Victoria native’s Miss Persona hits the TV big time

Preschool program will be broadcast on Treehouse

Kimberly Persona had a very successful year, one that saw her strike a deal for a show with the largest children’s television network in the country.

The Victoria native’s preschool program, Miss Persona, was recently picked up for broadcast on Treehouse TV, just four months after debuting on the network’s YouTube channel in September.

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After struggling for years to get the show made, Persona hit the big-time when Nelvana, the Canadian studio and children’s media company that distributes Treehouse TV, Discovery Kids Canada and YTV, stepped in to produce. The show found an immediate audience — 100,000 views in a matter of days; more than 500,000 over the course of four months — which made the decision to air Miss Persona daily on Treehouse a no-brainer for the network.

“Being [a digital-only offering] was a great opportunity to get exposure and to see if kids were resonating with the show,” Persona said Friday from her home in Toronto. “We wanted something that was short and digestible, capturing attention spans for a short moment.”

Nelvana ordered 52 three-minute episodes that began airing last week on Treehouse at 10:55 a.m. every weekday and 3:05 p.m. on the weekends. Persona is hoping for a second season, and the creator, producer and songwriter in the title role is toying with the idea of expanding future episodes to seven minutes.

“With preschool programs, these things don’t often just get one run,” Persona said. “Right now, we’re hopeful. I hear the ratings are going well.”

The Stelly’s Secondary grad developed the character shortly after she left Victoria for Toronto in 2010. Miss Persona has roots in her many performances with the Canadian College of Performing Arts, from which she graduated in 2008, in addition to her appearances on stage at Butchart Gardens. “When I moved to Toronto, I started doing kids’ shows because I had gained that experience in Victoria,” she said.

“I hadn’t even had the idea for a show until I started performing for kids. Once you start going into schools and see the effect these shows have on kids, that inspired me to start making Miss Persona.”

She made several Miss Persona pilots using her own money years ago, with a crew consisting of friends and family.

Originally titled Miss Persona and the Marvelous Melodies, the episodes found an audience after she uploaded them to YouTube.

Persona said she was hoping to capture the feel-good familiarity of Big Comfy Couch and Mr. Dressup.

“On a whim, and with all this naiveté, I thought it would be fun to create a show that was a love letter to some of those older shows. I shopped it around [to stations], and everybody said no. I did that on repeat five or six times.”

The character solves problems on the show through singalongs and dress-up role playing. Persona is joined by a strong roster of collaborators, including show-runner Brandon Lane (a three-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee) and actors Alyson Court (Big Comfy Couch) and Joe Motiki (The Crawlspace), puppeteer Mike Petersen (Fraggle Rock, Toopy and Binoo) and former WWE wrestling champion Santino Marella.

Her grandfather in the show is played by iconic children’s entertainer Fred Penner, which has led to many starstruck moments for everyone on set, Persona said.

“As if this whole thing wasn’t already a dream come true,” she said of Penner’s involvement. “When he came on set, it felt like there was a superstar around.”

Persona acted in several Toronto productions prior to Miss Persona, including playing Lady Gaga in the 2013 production Of a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical.

She continues to explore her talent, but is focused on Miss Persona and Balloon House Productions, her company with Lane. “I got sick of going for the types of characters they were putting me up for,” Persona said. “If I’m going to pursue art because I love it, I’m not going to take jobs that I don’t love. It just isn’t in my heart.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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