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New West Kootenay musical uses puppets to talk about sex education

G Rated is for kids ages 10-13 and their parents
Nadine Tremblay and Phil Loosley pose with characters from G Rated, a musical about sex education. Photo: Tyler Harper

Norbert thinks talking about sex is a little funny, maybe a bit gross and definitely cringe.

He’s 12 years old, the age when everyone — his dad, teachers and best friend — wants to start addressing the S-word.

But they don’t really know how. Norbert’s dad compares it to pizza, while his teachers describe it as either a biological imperative or an expression of romance.

Puppets, it turns out, have just as much trouble talking about sex with kids as humans do. But that’s why Nadine Tremblay thinks they should be heard.

“They’re perfect for getting across awkward things to talk about.”

G Rated is a new musical starring a cast of puppets learning about sexual education. They tackle topics including puberty, consent, gender identity and sexuality in the hour-long show designed for kids ages 10-to-13 and their parents.

The show, co-written by Tremblay and Almeda Glenn Miller with performances by Tremblay and Phil Loosley, made its Nelson debut at The Capitol Theatre on Sunday.

Tremblay, who is artistic director at The Bailey Theatre in Trail, has wanted to work with puppets for years. In 2007 she wrote a musical that featured a puppet who stole the show, and since then has been interested in creating a musical for kids.

The idea for G Rated came from a conversation she had with friends who co-ordinated a survey on sexual education with students, parents and teachers. The results, Tremblay said, showed no one could agree on how it should be taught, or who should be in charge of it.

Tremblay said, in retrospect, she and Glenn Miller could have picked easier subjects to write a musical about.

“We’re like, OK, we’re going to take puppets and we’re going to make it super digestible because puppets, they’re not human, they’re not living things, so they’re relatable, but there’s that disconnect too, so it makes it a little easier and less awkward to talk about.”

Nadine Tremblay, with Yarrow, and Phil Loosley with Norbert on the stage during a performance of G Rated in Nelson. Photo: Tyler Harper

It took four years for G Rated to be written and produced. That’s in part because making puppets is harder than Tremblay thought it would be.

For eight months, Tremblay and Glenn Miller met twice a week to build G Rated’s six characters. It was, she admits now, a big failure.

“We started crafting these puppets and they would have like two left feet or too short a neck or too heavy a head and they would fall over. We just started rehearsing with them and they would all fall apart.”

The homemade options were scrapped and instead the pair crowdfunded for professionally made puppets. There’s Norbert, the aforementioned red-haired kid, and his best friend Yarrow, who is struggling to tell Norbert a secret. Both were created from photo references, while their teachers were modelled after celebrities Bill Nye the Science Guy and Barbara Streisand.

G Rated also includes scenes in which Tremblay plays a school counsellor and Loosley provides narration. The cast sing about sex, explain what boundaries are, and try to get kids and adults comfortable with having the conversation.

“I’m trying to normalize all the language,” said Tremblay. “Can we just say sex? Can we just say penis and vagina and not be giggling and laughing and being all awkward about it?”

G Rated has yet to be performed in local schools, but Tremblay hopes that eventually happens. She thinks the show is a safe starting place for children to learn about the thing everyone in their pre-teen years has a difficult time learning about.

“This is the time where you need to start talking about it and you need to be prepared for all these big changes that are going to come very soon, if not right now.”

And if talking to people about sex makes you uncomfortable, maybe try a puppet.

G Rated will be performed March 10 at The Bailey Theatre in Trail and March 14 at The Langham Culture Centre and Gallery in Kaslo.


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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