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Porch costumes provide cheer in troubled times
Erin Kemble wears an "Elf on the Shelf" costume to promote social distancing and obeying stay at home orders, as she stands on the porch of her home in Clifton, Virginia, April 28, 2020. Since March 30,2020 Kemble has been posting photos of herself wearing a new costume each day to Instagram, ranging from ET to Napoleon Dynamite to Neo from The Matrix. It started as a way for Kemble to entertain her young cousins, who she misses seeing, and to keep herself busy after the catering company where she works closed. SAUL LOEB / AFP.

by Heather Scott

CLIFTON (AFP).- A colorful cast of characters appear day after day on a porch in the US state of Virginia, urging people to stay upbeat and stay home during the coronavirus shutdowns.

It started as a way for Erin Kemble to entertain her young cousins, who she misses seeing, and to keep herself busy after the catering company where she works closed.

But the project, which she has maintained for a month, has morphed into a way to make people laugh during a dark time, with messages coming from as far as Arizona and Tokyo.

It started with a pig costume, and a sign saying "This little piggy stayed home," an echo of the popular nursery rhyme.

When that image got 30,000 social media "likes" she thought she might be onto something -- besides just flaunting her new-found fame to her three college- and high school-age children.

She now has a prop shop where she brainstorms, scavenges and repurposes everything from borrowed shirts to a plastic children's pool to one of the family dogs to assemble scenes on her "stage" -- the front porch of her house in a suburb outside Washington, DC.

"I could probably do this for the rest of my life," a smiling Kemble tells AFP. "This is my heaven, I'm like playing dress up on my front porch."

The characters from pop culture and well-known movies all include messages that play on famous lines urging people to heed orders not to go out, to wash their hands and stay upbeat.

ET the extraterrestrial urges people to "Stay home," and Waldo, the "lost" character of picture books with the iconic red and white striped shirt and funny hat says "I'm right here!"

Kemble's children are sometimes recruited to help -- though so far they have not appeared in any pictures.

Daughter Ellie learned the hard way to ask questions before agreeing to loan any clothing to the project, after a favorite red sweater was cut up and turned into a wig for the Little Mermaid costume, whose message was "Kiss the girl -- from afar".

Fighting depression under lockdown
Neighbors call out greetings as they walk down the street or honk as they go by. All the locals seem to know about the porch costumes or have seen them on social media, especially the Instagram account "erinsporchpics."

Kemble waves and shouts back, always with big smile and a cheerful comment.

But despite her upbeat exterior, she says she has suffered from depression most of her life, which is one reason behind her characters' upbeat messages.

She urged people to "Keep talking. Your mental health is so important!" on one sign, which accompanied her portrayal of an iconic scene from the 1989 John Cusack film "Say Anything."

"I'm very open and honest about that, and I've been treated all of my adult life," she said of her depression, adding, "It's something I know many, many people suffer from."

She said she hopes her displays give those people something to look forward to and a reminder that things will get better.

"It's keeping me sane."

"If my little nonsense foolishness make someone laugh ... it's OK, I don't mind," Kemble said. "You've got to have hope."

The dozens of positive comments show she is at least providing entertainment and a light-hearted moment amid the bad news surrounding COVID-19.

"I'm stuck inside, I've got a crazy imagination. Why not do this, if this could benefit someone."

"Maybe I've been training for this my whole life."

© Agence France-Presse

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