The fine art of animals

Scene from Childsplay's "A Year With Frog and Toad"

I got to thinking about art with an animal theme as I was making plans to attend “A Year With Frog and Toad,” the opening production of Childsplay’s 33rd season, which runs Sept 18 to Oct 16 (Sat/Sun 1pm & 4pm) at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Turns out there are plenty of theater works for children who enjoy animals of all shapes and sizes — including another Childsplay offering (“Go, Dog, Go!”) scheduled for Jan 29-March 6 of next year, and a Phoenix Theatre Cookie Company production of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” to run Nov 19-28 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale.

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater closes its run of “Baby Bear Goes to School” on Sept 12, but has oodles of animal fare lined up for the rest of their season — including “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Apolodo,” “Little Bunny’s Halloween,” “The Little Red Hen,” “Cinderella,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Monkey and the Pirate,” “The Three Little Pigs” and more.

Scene from Childsplay's "Go, Dog, Go!"

I’m especially intrigued by “Apolodo” — which the puppet meisters will perform one night only, Sept 17, at 8pm. It’s based on a poem by Gellu Naum, “one of the greatest Romanian avant-garde poets.”

It’s the tale of a little penguin from a great circus in Budapest who has a full time job as a tenor and entertainer — and “is a bit of an actor on the ice rink.” Sounds like most of my multi-tasking theater friends.

Scene from Great Arizona Puppet Theater's "Apolodor"

Great Arizona Puppet Theater often presents work that increases youth appreciation for wildlife and their habitats.

In “Hotel Saguaro” (Feb 2-20, 2011), grandpa Sammy tells little Sammy about the relationship between desert animals and the saguaro cactus. With “Canyon Condor” (Feb 23-March 6) children learn about the importance of the condor and protecting its environmental niche.

I recall enjoying many a show by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater when my three children, now ages 17-21, were younger. It’s a wonderful introduction to the joys of storytelling, live theater and communal arts experiences.

"Dancing Bear" by Inuit artist Pauta Siala (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

Many a Valley museum features animal-related arts and culture — including the Heard Museum (which has both Phoenix and North Scottsdale locations). I’m especially fond of the polar bears and other North American wildlife depicted in their “Inuit Art” collection, but visitors also can enjoy a host of other animal art from several different cultures — created in all sorts of mediums. The Heard Museum is an especially fun place to play games like “How many fish can you see in this room?” or “Can you find a wolf in this exhibit?”

Keep an eye out for animal-related art at local zoos, nature centers, animal rescue organizations and wildlife habitats. The Phoenix Zoo offers their next “Wild Art” class for 2-5 year olds at 9:30am on Sept 25. (Did you know that koalas are headed their way?) Take a sketch pad and some charcoal or colored pencils along on animal/nature adventures and create your own animal-inspired art.

"Animals and People" by Inuit artist Winnie Tatla (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

If birds or butterflies are your thing, check the offerings at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Upcoming art gallery exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum include an “Art Institute Student Show” opening Oct 2 and “The World of Nature in Miniatures” opening Dec 11.

Several of the Native American petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center depict animals. The museum also offers an educational program called “Ollie’s Storybook Adventures” which offers “fun and interactive ways for children to learn about…plants, animals and archeology of the American southwest.”

Cat in the Hat” fans (of all ages) can now enjoy a new television series on PBS. “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That,” which first aired on Monday, introduces young children to the wonders of science and the natural world. Comedy lovers may be especially delighted with the choice of actors to voice the role of the Cat — Martin Short (featured just last season at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts).

"Raptors of Arizona" opens Sept 11 at the ASDM Art Institute (Pictured is Richard Sloan's "Harris' Hawk")

Movie buffs who love animal fare can look for a 3-D film about two wolves named Kate and Humphrey opening soon in theaters Valleywide. “Alpha and Omega” also features angry bears, prickly porcupines and a golfing goose with a duck for a caddy.

Remember too that museum gift shops often offer unique animal-related gifts like the mouse-shaped cheese grater I recently picked up at the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop for a certain pasta-lover at our house. I also found a fanciful stuffed animal (a “Deglingos” offering called “Pikos the Hedgehog”) at the Phoenix Art Museum online shop. Alas — I have so far been unsuccessful in landing the rare “Mr. Pricklepants” of thespian and “Toy Story 3” fame.

Mireya Mayor (photo by Mark Thiessen) comes to the MAC in 2011

Finally, you can enjoy any or all of four “National Geographic Live!” events coming to Mesa Arts Center this season. The first, featuring “Ocean Adventures” with Jean-Michel Cousteau, takes place Oct 20. The final event in the series this season  (March 23, 2011) will feature Mireya Mayor — pictured above with a new lemur species she discovered.

If your organization or venue offers visual or performing arts with an animal theme, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Kennedy Center tour hits Higley

Note: Higley Center for the Performing Arts presents a rare treat on Nov 16 for school children pre-K to 1st grade — the touring production of “Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Musical” presented by Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences. Reservations are required.

Coming up: Sampling of symphonies, A weekend of “Bollywood & beyond”

Here are the answers to trivia questions posed in a recent “Laugh Your Brass Off” post about this weekend’s production of “The Music Man” with The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre: “The Music Man” received the 1958 Tony Award for “Best Musical” nominated alongside “New Girl in Town,” “Oh, Captain!,” “Jamaica,” and “West Side Story.” Actors who have performed the role of Winthrop Paroo on stage or screen include Ron (then “Ronnie”) Howard, Eddie Hodges, Cameron Monaghan and Christian Slater.

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