Stepping into Frankie Yeo’s workspace is almost like entering a whole different world.
Located in a nondescript industrial area in MacPherson, the Mascots and Puppets Specialists office is jam-packed floor to ceiling with mascots and puppets.
They consist of all sorts of shapes and sizes, and are born from years of hard work of Frankie and his three-man team.
Most of the mascots created by Frankie are well-recognised by generations of Singaporeans.
After all, Frankie has breathed life into mascots the likes of Sharity Elephant, Lyo and Merly.
Sharity is the cuddly pink elephant that inspired local schoolchildren to be caring, while Lyo and Merly are from the Singapore Youth Olympic Games in 2010.
Unlikely Beginnings For S’pore’s Only Commercial Puppet Producer
Frankie started creating puppets as a hobby after a seven-year stint in the Air Force.
The 57-year-old said that he had wanted to become a magician when he was younger, but magicians are “a dime a dozen in Singapore”.
Instead of fighting for “a slice of the same pie”, he decided to venture into something novel. He realised that no one was doing puppetry at that time, and decided to go into the space.
He began experimenting with puppetry in the 1980s, but it was only in the 1990s did he start to pour his heart into the craft.
Frankie roped in his wife — who is the business co-owner, as well as two other friends — to work on these projects together.
Still, Frankie said that he “never intended it to become a business at that time”, and was mainly using the puppets during mission trips as a form of communication.
Occasionally, the team created and put up puppet shows for birthday parties, but nothing more.
Frankie achieved his big break when a producer spotted them one day and asked if they could do a 30-minute show. Even though they were ill-equipped, they agreed and created everything for the show in a week.
“From there, it kind of snowballed and became a business,” Frankie mused.
That was back in 2000. Since then, Frankie has built a strong brand for himself, his puppets and the company.
According to the puppeteer, Mascots and Puppets Specialist is the only commercial puppet producer in Singapore.
His “Babies” Have Won Awards And Accolades
Frankie speaks of his puppets, marionettes and mascots with deep passion. He calls them his “babies”, and rightly so.
The artisan has crafted most of them by hand, and breathed life into them through performances and acts.
“It’s so difficult to choose,” Frankie remarked when asked to pick a favourite puppet.
He settled on the red clown with a balloon, as it was one of the puppets from his first batch of successful ones.
I created him because I wanted a puppet that blows a balloon. I started sculpting, and it took me two years to get him to this state.
The clown wishes to fly, which is why he blows up the balloon. But after floating in the air for awhile, the balloon pops and his dreams are dashed. This story actually touches a lot of people, from children to adults.Frankie Yeo, Co-founder of Mascots and Puppets Specialists
According to Frankie, when the clown finally hit the stage, members of the audience would cry after watching his act.
Over the years, Frankie’s puppets have been used in numerous productions, from a Chinese television show, to Little Shop of Horrors (a theatre production), and a Hong Kong movie.
Once, his puppet was nominated for an award of Best Supporting Actor, which was the first time in history that a puppet was chosen.
Frankie’s puppets have indeed won many awards an accolades, so much so that he has a shelf filled with them.
His mascots have also made appearances in theme parks, and he shared that he has done various shows for Universal Studios Singapore’s annual Halloween Horror Night.
Leaving A Legacy: More Than Just Inanimate Objects
Frankie’s aim is to bring joy and impart knowledge to his audience, and he has managed to do so through his shows over the years.
There have been many instances where people come up to me and they say ,’Hey I remember you! You came to my school when I was a kid,’ and recounted to me the characters that we performed.
People actually remember… It’s amazing. I am glad that our shows have been imprinted in the minds and hearts of people.Frankie Yeo, Co-founder of Mascots and Puppets Specialists
One of Frankie’s goals is to set up a permanent puppet theatre and museum, where he can continue to impart his skills, knowledge and experiences to the next generation.
The craftsman shared with Vulcan Post that his puppets are so much more than just a tool for entertainment.
For example, he has worked with A*STAR to develop puppets with inbuilt sensors for medical purposes. He has also created puppets to take on the role of surrogate parents for animals close to extinction.
However, times are tough for the puppeteer.
It was recently reported that Frankie is selling some of his puppets to pay the bills as live shows remain impossible during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite that, he remains optimistic. Besides puppets and mascots, the team has also recently been working on installations for attractions such as Gardens By The Bay.
“There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, we can use our past to be better equipped for the future,” Frankie told Vulcan Post.
“We either innovate or evaporate.”
Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post, Selwyn Yeo