Mermaid Theatre combines puppets, live animation in children’s stage show

A lot of “did you knows” pass through the conversation.

Did you know, for instance, that the game of ice hockey made its world debut in Windsor, Nova Scotia? And did you know that the city is home to crops of giant pumpkins?

And did you know that Windsor stands in the Canadian providence that once was home to ancestors of Louisiana’s Cajun families?

Well, that information may not be readily known in other places, but it’s common knowledge in Louisiana.

Finally, Windsor is home to the Mermaid Theatre, whose productions tour the world.

And the tour will stop in Baton Rouge on Sunday, Dec. 9, when the Mermaid Theatre performs its adaptations of the children’s books Guess How Much I Love You? and I Love My Little Storybook in the Manship Theatre.

The 2 p.m. performance will be preceded by a Manship Theatre Kids Club event at 12:30 p.m. featuring a visit by LSU Baseball Head Coach Paul Mainieri in the Hartley/Vey Studio Theatre. Snacks will be served, and there will be lots of hands-on activities.

The event is appropriate for children ages 3-8, and Kids Club memberships are $25.

Then comes the production, which marks a return trip to Louisiana for the Nova Scotians.

“They’re excited to be back,” Jim Morrow said. “And they’re hoping for some warm weather when they get there.”

Morrow is the theater’s artistic director. He doesn’t travel with the troupe but stays in Windsor to develop the next project.

And it’s from Windsor where Morrow spoke by telephone. He’s not a native Nova Scotian. He was born into an Irish family in Newfoundland.

But he sees lots of similarities in traditions between Louisiana and Nova Scotia, many of which are observed in Windsor. And the Mermaid Theatre’s visits to Baton Rouge may become another tradition linking the state to the providence.

It could happen. It already is.

The theater sends no more than three actors, along with a stage manager, on its tours, but its Louisiana fans know they can count on a fully staged production.

The theater’s production is a mixed media show that includes elements of puppetry, live animation and object movement.

“We fill theaters,” Morrow said.

“And I think we’ll fill the theater in Baton Rouge.”

Again, Morrow is in Windsor working on the theater’s production, which will be based on a children’s book. All of the programs are original adaptations of children’s stories accompanied by original music.

“We don’t work with traditional playwrights,” Morrow said. “We adapt the story straight from the book, and we try to make it as close to the book as possible.”

Puppets also are designed to appear as close to the books’ illustrations as possible.

So, children familiar with the Anita Jeram’s illustrations automatically will connect with Mermaid Theatre’s adaptations of her rabbits in Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You?. They also will recognize the rabbit character in the play adaptation of Jeram’s I Love My Little Storybook.

In the first story, Little Nutbrown Hare loves Big Nutbrown Hare as far as he can reach and as high as he can hop. But Big Nutbrown Hare loves him as far as his long arms can reach and as high as his strong legs can hop. In the second production, an eager little bunny lies on the grass and opens his book, and within moments, the story he’s reading comes alive in fascinating detail.

“We want children to recognize the characters from the book,” Morrow said. “In that way, we encourage them to read more.”

And as simple as these stories may seem, staging them isn’t. The entire process, from adaptation to the story to the development of the puppets and objects to the choreography to the workshopping takes at least a year.

“But once we’ve finally staged a production, we can send a troupe out to perform it over and over again,” Morrow said.