Jacqueline Fisher is only 26, but she is already a show biz veteran. Currently part of the “PAW Patrol Live” national touring company, the Seaford native has been appearing onstage for more than 20 years.
The show is a live version of the popular CGI-animated children’s television show, “PAW Patrol,” which appears in the U.S. on the Nickelodeon network.
The 75-minute show features characters from the show in popular songs and dances. Some of the characters are a hybrid cross between puppets and costumes operated by actors — affectionately dubbed “pups,” since many are canine characters. Others are regular actors in costume.
“The costumes are amazingly designed, so that you hardly notice the humans,” Fisher said. “The pups are pretty big, and after a while the kids in the audience forget that humans are behind them at all.”
Now, after being on the road with the show for the past 10 months, Fisher is back in New York for six performances on April 13 and 14 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Fisher is what is known in the production as a “female swing.” That means that in addition to her own role as one of the show’s cheerleaders, she may be called on to step into almost any female role — sometimes several roles — each night.
“This is my first tour,” she said of the run, which started last June and is slated to end next month. “It’s been amazing to see so many cities, to get to travel so much and see how much the kids love these characters.” New Orleans has been her favorite city so far, she said, adding that she had been surprised by some of the destinations as well. “I really liked Lincoln, Nebraska,” she said. “It was really a jewel.”
Puppet rock stars
Fisher said she loves performing for children. “With the kids, it’s like they’re seeing a rock star,” she said. “It’s so much fun! The shows incorporate songs and dances from the TV show that the kids know, so they’ll sing along with you.”
Fisher said the children in the audience are so familiar with the show’s numbers that when the actors deviate from the arrangements kids know, “they think you’re doing it wrong — and they’ll let you know.”
Sometimes, the children’s enthusiasm spills out into the street after the show. “One night, this little boy, maybe 4 years old, came running after us, yelling, “You guys were really good!” Fisher and the other cast members stopped to talk with him, and found out that his favorite part of the show was the big production number at the end, which features streamers and confetti.
The costumes present unique challenges, Fisher said. “Each pup is different. You have to create the character in different ways. You can’t do it with [facial] expressions or hands or body movements. So you blink the puppets’ eyes fast or slow, or leave them half open. Or you move their ears. Or you might walk a certain way.”
The technical features of the costumes have brought other challenges as well. Fisher described a performance in which one of the puppets had to be taken out of the lineup after the show had already started. The puppet was featured in a duet later in the performance, which left the other character to perform the number as a solo. “If you didn’t know the show, you wouldn’t even have known anything was wrong,” Fisher said of her colleague’s ability to adapt and improvise.
The actors wear neutral clothing when they are in their puppet outfits, including hats that match those of their characters. “Our makeup is just plain makeup,” Fisher said: just enough to keep the actors’ faces from being washed out by the high-wattage theater lighting.
Last-minute changes keep everyone on their toes, and change is a way of life for Fisher in her capacity as a swing. And in such a long tour, illness is almost inevitable.
“You have to take care of yourself,” she said. “You take your allergy pills, whether you’re sick or not; you take your vitamins. And if you’re sick, you self-isolate, so you don’t get everyone else sick. If one person’s sick . . .”
She is excited to be playing the Garden. “I used to walk by when I was auditioning in the city,” she recalled, “and think how great it’d be to play there someday.”
A lifetime of song and dance
Fisher began singing and dancing at age 5, and began training in the education program of the Cultural Arts Playhouse a few years later. Cultural Arts offers Broadway-style performances at its facilities in Syosset and, more recently, in Wantagh, and trains young people for a career on the stage. She continued to take classes at Cultural Arts through her sophomore year at Seaford High School, when she transferred to Long Island High School for the Arts, also in Syosset. After high school, she studied musical theater at SUNY Cortland. “It was great preparation for a career,” she said.
Concerned that she might find supporting herself a challenge, her parents, Peg and Todd, suggested that she consider a dual major. “But I thought if I gave myself a backup,” she said, “I might not take my career as seriously or work as hard.”
Fisher has definitely worked hard. “I’ve been really fortunate to work a lot,” she said. “I’ve done a little bartending, but I’ve never had more than a couple of months between acting jobs.”
After graduating from college, she landed a job doing summer stock at the Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater, Mich. Built in 1882, “it’s a beautiful old theater,” Fisher said. “After that, I did theme park work off and on for about three years.”
She said she would love to work on a cruise ship. But like most stage actors, she has her sights set on Broadway. “The first musical I ever saw was ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” Fisher said. Although she was just a child, she was certain even then of her career choice: “I knew I wanted to be up there doing that.”
While she is back in New York, she said, “I want to spend some time with my family.” She has a brother, Jordan, who, despite being “an insane pianist,” works as an engineer; and a stepsister, Pamela, who performed when she was younger and is now in medical school. And “I want to get a real Long Island bagel, and I want to get a slice from Trallo’s” — a pizzeria in Seaford, near her family’s home.
Fisher said that many of her hometown friends have jobs they don’t enjoy. “People ask me, ‘what’s your job?’ They don’t really have any idea of what I do,” she said.
Working in the theater, “It’s easy for me to forget that I’m an adult, that I’m grown up,” she said. “I get to sing and dance and wear costumes. I’m so lucky — I’m having all this fun!”