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Wild about the world

Show entertains children, but also sends a message about wildlife
Friday, July 13, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Claire Henry, 6, from Ashland Academy Learning Center, assists Craig Sjogerman during a performance of his “Captain Moredough’s Wild World” show in Ashland. The show aims to teach the importance of taking care of the world.

A set of green-rimmed goggles and green flippers give away almost instantly what Craig Sjogerman has become. He “eats” flies, zapping the imaginary creatures out of the air with his green party-blower tongue.

“Mmm, tastes like chicken,” the frog-impersonator said as the children giggled.

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Sjogerman, a writer, actor and professional clown from Chicago, performed “Captain Moredough’s Wild World” for a noisy, interrupting, raucous group of about 30 children at the Southern Boone County Public Library on Thursday. He had one message: The world around us is a wild one, and we have to save it.

“It’s important for humans to know that we’re not the center of the universe,” Sjogerman said after his performance. “People have this idea that we can do whatever we want to the environment without suffering any repercussions.”

The Chicago Public Library commissioned him in 2002 to write a performance piece about animal biodiversity. “Captain Moredough’s Wild World” is a 45-minute performance in which Sjogerman is a proprietor selling exotic animals as pets.

Children at the Southern Boone County library watched transfixed as a snowy owl appeared and magically transformed the evil proprietor into a tree frog, then a seal, a penguin, a whale and, in a final irony, a snowy owl. Being transformed into these animals teaches Captain Moredough the “miracle life” that each animal possesses. He reports through song and dance that tree frogs can jump 75 feet across a canopy and whales can hold their breath for up to 30 minutes. He frees the animals, at least those that can live on their own.

While the presentation is entertaining and takes advantage of children’s natural interest in animals, the message is a dead-serious one: Sjogerman believes the world is in a state of emergency.

“Considering the rate of endangerment and extinction, I’d say we’re in a real state of crisis,” he said.

He also engages children in a problem-solving exercise, asking them what can be done to save the animals.

“How can you take care of the animals?” Sjogerman asked the audience.

The children at the library shouted out their answers, like “recycling,” “don’t spill anything into the ocean” and “don’t litter.”

Pam Verduin, a library associate at the library, finds some hope amid the smiles and laughter Sjogerman brought.

“The performance was very entertaining and had a good message,” Verduin said. “I hope they learned more about caring for animals in the world they live in.”

And Sjogerman agreed.

“I would love for them to be inspired to learn more, experience animals in a caring fashion and, maybe, ultimately join a nature conservancy or environmental group,” said Sjogerman, who has been performing for groups of children since 1979, mostly in the Chicago area. “I think there’s a lot of hope, but we have to work at it.”


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