Good People, Cool Things
Good People, Cool Things

Episode 119 · 3 months ago

119: Puppets, Humanitarian Work, and Saving Elephants with Lisa Buckley

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

If you've seen a movie or show with a puppet, it's very possible Lisa Buckley was involved. The professional puppeteer has worked with The Muppets, Sesame Street, Alf, Men in Black and so much more.

She's taken her puppets beyond the screen to do humanitarian aid work in impoverished countries. Focusing on adverse issues such as trauma, hygiene, and gender equality, Lisa works on the front lines of refugee camps, using customized puppets as teaching tools to better the lives of those who are caught in the crossfires of upheaval, war, and disease. She's also working with the Born Free Foundation in Kenya, creating elephant puppets to raise awareness for animal welfare and conflict.

In this episode, she's sharing some of her favorite puppet characters and how they help teach all kinds of important topics.

When you're done listening to this podcast, check out mine. It's called beer in front. Every week I talk about a classic beer that maybe we've forgotten along the way. I'll also talk about new beers and have potential to be classics. As the Chicago Beer Guy, I also talk a lot about great craft beers in the city of Chicago. That's beer in front. Where ever you listen to podcasts, good people cool things as a podcast feature and conversations with entrepreneurs, writers, musicians and other creatives, get inspired by their stories to do your own cool things. And here's your host, Joey held. Welcome to good people cool things. Today's guest is Lisa Buckley, a puppeteer with more than twenty five years of experience. You've seen her work on shows like Sesame Street, where she puppeteered Betty Lou, on Alph on the muppets, on probably anything with a puppet. She's probably hadn't at least a hand, at least a hand in the mix of that end. Today she's continuing using puppetry to help teach sensitive topics like trauma, gender equality, menstrual hygime. We're going to meet a few of those puppets in this episode. I won't give anything away, though, because they're all they're all fantastic and even with the audio, even if you're only listening through audio, you'll appreciate everything that comes on in this show. Lisa also works with the born refoundation in Kenya, making elephant puppets to raise awareness around animal welfare and the way we treat animals. But if you've got a dream you're working towards, Lisa has a beautiful full circle story. Beautiful full circles, kind of hard to say, a lovely full circle story, lots of great stuff. She's been doing that she's kind of wanted to do since she was six or seven. Finally made it happen in all kinds of cool ways. And as you're listening to this episode, if you're like hey, I want more, I want more...

...of this. I want more advice on following my dreams, on how I can make that happen. If I want more travel tips when I'm going out and traveling, if I want more corny jokes, head on over to good people, cool thingscom sign up for the newsletter that will give you all of those things right to your inbox. Well, you got to do is drop little email address. It's pretty good extend. I would say. Do all that, have a great time and enjoy this conversation with Lisa. To start, for people that don't know who you are not familiar with your work, can you give us her name, an elevator pitch, but also the type of elevator that we're writing on? Okay, my name is Lisa Buckley and I'm a puppeteer and my type of elevator is she know, those glass elevators that you get in there like attached to the side of the building and you get in and your stomach falls to the floor to whoosh up to the fifteen floor and you're suddenly realize that you're terrified of heights because you're looking out the window going what is coming hot and then you land and you get out of the elevator and you're just like okay, thank you, thank you, I've made it through another day, another elevators. So, yeah, I always pick those and I always regret it, I know I always. It always seems like a good idea and then when you've got three hundred and sixty views for whatever ways, but that just throws yeah, it shows me too. Yeah, from yeah, for me. So how did you get in to puppetry? You've been doing it for a quarter century now. where. Yes, how did that get started? Well, when I was growing up I was into animals. I loved animals. Jane Goodall and Diane Fossie and Jacques Couste were my heroes and that was it. I wanted to be a scientist, of biologist, zoologists. So that was that was it, that was set. That was going to be my whole life. But then when I went to college and I started taking all the science classes, I realize like science at all. It's not interesting, it's not fun. I want my...

...animals to talk to me. I want them to wear clothes and drive cars and have jobs. So I was like, Oh, what do I do? But at this school that I went to, the southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Connecticut, go owls, they had a puppet class. It was a semester long and it was fifteen credits, which is a lot of credits for a semester. Yeah, yeah, and I took it. And you know, when you do what you're supposed to be doing and you just you find what you're destined to be just get all the feels and all the flutters. So coh, my Gosh, this is great. It was so much fun. I was pretty good at it and it never felt like it was work. So as a that's it. I quit school and said I'm going to be a puppet are my parents were horrified, but I said no, no, no, it's going to totally work out, and it seems like it has. Yes, it hads like a zig zag route to get to, you know, all the good stuff, but yeah, it really it really did. And I'm fortunate because I live in Connecticut where the University of Connecticut as a whole puppetry program. You could get a doctor ite in puppetry at the universe of Coneticut can, which is amazing, Amazing Mans. I didn't go there, but you can. Yeah, so that's how I began, which is just absolutely crazy. But you know, the universe says, Nana, you're not going to do that, you're gonna do this. Yes, that that science really spoke to me. As a freshman in college, I took a zoology class, thinking similar thing, like I'd like right about animals. I think I'd be Super Fun and maybe it was the hardest class I took in college, for sure, and maybe like a week and a half of it was animals that weren't like plankedon or, yeah, bugs basically, because that, yeah, that does, that is a big part of the ecosystem. But I was like there's more than yes, this is an interesting yeah, maybe that, maybe that's how they weed out people that Shit. I had took a second class, but I was scared off.

I know, I know, it's crazy, but here I am. So along the way. You've got all these different crazy credits. Tour Nam, you've been on ALF muppets, sesame street, like all these these, you know, like large like shows. I watched crowing God like it's super right to see, but that's, you know, that's all on your resume. Do you have a favorite out of the bunch, a favorite puppet? Where's that like picking children? It's like picking children, though, I think now the work that I do now, it's more I work for an aid organization, so I have my aid worker puppets that I like to use. So I have a show him to you. He's a poop puppet, because one of our programs is water, sanitation and hygiene. And how do you talk about pooping, open defecation in a very cultural sensitive way. That's fun and engaging and you can get the message across that no, pooping can be very dangervious you happen to get it in your mouth and face, you could get very sick, as children do, and in parts of the world that don't have proper sanitation. So you make a Mr poop puppet. Hey, I like the the flies around. Yeah, the flies. Yes, yeah, so he's very popular in our wash program and it's just so fun to see grown adults using a poop puppet and just going off of these incredible tangents about Mr Poop and his whole life and this whole story. And you know he has germs that go with them. Hey, that's right, I like to spread sickness. Should meet children sick. Yes, okay, Mr Poope. What is the kind of creative process for creating because you you create these puppets as well. So obviously, if you're if you're talking about a topic, I assume that's probably the launching pad for it. Of like, okay,...

...this is something, but like, what does that sort of iteration look like? Well, with with Mr Poop, and it was very true. It's like, how do we talk about this with you know, I mean in a room with just men and we're sitting in a circle and where? I have to get the point across that you first of all, of course you need latrines, but you know, you live in an area where they don't build the treas, they don't have access to running water. So what are we going to do? How are we going to talk about this? It's not embarrassing for them and mortifying for me, but also in the fun way. So I said, it just came into my head. We need a poop puppet. That would be absolutely perfect. So I just you know, he's just a simple Brown sock and just this wire and this little hair things and just button eyes and he just is so fantastic and it's so funny to see grown men and women just taking on. Let you know, these are like, you know, very high government officials and some of our classes becoming children and just playing. And also when we're making them, which is really great, you know, we sit around in a circle and you know, we're sewing and we're stuffing. I'm like, so well, anyway, we're going to talk about pooping today and and so where do you guys go poop and thinking, Oh my God, this is just awful. We have to talk about this, and you get into these incredible conversations about pooping and where you poop and like stories of, you know, some families the father would be like I want my children to poop in the art because that shows the whole village that I can afford food. I would have never thought about that, which is amazing. And like the one organization built all these latrines for the women but the women didn't want to use them and they came back and say, well, why don't you want to use them? And they said, well, we like to go out and poop in the field because we can talk about our husband's and talk about our day and talk about I would have never thought of that. So he you know, these kind of puppets. It's a gateway to engage in conversations that are that are difficult,...

...but in a fun way, and then we can talk strategy. So what what do we need? What is this village need? So it's funny. We can talk about, like, you know, minstrel hygiene and you can talk about abstract ideas, like, you know, emotions. You can talk about anger, and and surprise things like that. So you know, sometimes in trauma situations of children don't have access to the right words, they can make puppets and talk about their feelings through puppetry. So it's it's quite exciting. So some of it that just comes to my head just okay, that we need a poop puppet, obviously, and other times it's in a discussion will how would we talk about MSRHIG and what kind of a puppet would be use? So it's pretty cray s crazy. has there ever been one where you started designing it and then we're like, oh, that should like never see the light of day? Yeah, there's some that you just can't. They just they're just not going to work. They're just not and you're just like okay, something else will happen and it'll be okay. But you know, that's the best part about puppets. They can be anything. Anything can be a puppet. So that's pretty exciting and it's good to make the unseen, like germs can be puppets because you don't see germs, so you can make them puppets. Oh, here's my germ, this is my collar, a germ. So and any kind of material like Mr poops a sock and these guys are this one's an old paint brush. So it's also recycling. So we use a lot of found objects to and and, you know, trees and plants and weird things like that. So it's always always amazed how creative people are. Just it's incredible. And then none of them, like some of these places, they don't have they don't have paper, they don't access to paper. They don't even have access to scissors. Like though, there's one guy in the village that has the scissors, the king. He has the scissors, name of those beautiful old scissors that your grandma probably had, very heavy metal scissors. So if you want something cut, you have to go to the king and they'll guy decision, I'll cut it for you.

You're like, okay, thanks, getting so you next week. So and, but people are so creative. I think it's innate ability and humans to have creativity and it's just fascinating. You give them stuff and say okay, mixed off and they're it's like wow, but asso yeah, like that. It's always, I feel like for some people. I mean I would say I'm more of a writer than like a designer by yeah, wide margin, but just like seeing like a blank page, sometimes it's the most frightening thing. Like you have like that open canvas and you're just kind of like, I know, what do I do? But then other people jump at it and it's jump phenomenal. It's amazing what I come out it's phenomenal. Yeah, phenomenal. And people who have never had a lesson in their life. And of course you get people like I can't draw and I can't do this, and you're like well, yeah, can we just have to find the medium that works for you. Could Be, you know, sculpture, it could be drawing, it could be painting, it could be you know, you come up with the story, you're the writer. So yeah, it's quite it's quite amazing. It's just, you know, I know the world's crazy place, but there's so many good, wonderful people up there. Like. Okay, so when you're you're traveling to these these villages all across the world, do you have obviously your puppets, I would assume you're bringing with you, but do you have like your go to travel kit, because travel in general is starting to set to pick back up a little bit. We're yes, we're getting I mean I've been at airports that wasn't a thing, definitely not two years ago and like barely last year. And so do you have like your kind of your go to travel kit of like I, you know, I need this to to make sure it's a successful trip. Yes, yes, a lot of scissors. And it's funny to watch people that don't know really how to use scissors how to use scissors. You know, it's like, okay, we have a two our workshop and it's going to take an hour and a half of them to cut things out. So you're just like, oh my God, but that's a part of the process and you can't interfere. You have to let them discover how to use scissors.

So a lot of scissors. We use a lot of simple things like cardboard, newspaper tape. So it's a lot of it. You can get in country and but a lot of some countries don't have they don't need anything, and we're literally using leaves and seeds and just some wire, which is like, Oh my God, that I was just gonna work. Or you think water bottles. Everyone has water bottles and then you go to a country and they need those water bottles because they put cooking oil in them and your whole workshop is, what are you going to use now? They don't use water bottles for anything else but cooking oil. You can't use these water bottles. They need them. So it's always it's always amazing what you can just, you know, pull out of your hat. But yeah, but simple. We use very simple materials. We figure that's the best way to do it. So yeah, like, I know we've been talking beforehand how I was that I stem volunteer event, and I I was just thinking that the same thing of like Oh, just the ingenuity, because, like you, there's times where it's like, Oh, you know, I'd like to maybe help you, like you're right. They're like I couldn't, I got just whatevery, but I'm like no, no, I'll let you, I'll let you figure it out. A couple kids kind of just like throw it up be like help me, that's just didn't yeah, you've shocked it out, be sure, sure, I'll help. But the thing that I was finding like the it's like the almost the most complicated part was we're making these little bristle bots, so toothbrush heads, where you put a motor and then a battery, and so you can make the motor go very nice little mechanical trick. And then, if you really wanted to get fancy, you could put pipe cleaners and like Google eyes on them and then they can kind of have their the little I kept calling the battle box, but that's something completely different. First and the one of the hardest parts was in we had like the toothbrush holders. So it's like just the head of a toothbrush, but it had like the normal case that you'd put it and just getting those open it was like the hardest part. Like everything else, the kids are like,...

Oh yeah, like this mechanical engineering little problem. So problem getting out of the case. I was like that's fair. Every time you're using this, you have a full toothbrush to work with and it's that's just this like little, small things. So but it was just so cool to see like the you could like see the light bombs going off in their head and that's such a cool moment. Yeah, it really is. And then it you know, some countries to go to the yeah, you set up your whole table of everything in your whole excited you've got your bits and bobs and new you know, fluff in your you know bit's a fur and all these wonderful creations in your you invite them all up and only the women will get up and you're like okay, men, why don't you want to come up? Please come up, and they're like that's women's work and you're like oh no, no, and to get them to come up and to get through that cultural thing too. But then I've noticed sometimes, you know, they'll they'll be watching the women laughing and giggling and having fun in the you know, the craning their heads and doing what's why can't I do this? And then one by one they'll all, you know, screwed up there then, before you know what, their shoulder, shoulder, just laughing and talking and creating and and then sometimes you get them to stop. He's like lunch time. They won't stop. You're just like okay, you can go to lunch now, and they're like no, we can't, we have to put eyes on our puppet and leave us a lot Lisa right now. We have to do this, like okay, so it's just amazing. This is amazing so fun. It's amazing. And one of the other things that you that you work with is the born free foundation in Kenya, which you make elephant puppets to raise awareness around animal welfare. So what should we know? Well, this is the first time we've ever done a project with animals. Usually it's children and people. So that's was I was so excited about, because when I was, oh my gosh, a hundred years ago, six or seven, the born free movie. Did you know that movie? I mean it was just it was so you watch it and you go that you like that movie. It's so ridiculous. But then that's six and seven years old. I was...

...like, Oh my God, so beautiful. They took a lion else of the line and they brought her back to Africa and they rehabilitate her to be back in the while. That's that's kind of what they do. They put the wild life back in the wild. So they want to do this project in a Kenya and Ambacilli, the two big parks, and Basili and May rut about the elephants that are out? They come outside of the protected park and and there's farmers there and they have their crops and their farms and the elephants are creperators are they just go through and they destroy everything and these are massive elephants. So it's coming up with strategies and ideas to sort of build empathy for the elephants but at the same time, strategies to help the farmers protect their crops, because they have a right to be there too, so do the elephants. So it's how do we, how do we fix this? And I mean I can't imagine you your sent out, you're a young girl, you're sent out to get water and all of a sudden you see a giant elephant and must be terrifying, terrifying. So we're making these elephant puppets and we're bringing them to each of these parks and we're going to just see, see what happens. See here their stories of elephants in their lives, because they, you know, a lot of them, don't really like the elephants. They don't see them how we see them. We're just looking. My Gosh, it's a little bit it's such a beautiful creature, but to them it's a new their nuisance. So how do we, how do we talk and build strategies and empathy with the farmers and the elephants using puppets and puppet trees? So that was that's what I'm really excited. I might I see the elephant over over your shoulder. So yeah, yeah, he was wrong. He was a prototype, but the ones we're building their giant heads and they're gonna be huge. I don't think I could fit it in here so that you can see it properly. So yeah, and it's going to have a big trunk that moves and and these flappy ears and it'll take about for people to, yeah, three or four peeople to use it.

So that's going to be and we have to train the park rangers because they're the ones that are going to go into these villages and become puppeteers and they're they're kind of like, I don't know if we can do this. Sure, you can just wait till it's like Broadway level complexity. I like it. Yes, one, two, three, that's got have it intermission so I can take a break. Yeah, it's great. That's right. I'll be here all week, actually I will. Yeah. Still, one of my favorite travel memories is we went to an elephant reserve and we got to feed them bananas and I remember there was a Mama Elephant and a baby elephant and I gave the Mama. I remember it's like a planted but something, something. Yeah, so, and she grabbed it and ate it and I was like, oh, that's so cool. And then I tried to give it to the baby, grabbed it and like dropped it on the way up. So then the mom reached to pick it up and I thought the mom was going to give it to the the BOT to state it's front. It was like that, such a gut for your cheek. What a drunk. That's right, but so cool to say. Yeah, it's quite quite cool. I guess what they're doing there is they're building be fences because elephants are afraid of bees because they can sting. They getting their trunks and they sticking their trunks. So they put, you know, bee hives around their farms and they they do recording at bees. Elephants will stay away too. But I'm learning so much about elephants that there's they're like people. There's, you know, the young elephants are like the gang elephants. You know, they're just they don't really have a parent elephant to sort of say no, no, this is not what we do kids. And then, you know, there's the cool elephant who's just like yeah, whatever, I don't care. And you know, then of course there's the matriarch who has her whole family and they have different personalities, which I just thought they were elephants, but they're like people, are highly intelligent. So it's going to be quite quite amazing. But must be terrifying to be in your house and it comes through...

...with just mops all over, like wow, I wouldn't like elephants either. Yeah, I don't like. From our perspective, I'm like, yeah, they're very nice, but yeah, if I'm a nice I'm yeah, I got an elephant. Yeah, I wouldn't like. I'm here. Must be awful. It's awful. So yeah, so that should be interesting to see how how we do. I think we'll do all right. I flung. Is No trunks take anyone out? Yeah, that's true. That's true. Yeah, amazing, amazing, amazing. Yeah, picturing a be in my nose now right, talking about how they fly at not not my favorite. I understand. I understand whether and that's not as long away to go. That's it is with them. That's true. That's true. I guess it's very sensitive in your their trunks are very extremely sensitive, so it must be just and if, yeah, sure, if they go up their trunk and they're like in the middle of their trunk and Oh yeah, buzzing around, well, there's nothing you can do. I think you can say it doesn't out or anything. It's yeah, yeah, my favorite. Yeah, as if everything we've talked about is not enough, you also have multiple yoga certifications. Oh yes, and incorporate puppetry into that. So is this like goat yoga where you're like you're interacting, like you have a goat that you could you could. How does the how does puppeteering kind of enhance the yoga? Because I'm someone that has tried yoga a handful of times and I'm almost convinced it's not for me. So could could a puppet perhaps save me? Maybe? Maybe? So. Well, we use that PUPP with me, but we use the puppet to help facilitate breathing, like we over exaggerate, you know, the breathing in with the puppet. And first, you know,...

...before we first start the workshop, because a lot of the people that come to our workshops are, you know, traumatize themselves and are refugees and you know, we're training them to go out into their communities to bring this program so we have to work with them and and sort of get them at a level where we can sort of work with them and get them grounded and feeling better. And a lot of them are just like don't well, I don't know why I'm here, I don't what I'm doing. I'm in a war situation. So we use a lot of breathwork and meditation and Yoga, just stretching and we do with the puppet like the puppet will exaggerate, you know, the arm stretches and bending down and bending up and looking laughs, looking right. You know, it's very, very, very simple exercises and the kids they just they love it. They go crazy and they if, I think, for them it's very different to see an adult be silly. They're not really used to that. So when they see an adult taking a puppet and doing these crazy moves, they just laugh and laugh and laugh and they become enthralled and very engaged and they want to do what they want to try it and they want to teach the puppet. That's a good thing about puppets. Kids really left to interact with puppets and try to help them and teach them. So it's a good way just to get everyone to try different things and different strategies to help people feel calm and better. So I look, I feel I'm just hearing that. Yeah, okay, I might be on board the idea of work. Yes, that we of we actually a huge, huge tangent, but we had our company had a retreat a couple of weeks ago and we rent it out of mansion for a bunch of like field games and that at the start you could do yoga if you wanted to, but not everyone did. So I was one of the people that didn't do it, although apparently I learned afterwards that everyone doing yoga outside on the lawn, you know, this like gentle deep breathing supposed to be relaxing. Every like four or five people told me, Oh yeah, I could hear everything you were saying inside, and I was like what, I wasn't talking that...

...loudly and I wasn't really close to the door, like it was an open area. But Ye, a little alarming. So I'm glad I apparently ruined upwards of twenty five to thirty people's Yoga experience. Some would helping or how you help them. Yes, you. They are supposed to work through that and just see. Okay, there's someone talking. I can concentrate on the breath. Yeah, I'm offering an added complexity level. It's just like a higher level in a video gamers. Yes, he's you were you were there for them. They just didn't realize. You're going to tell them all that on Monday. Absolutely. Absolutely. We've covered a lot of different things, but is there anything that we miss that you're working on now or a scoop? We always love getting a scoop on the podcast. Is there anything coming up that we should know about? I think just my trip to Africa is my big just so exciting. It's so funny to come full circle from being this little kid watching that born free a movie and just being like that's me and that's what I want to do, and then hundred years letter coming around where I'm going to actually work with born free, which is like, Oh my goodness gracious. So I guess it's just never give up on your dreams because you don't know where they're gonna happen. Love it. We love a full circle moment to find timing exactly. Never give up, never surrender. I said screen to this guy. Yes, yes, screamed to the staddy. Yeah, exactly, exactly, yes. So, yeah, and I'm fortunate to meet amazing people and work with amazing people and I just am always amazing about how. Yeah, this is a crazy world, but there's so many great people doing amazing things out there and I get to witnesses. I'm more of a witness. So it's yeah, it's good, love it all. Right, let's see, are almost off the hook, but we always like to wrap up with a top three, and perhaps born free is one of your answers here of your top three old movies. Oh, my top...

...three old movies. Well, I love old movies. So probably let's see citizen Kane, which is just a great movie, the women is a good movie, and all about Eve with Benny Davis, which is a killer movie. That's just a great movie. Yeah, that's this week. As me, next week will be three different ones. I know it is. It's hard to pay that a musician. It is. Yeah, what have I been listening to? And then it's like summer and I'm like, well, now it's different. Exactly. Yeah, you got your summer tunes. That's exactly right. Yeah, you get it. Through a hundred seventy eight degree heat here and all I know it was seventy, seventy five here today. I'm like, I'm ready for fall. I can't do this. I hate this weather. I just can't Imagine Austin Texas and may take seventy five. That sounds lovely. I was dying. I'm delicate. That's fair, we thought. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and Channet, and thank you for bringing some of the puppets. I was excited to see them. And if people want to learn more about what you're doing, check a check out all of the the great things that you've got going on. Where can they find you? Well, instagram. I'm usually on that a lot and that's at SATFA creative arts, Sattva, and the NGO that I work with is no strings dot org, got UK, and that sort of describes all the programs that we do and it's just those. The two people, Johnny and Rosie, who are in there are just wow, mind blowing, the amazing. Yeah, so, yeah, at s up a creative arts on instagram. Follow me. I like no strings to I remember in this must have been like first grade. Some some play that our school put on. It was one other student and I and everyone else was singing a song about a Marionette and we had to do the marions and just this. I...

...just remember the strings just being like such a nightmare. It was getting like twisted all around. I'm like it's leg should be moving up, but I can't. Yeah, it's yeah, I don't do those kind of buppets. That's beyond me. They're amazing. Yeah, yeah, the people can do it. Well, I'm just like, oh my gosh, the talent. I mean, I haven't tried since first. Great, because I was probably scarred for life by that. You're start for life. Yeah, he worked. I'll take the no strings puppets. I'm down with that. Yes, definitely knows drinks and of course Mr Avin on every road trip from here on a he goes everywhere. He's it's right, it's right, Jewey. Yeah, the flies are so good. There's thank you, Hey, which mills in here? That's probably be now. Well, Lisa, thank you to you, to Mr Poop, to everyone else for coming on. And this was so much fun. It was so much ben went by so fast. So that's what I like to hear. I like people thinking that's you know, wow, eight hours later, eight our podcast would I'd probably need to I need a pee rake, for sure, the top lay. And of course we have to end with a Corny joke, as we always do. Why do we tell actors to break a leg? I don't know, because every play has a cast good after it. People. Wow. Okay, good people cool things is produced in Austin, Texas. If you're a fan of this episode, go ahead and hit that follow button. That helps more people here the show. You can send me a message Joey at good people, cool thingscom. Thank you to all of the guests who have been on good people cool things and check out all the old episodes in good people, cool thingscom. As always, thank you for listening and have a wonderful day.

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