On puppets and dinos and taking on new projects

I've been fortunate to have found the work I love. I have stories I tell over and over and they never get old. I learn more about the stories, about audiences, about myself as I perform. 

And then there are times to take risks, to say yes to new projects. In the winter, I was approached by the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, KS about doing a show for their Kids' Dinner Theater. What? Dinner theater for kids?! This would be their third event, they said. Oh, and could I do something about dinosaurs or prairie ecosystems? There would be a special dinosaur exhibit.

 The entrance to the Flint Hills Discovery Center.

The entrance to the Flint Hills Discovery Center.

 Glass entryway to the Flint Hills Discovery Center, storm coming in.

Glass entryway to the Flint Hills Discovery Center, storm coming in.

No. I don't have dinosaur stories or prairie stories. But wait, what about taking familiar stories and making them dino tales, with the help of the kids, who would surely know more about dinosaurs than I do? I agreed to do it. 

I spent time reading about dinosaurs, working out which stories I could fit them into. I also took the opportunity to, ahem, buy a new puppet for the occasion. 

 Triso, the triceratops, and me.

Triso, the triceratops, and me.

I found Triso on Ebay. Wish I knew who built him. He was made of foam, shaped with a Dremel tool. He has a deep goofy voice and I discovered that his horns are ticklish. 

When I arrived at the museum early, after a fun show at the public library in the morning, I first toured the special exhibit. Dinosaurs are so dramatic, especially when you can press a button to hear them roar. I was happy to see that the museum has a collection of puppets and a puppet stage for kids to use in the hands-on gallery. 

 Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Flint Hills Discovery Center

Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Flint Hills Discovery Center

First the kids had supper, a buffet of veggies, cheese slices, goldfish crackers, chicken legs and fruit. Only a few parents were there, those who had 4 and 5 year-olds. The crowd was made up mostly of boys age 4-10, with a few girls. Two of the boys had a duel with chicken legs at supper, tapping each other on the head with them. I took a deep breath before the performance, ready for a boisterous audience. One young sir fell off his chair twice, or rather, fell and then the chair tipped over on top of him, during the stories. It didn't faze anybody.

The show went okay, especially for a first time. We made up some stories using dino facts the kids already knew, we plunked dinosaurs into Goldilocks, we sang some ridiculous songs. The children seemed to enjoy it. 

Then it was time for the crafts. At my station, we were making glove puppets. Here are some:

 Dino glove puppet, blurry due to the great excitement of the puppeteer.

Dino glove puppet, blurry due to the great excitement of the puppeteer.

 This one has a pompadour

This one has a pompadour

 This one must have had good vision.

This one must have had good vision.

The kids crawled under the table I'd draped for a stage and put on show after show. 

 It didn't matter that I'd intended them to do the puppets over the table. 

It didn't matter that I'd intended them to do the puppets over the table. 

Here's my favorite picture of the evening:

 View of the puppeteers' legs sticking out the back of the table.

View of the puppeteers' legs sticking out the back of the table.

Was it a perfect show? No. Was it fun? Yes. Did the kids enjoy themselves? Yes. Did the parents have a good time? Yes. 

Sometimes it's worth obeying the first rule of improvisation: say yes, even if it's something you haven't ever done before or maybe especially in that case. You never know what will happen, and there's a good chance it will work out.