Battle Creek

When COVID stopped an annual holiday open house in Battle Creek, Winterfest Variety Show was born

The show airs every Saturday through Christmas Day at noon on the CW7, operated by WWMT News Channel 3.
As the credits roll at the end of each episode of the locally written, produced, and directed Winterfest Variety Show, viewers will see one name coming up again and again.
 
That name is Clovis Bordeaux who serves as the Senior Marketing and Strategy Officer for the Battle Creek Community Foundation. The Foundation presented the first Winterfest Variety Show in 2020 as a way to continue its annual celebration of the holidays with area children and their families in a virtual format to keep everyone safe.
 
In the past, Bordeaux, who has worked for the BCCF for eight years, says the Foundation hosted an annual in-person holiday open house that more than 2,100 families attended. 
 
“This is how we pivoted to still be able to do something for the community without putting anyone in danger,” he says. “There’s no open house because it’s not safe enough and our COVID rates are spiking.”
 
Airing solely on social media and the websites of BCCF and its partners, the 2020 five-episode series received rave reviews and garnered more than 46,000 views. The community’s positive reaction resulted in this year’s second season which will again include five episodes. Each one has been expanded to 30 minutes in length airing every Saturday through Christmas Day at noon on the CW7, operated by WWMT News Channel 3. Each episode of the series which began airing on Nov. 27, will also be available for viewing at 5 p.m. on Access Vision, Battle Creek’s public access television station, and at 1 p.m. on the social media channels of BCCF and its partners as well as at the show’s website.
 
Clovis Bordeaux smiles as he holds Dippy, one of his puppets.Every episode features puppets that easily rival those seen on shows like “Sesame Street” or “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”.  Each of them was created and given their own unique voice by Bordeaux.
 
Although not a puppeteer, through trial and error he spent much of his time this year crafting 15 puppets, including the Abominable Postman, Bertrand, Patchwork, and Monica. They are part of an ensemble cast appearing in episodes that focus on topics such as inclusion, community, volunteerism, and acceptance. These areas of focus each align with the three fundamental pillars that guide BCCF – Health, Education and Livable Communities. Interactive elements and contests such as a “Word of the Week”, story time and joke corner are standard parts of each episode.
 
The cost of the Winterfest Variety Show was covered through sponsorships from BCCF, the Kellogg Company, the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival, and partnerships with the City of Battle Creek and area nonprofits. Bordeaux says discussions are happening around offering shows throughout the year, but that, he says, will depend on finding additional sources of funding.

“We are all figuring out how to not blow the budget for this out of the water and make something that can be a little more long-term,” he says. “I’m currently working on securing donations to fund extended play versions of the songs featured in each Winterfest episode.”

“This all goes back to BCCF and how we’re extending those pillars and the lessons of our community to our children,” Bordeaux says. “One whole episode talks about healthy living and was filmed at the (Battle Creek Family YMCA) during an Operation Fit morning movement class that encourages viewers to get up and move for four minutes,” Bordeaux says. “We have another episode that features a puppet named Augustus talking about the way to say Happy Christmas in different languages and an episode filmed at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo which shows how planes get built.”
 
Fun and light are the operative words in the way the messages in each episode are delivered.
 
The face of a puppet created by Clovis Bordeaux for Winterfest Variety Show.“We wanted to teach lessons in ways that the kids wouldn’t think it was a lesson,” Bordeaux says.
 
The words and conversations used to teach those lessons were written by Bordeaux and Nikki Case, a copywriting and marketing consultant with BCCF. Together, they fleshed out the outlines for the scripts for each episode.
 
Bordeaux says he drew some of his material from shows he watched as a child such as Bozo the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and Sesame Street. As he got more comfortable with what his puppets could do, he stretched their performance range into their teenage and young adult selves to provide more depth and different perspectives and insights.
 
The puppets are given voice by local talent that includes, Sarah Odom, of Coldwater, who is embarking on a professional acting career in New York City; Ryan Fleury, a production associate with BCCF; Case; and Steven Watson, who lives in Union City.
 
The puppets and their dialog resonate with kids and adults based on feedback Bordeaux has received, some of which he got during the city’s Christmas parade on Nov. 20 where he walked with Bob Roberts, a news reporter puppet, and Bertrand, a puppet aviator.
 
“Bob is always reporting about Augustus J. Groundhog and every time Augustus sings a song, Bob is there to introduce him. It’s sort of a combination of the movies 'Ted' and 'Anchorman,'” Bordeaux says.  
 
The face of a puppet created by Clovis Bordeaux for Winterfest Variety Show.Songs that are sung in the different episodes were all written by Bordeaux. With titles like “It’s a Great Day,” “Today is the Day”, and “Be Kind”, each one is a lesson put to music and lyrics that reinforce BCCF’s pillars. Some of these songs are loosely based on characters found in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Rasputin” and stem from Bordeaux’s self-described dark sense of humor.
 
“Each puppet is a different personality type and they all stem from my weird psyche,” he says. “Patchwork comes from a lot of my fears and anxieties as a kid and Monica’s our adventurer. Hippy and Dippy are just hippie elves. If you really look at Jim Henson’s puppets, a lot of them are counter-culture.”
 
From concept to show
 
Bordeaux, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Western Michigan University, says it took him between 25 to 30 hours to make each puppet. He says the Abominable Postman and Monica took longer because of the heavier foam he was using for the snowman and the hair he created for Monica.
 
“Monica took a long time because each strand of her hair is wet yarn curled around a stick and baked and each strand had to be sewn or glued into her head separately,” Bordeaux says.
 
The heads and body shapes of the puppets are sculpted out of clay, which serves as the pattern for their construction out of foam and which differs in weight depending on the puppet. The foam is generally heavier if the puppet has to be more rigid like the Abominable Postman which is larger than most.
 
“Each puppet is from a pattern you make and you can build thousands of different versions of it, as far as your imagination will take you,” Bordeaux says.
 
The clothing used to dress the puppets keeps them in character and comes mostly from second-hand shops or is handmade, with exceptions like Bertrand, who required an aviator jacket to reflect his love of planes. That jacket was new.
 
The face of a puppet created by Clovis Bordeaux for Winterfest Variety Show.With the actual filming set to begin in October, Bordeaux built a set in September at the Access Vision studios where each episode begins with a lead-in to the lesson of the segment provided by Santa Claus and his elves.  Bordeaux credits Jason Augustien with Access Vision for turning raw footage into quality shows.
 
“It took a village,” Bordeaux says.
 
In addition to the Battle Creek Y and the Air Zoo, other filming locations included Craig’s Cruisers in Grand Rapids and Lawson Printers in Battle Creek where an episode showed how a book is made.
 
Lawson printed and delivered 1,000 copies of “The String Project: We Are All Connected” to libraries in Albion, Athens, Battle Creek, Homer and Marshall as part of BCCF’s community holiday celebration events. The book, which is available at no cost, is based on an entry into the 2019 ArtPrize which earned creators Chelsea Nix and Mariano Cortez the grand prize. Bordeaux says some of the photos from their ArtPrize entry are on display in the BCCF building.
 
An assortment of some of Clovis Bordeaux’s puppets.Nix and Cortez are featured in one episode of the Winterfest Variety Show where they are reading their book and viewers are encouraged to read the book along with them.
 
Bordeaux, whose paternal grandfather was Tuskegee Airman Clovis Alonzo Bordeaux says like his grandfather, he has always been fascinated by the unknown and the possibilities of trying something new. He says he had no idea how well-received the Winterfest shows would be.
 
“For me, this is a love for creating something magical that I might not normally be able to do,” Bordeaux says. “There’s something special and magical about these types of things. We all get so bogged down in the daily grind. The world is a rough place right now and we don’t need to add to that horribleness all the time. These shows are proof that we can do something good together.” 

 

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.