A bespectacled red crab, an anemone wearing headphones, a mariachi sea star, and even a shark with a pompadour landed themselves on the main floor of the of Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) in Long Beach, delivering a message of marine conservation.
These and other sea characters were portrayed in “Fish Out of Water: The Aquarium of the Pacific Project” on Nov. 18 and Dec. 2 by California State University, Dominguez Hills students from Teatro Dominguez, a multicultural theatre company directed by professor of theatre arts Bill DeLuca, and the companion multicultural children’s theatre course (THE 339) taught by theatre arts lecturer Naomi Buckley, who directed the show.
The project, an original children’s show written by alumna Melissa Riojas (Class of ‘12, B.A., English), is a collaboration that stemmed from a request the AOP staff made of Teatro Dominguez in spring 2012.
“They wanted to do an interactive theatre piece that educated guests about conservation. We thought that this would be a perfect project for Teatro Dominguez…It educates guests about conservation and climate change as well as facts about animals that live in the AOP,” said Buckley.
Cesar the Sea Star (portrayed by Ruben Morales, a junior majoring in theatre arts and psychology) told children visiting with their parents, “We want to help our guests learn how to be good stewards of the ocean.”
Morales, who also acted last year in Teatro Domingo’s production “Moon Stories,” which was performed at Carson-area elementary schools, said, “It’s really fun educating kids. It’s fun entertaining kids. I had a great time.”
The message of conservation was presented to children, who huddled and watched wide eyed, through three scenes in different areas of the aquarium: the tropical reef, the outdoor theatre, as well as the blue cavern in the main lobby, where a chorus of dancing “fish”—students from the CSU Dominguez Hills dance program—opened the show.
Senior theatre arts major Joshua Booth, who portrayed Red the Crab as “a grumpy Santa Claus,” hoped that the performance would help children to learn to enjoy and respect the ocean.
“I’ve always believed that through entertainment children learn better because they’re enjoying while they’re learning. They retain the information better,” said Booth, who has been crewing and acting in CSU Dominguez Hills productions since he transferred from Los Angeles Harbor College in 2009.
Young visitors seemed to be mesmerized not just by the fish and kelp swaying in the tanks, but with the colorful characters on dry land.
“The costumes are really what make the characters come alive,” said Marina Matthis who wiggled into the role of Lemme the Anemone. “Lemme is written across my jersey, my earphones and my glasses; it’s too cute!”
Matthis, a junior majoring in theatre arts, is particular to costume design as well as acting. In spring 2012 she helped construct turtle and armadillo costumes for “Moon Stories.” She said the charm of Lemme is that she is “colorful, bright, outgoing, and loveable, and has a spunkiness and fiery attitude.”
Matthis got involved with Teatro Dominguez to combine her love of acting and her desire to give back to the community.
“To have children’s theatre be a part of this program is awesome because the children, they love, love, love the characters and our interacting with them. It shows them that somebody cares about them learning, not just having a good time,” she said.
Among several performances, Matthis shared the role of Lemme the Anemone with Vee Bowden, and Booth shared the role of Red the Crab with Robert Kaufman. Other roles were played by Katrina Repoza and Brittany Whittaker (Darla the Damselfish), Shandell Clark and Melissa Norman (Annabelle the Moon Jelly), Robert Beyda and Kaneina Brown (Sticky the Sea Cucumber), Dimitri Aurelus and Stephen Farbmen (Clark the Shark), and Teo Hawkins (Charles the Ray).
Educational stewards from the AOP participated with the actors during the performance, including those from inside a tank wearing full scuba gear.
For more information about the Theatre Arts and Dance program, visit: www.csudh.edu/theatre.