly, of his devotion to his daughter.
“I may not ever make a nickel making puppets,” Emery said. “But as long as I can make that little girl laugh, that’s all I care about.”
Emery’s 6-year-old daughter Cordelia was born with a speech disorder called verbal apraxia.
Cognitively, she’s as bright as any her age. Socially, she’s sweethearted and empathetic. Her speech, however, is stunted due to a little understood neurological hiccup that prevents her brain from coordinating all the necessary elements to produce speech.
Among a litany of consultations with doctors and specialists, Emery also began using sock puppets to encourage Cordelia to talk. He noticed it seemed to help.
So he started patterning his voice after Elmo, the lovable Sesame Street character. Soon Cordelia’s requests became constant -- “Daddy, do Elmo! Daddy, do Elmo!”
Not long after, Emery’s employer -- BuyFun.com of North Mankato -- began looking for a character to anchor a new viral video campaign. Emery floated the idea of a puppet and it caught on. “Monster,” as the wide-eyed, purple-furred puppet came to be known, was Emery’s first creation.
Suddenly, the man who had long ago sloughed his creative dreams to the backburner in favor of the full-time gig of fatherhood had reignited his creative spark.
“Everything just kind of lined up,” said Emery, who has an extensive background in film, video editing and software design. “I had to prove to (Cordelia) that you can be yourself, that you can do whatever you want to do.”
Matching action to word, Emery contacted Mankato Mosaic in April. At the time, he had no clue Greg Abbott was directing “Puppet Love,” a play about a foul-mouthed puppet who sabotages his handler’s efforts to meet women.
The meeting was fortuitous for both sides.
Emery auditioned for and landed the role. Abbott, on the other hand, was able to substitute a “real” puppet for the simple sock variety he had planned on using.
Since then, Emery has spent hours each night practicing in front of a mirror. Though his entire body will be covered by an invisibility suit, he’s had to perfect Fernando’s snarling, south-of-the-border accent and hone his puppeteering skills so that Fernando’s expressions and gestures are natural.
“The only problem is that Fernando’s so foul-mouthed, my daughter can’t come see the play,” Emery said.