Canadian parents of children aged 2 to 5 are no doubt familiar with “Miss Persona”, the Treehouse series that’s become a smash hit with the preschool set.
Portrayed by Kimberly Persona (also the series’ creator), “Miss Persona” is aimed at entertaining youngsters while helping them understand the often confusing world around them, following in the footsteps of such forebears as “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood”, “The Big Comfy Couch” and Canada’s own “Mr. Dressup”.
This weekend, “Miss Persona” will break new ground with a pair of pride themed episodes featuring a same-sex marriage.
In two new episodes airing Saturday, April 17, kids will watch Miss Persona’s mom (Jane McClelland) marry her partner, Lorna (comedian and writer Elvira Kurt).
That’s followed by a second episode on Sunday, April 18, titled “I Wanna Wear”, featuring Miss Persona’s beloved teddy bear Brandon Bear attending his first pride parade (with Miss Persona going full-Elvis in a rocking musical number) — marking the first time that pride and same-sex marriage episodes have appeared on Treehouse.
In a conversation with ET Canada, Persona explained why she felt it was important to address LGBTQ themes in a show aimed at preschoolers.
“Representation matters, man!” she exclaimed.
“We’re so honoured that Nelvana and Treehouse trusted us enough to tell these stories. Our hope is that kids who have queer parents or family members see themselves represented onscreen for the first time on preschool television here in Canada,” Persona added.
“And we hope for those kids who don’t have queer family members or friends in their lives, that when they see people in their community they see them represented onscreen as loving, wonderful, accepted members of the community and hopefully that’s their experience,” she said of the episode, which was the brainchild of queer Canadian-El Salvadorian writer Raf Antonio.
“When he came up with this pride episode, it was just told in such a perfect light,” she said. “It really approached pride in a way that represented a preschooler’s perspective.”
According to Persona, it wasn’t until production was underway on the pride episode that she was really struck by the significance of what they were doing. “We had a lot of wonderful queer-identifying artists, like drag queens” on the set, she said.
“Just hearing their perspective, ‘I wish I had this when I was a kid,’ I began to realize, ‘Oh golly, what an honour to be able to do this.’ Seeing it through the firsthand experience of someone saying, ‘I’ve never had my story told,’ is something that you can’t unhear. It will always touch you, and you’ll always feel so honoured to be able to contribute to someones’ life in that way,” she added.
As Persona explained, the sense of joy that pervades the episodes was the real deal. “You know what’s funny?” she said. “After we shot the wedding episode, at the end of the day, everybody left with the feeling they’d actually been to a wedding, like they’d all partied together.”
“Miss Persona” has won numerous accolades since it jumped from online to the Treehouse network in 2019 — including two Daytime Emmy nominations, something Persona admits took her by surprise.
“I cannot even tell you, when I found out about that, I ran to my husband [“Miss Persona” showrunner Brandon Lane], and I think I was wearing two mismatched shoes. I was so flabbergasted. I burst in on him in a meeting and I was like, crying… I was so floored! And to get two in the same year… I cannot articulate how gobsmacked I was.”
In addition to ET Canada’s own Carlos Bustamente (as Cousin Carlos), other members of the cast include Anthony Carelli (better known to WWE fans as wrestler Santino Marella) and two icons of Canadian children’s entertainment, Alyson Court of “The Big Comfy Couch” and children’s music legend Fred Penner, who plays Miss Persona’s grandfather.
According to Persona, it was her husband who had the idea to invite Penner to appear on the show — something she thought was unlikely.
“I was like, ‘He’ll never say yes!’ And it just so happened that I worked a short stint at the agency where he’s represented, so I called his agent very nervously, and Fred said yes… having Fred trust us and have that be that first big yes for us, and he’s such an incredible man, it really touched my heart when he took a chance on a little babe girl with a dream,” she added.
Like all TV series during the past year, “Miss Persona” was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, not just in terms of production but also for live “Miss Persona” performances, which included a multi-week run at Toronto’s CNE in the summer of 2019.
“We had just sort of caught our stride, we’d done a run at the CNE, and we had a few shows going on, it had just started to pick up steam for us and then things started to slow down,” she said.
Once it’s possible to return safely to the stage, Persona is looking forward to performing live in front of actual children again. “It really is a special part of what we do, and I’m very excited to do be able to do that again when it’s safe to,” she said.
The “Love Every Moment” wedding episode debuts Saturday, April 17 at 11:45 a.m. ET on Treehouse, while the “I Wanna Wear” pride episode premieres Sunday, April 18 at 11:45 a.m. ET.