Puppets Help Prevent Ebola in East Africa
Last fall, as Ebola swept through the West Africa, PVI decided to film a public-service announcement about the virus, to air in Uganda. Ebola hadn’t appeared in Uganda since 2012, but people were expressing concern about its potential to spread. On a blustery fall afternoon in Brooklyn, New York, Falzone and another puppetmaster, Ronald Binion, put together a puppet Public Service Announcement (PSA) using a boy and a goat puppet to demonstrate unnecessary fear and proper steps to ensure safety. Onstage, the goat – a fuzzy blob made from a thrift-store fur coat, cardboard, and masking tape – gave a loud bleat and trotted off, fleeing a coughing boy hand puppet, who was trying to pet him. Later on in the short PSA, the boy was medically cleared and reunited with his friend the goat.
Falzone’s PSA was shown in Ugandan video halls conveying the message that although people should take precautions to avoid contracting the disease, they shouldn’t become hysterical. Last December, Falzone and Lukomska took the puppet PSA to Uganda to record background noise and voice-overs, to give the spots authentic Ugandan accents and atmosphere, then tested the PSAs with Ugandan audiences. The spots appealed to the various populations, and were shown to various NGOs and UN agencies in case of further outbreaks. As the virus was contained, however, the ads became unnecessary. The idea of using puppets to diffuse panic and communicate key information was instilled at the top levels of development and aid agencies.