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A successful summer at Amy’s Tree Theater

I am beyond proud of our Wieland Wildlife Home Team this past summer season! Memorial Day weekend we debuted a brand-new scripted presentation for our Amy’s Tree Theater that we certainly worked our tails off to make great for everyone. This show has been a long time in the making. A previous keeper wrote an amazing first draft of our Zoo Detective script way back in 2019! But over two years, a pandemic, some new staff, new and retired animals, and a few interns later we reworked the script, rehearsed, spent a day with an acting coach, rehearsed so much more and opening weekend we crushed it!

The premise behind the show was simple; the Detective just wants to cool off with some Dippin’ Dots but is interrupted by funny ideas to cool off from the officer. The officer and Detective follow clues from a phone call to find an “unusual” animal, and by the end of the show the officer gets their long-awaited promotion to Detective, and everyone gets to learn some unusual things about our animal residents along the way. Those first few weekends of shows are, in my opinion, always the hardest because there is still a learning curve. Like when we walk off stage and see that our 15-minute show was only eight minutes long. WHOOPS! Or our armadillo doesn’t do her walk across stage quite like we trained in rehearsals. WHAT NOW? (All of the animal behaviors seen in our Amy’s Tree Theater have been learned via positive reinforcement training, and all behaviors are 100% voluntary on the animals’ part … so if they choose not to participate, they don’t and that’s okay.) Or when your junior detectives in the audience aren’t quite convinced that your officer has what it takes to help solve the case. OH NO! Okay, we don’t panic that much, but these are all still details we have to iron out in our first few weeks of shows because there is only so much we can anticipate and rehearse for. Without the unpredictability of our live audience, training and rehearsing go more smoothly. It’s also thanks to these awesome live audiences that we can build our show better week after week.

Detective Alexis was able to find fun ways to get our audiences to laugh by trying out different improvised lines each week. Officers Mel, Christina, Becky, and Emily were able to extend animal time in view (and show time in total) by talking more about the unusual traits that make each animal great. We also became so much better at including our audiences, aka our junior detectives, into our shows by asking questions and at times even testing their knowledge! This also helped confirm that the officer’s help was needed to solve each case. Harriet the armadillo walked confidently across the stage how we trained her each weekend. With each show, we improvised more of our dialogue with one another. We became so comfortable with our characters that if anything went “wrong” we could easily blend it into our show. Funny how week after week, Detective Alexis would only show up to work with one sock on … even our interns got in on the fun by changing up the ringtone for our mission phone each show!

This show was a combined effort of so many humans, even more than just the Wieland Team on stage. We had our World of Wild Theater and Outback Station team members trained to be our behind-the-scenes ninjas when our interns had to leave at the end of their summer term. Our day with an acting coach was well spent building up our stage strengths and ironing out what could be improved; the WOW keepers were also on hand to help us improve our script, help with on stage blocking and even figure out what animals made sense to participate. And all our fellow Zoo teammates that came to our shows at our open house and throughout the summer to cheer us on each week was excellent positive reinforcement!

As I sit here typing this up, reminiscing about how awesome everyone did with our show, there is one thing stands out to me the most. Detective Alexis never did get her Dippin’ Dots.

We’ll see if we can fix that next summer.

Emily B.
Keeper III, Ambassador Animals   

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl