Meet Our Neighbors: Frankie Cordero

Get to know Frankie Cordero, the actor and puppeteer who plays Purple Panda in Donkey Hodie, our newest puppet series for PBS KIDS.

Tell us about yourself and what led you to be a puppeteer.
Sure! I grew up between Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois, where my younger sister, Alina, and I kept busy with many art, music, and theater programs. I’ve been a fan of puppetry for as long I could remember–I’d wake up at the crack of dawn to catch reruns of The Muppet Show and was fascinated by how these characters were performed. I wanted to be a part of it!

My parents had always supported my early love of theater, VHS filmmaking, and my lifelong dream to work as a puppeteer for television. My Dad, who discovered performing later in life (he began working as a clown/magician in 1989), took me to check out the book, “Of Muppets and Men” from our local library, and the librarian happened to be a member of the Chicagoland Puppetry Guild. We immediately joined, attended many meetings, events, and festivals for years, along with this incredibly supportive group of puppeteers.

While in high school, I met David and Adam Rudman at their Spiffy Pictures office–also in Illinois–I shared some of the puppets I had been building, and they shared some of the projects they were developing at the time. We kept in touch, and I eventually started working on pilots and TV shows with them during my summer breaks from college.

What was your favorite television show growing up?
Television was very limited in our household- when it was on, the TV was usually tuned to PBS. Some favorite shows were Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, Sesame Street, and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I feel super grateful to be working for two of those shows right now! I never would have imagined that I’d be living in my hometown while working on a puppet series from Fred Rogers Productions–it’s almost too specific for me to have dreamt up what now feels like a dream come true!

What’s one of your favorite–or most unexpected–things about playing Purple Panda so far?
I love playing around with Panda’s physicality. As a puppet, he’s a single, solid piece of foam. His head, neck, and body all blend together into a huge bean-like shape. It’s been fun using that limitation to inform the way he walks and moves, while also working with our assist puppeteers to also make him very flexible and agile. Panda dancing is one of my favorite things to perform. I also love playing with his stillness–he’s a sensitive guy who often enjoys the quieter moments.

How are you like Purple Panda, and how are you different?
Like Purple Panda, I tend to be a calmer person in general. Unlike myself, Purple Panda is an excellent dancer.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
When I’m not traveling for work or working on Donkey Hodie, I love spending as much time with my family as possible. My wife Marea and I have two daughters–Zora is 3 years old, and Zella is 1. Together, we enjoy doing many of the things I loved doing throughout my life–traveling, playing music, art projects, nature and museum trips, and spending time with our extended family.

What is your favorite nod to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the new series?
As a kid, my eyes were always drawn to the multi-colored stones that were painted on the floor of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Our amazing Art Department on Donkey Hodie created 3D versions of these stones–I love seeing that they now cover the paths of the endless, beautiful rolling hills of Someplace Else!

What’s your preferred way to start the day–Golden Crunchdoodles or Flying Flapjacks?!
I like both! Like Panda, I sometimes have trouble deciding. So, I like to crush up my Golden Crunchdoodles and sprinkle them into the batter before the Flying Flapjacks fly!

Watch Donkey Hodie daily on PBS KIDS or stream anytime at