Drawing on real life…

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Above: Aimée Richardson: “As I’m doing the voice of Punky, it is like I’m seeing myself as Punky and Punky has become a part of me.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Right: Punky and Granny Cranky. (Photographs courtesy of The Irish Times)

In an article in The Irish Times HEALTHplus supplement of 21 September 2010, Ronan McGreevy told readers about a cartoon series which features ‘Punky’, a mischievous six-year-old girl who lives with her mother, her brother Con, her Granny Cranky and her dog Rufus. Punky has Down Syndrome. The cartoon is the creation of Gerard O’Rourke, owner of Irish firm Monster Animation. Punky will feature in 20 short episodes to be broadcast in the New Year on RTÉ’s new young people’s programming schedule.

Gráinne Murphy of Down Syndrome Ireland was quoted in the Irish Times article, saying that the cartoon ‘will educate children at a young age that a person with Down syndrome is a child, that Punky has a lot of interests like many other girls her age. Down syndrome does not exclude her from all of the interests that children have,’ she says. ‘It will reflect the fact that people with Down syndrome are now in their local mainstream schools, they are interacting with other children from a young age. It is a two.way educational process’.

Aimée Richardson was recruited (through Down Syndrome Ireland) to provide the voice of Punky.

‘We [myself and another girl] were asked to do an audition. After we did the audition, I had mixed feelings about what might happen next. Will I or not get the part? Then Gerard rang me and said, ‘Aimée you have got the part’, and I just couldn’t believe it. I jumped with joy. Me and Mum went for a meal to celebrate,’ she says.

Gerard O’Rourke says it has been a learning experience too for the production team.

‘Children with Down syndrome approach every scenario from a different perspective and resolve every problem in their own way. It has been a fascinating process for us,’ he says.

RTÉ commissioning editor for Young People’s Programming, Sheila de Courcy, says she was “very excited” when the proposal was first put to the station.

‘To my knowledge, it has never been done before in any animation series. Within our brief we are absolutely insistent on exploring and reflecting the world in which youngsters are growing up from inside a child’s world rather than outside a child’s world,’ de Courcy says.

We asked Emer Twohig and Severine Doolin, two of Aimée’s friends in Dún Laoghaire, to interview her for Frontline.

Emer: Could you introduce yourself?
Aimée: My name is Aimee Richardson.

Emer: I heard that you have a new job. Could you tell me about it?
Aimée: I give a voice to the cartoon character. I’m going to studio twice a week. I stand in front of microphone. A lady reads lines in the other room. I hear her
voice and repeat after her.

Emer: What is your character’s name?
Aimée: My character’s name is Punky.

Emer: Why is she called Punky?
Aimée: Her name is Punky because she is unpredictable and you never know what she is going to do next. She is very funny and she has a bubbly personality. She is only 6 and we don’t know who she will become when she grows up. She reminds me of myself when I was that age.

Emer: What is so special about Punky?
Aimée: She has Down syndrome. It was important for the producers that the person giving the voice to Punky also has Down syndrome. They wanted the show to be very real.

Emer: What is the funniest episode?
Aimée: In one of the episodes, Punky pretends that she is a princess. Punky and her friend are dressed up and they want to put a play. They encourage all the family members to take a part. They all have assigned roles; Punky’s mother is the Queen, her brother is a dragon, and Grandma is the witch. The play is very funny.

Emer: Is it difficult to do the voice of Punky?
Aimée: Sometimes it is difficult. When I have some problems with my performance I go back to the times when I was Punky’s age. This makes my job much easier when I can relate my experience to hers.

PART 2

Severine: How do you prepare yourself before going to the studio?
Aimée: I always make sure that I look nice. I put nice clothes on and sometimes I put on a bit of perfume. Usually my mum drops me to the studio but there are times when I have to take a taxi. At work I talk to everybody and I try to stay relaxed before I go to the recording room.

Severine: Do you sit at a desk in the studio?
Aimée: No, I don’t sit at a desk. I’m standing and moving as I’m acting. It is very exciting.

Severine: Do you work long hours?
Aimée: I work for an hour and a half, sometimes two hours. I have no break during this time. It can be very
tiring so I always have a cup of tea before I start to keep me going.

Severine: What can we all learn from Punky?
Aimée: She is a great communicator. She learns and she tries hard to do her best.

Severine: When and where can we see Punky?
Aimée: Sometime next year on RTE 2.

Severine: Is your day very busy? Could you describe your usual day?
Aimée: I’m busy most days. I am involved with Down Syndrome Ireland. I am also doing campaigns and projects such as “My Opinion My Vote”. Something happen everyday, for example, I have been invited to the
Christmas celebration in Belfast. If I’m not working I go to Choices, Carmona Services.

Severine: What do you like to do in your free time?
Aimée: Sometimes I don’t have much free time. If I have I like to spend some quality time with my family. I play the flute and harp so I like to practice playing them too.

Severine: Thank you for the interview. I wish you all the best.

 

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