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Endangered turtle at Gulfport aquarium inspires Mississippi State theater production

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 9:02 AM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - One of Mississippi Aquarium’s most beloved residents is inspiring children, college students, educators and more.

Banner, an endangered sea turtle, was the inspiration behind an original children’s musical that was performed Monday by theater students from Mississippi State University.

The musical shared the story of Banner’s journey into the depths of the ocean, discovering amazing creatures and exploring the challenges of the sea in his quest to understand the mysteries of life and find the Immortal Jelly Fish.

Organizers were happy the play could help teach guests about conservation and the student cast was excited to work on the production.

“This production is so amazing. Its so great to work with kids and have this show be so playful and interactive,” said MSU junior Collin Newton. “The best way to learn is to get out in the field and do it yourself. It’s such a great opportunity. I’m so glad we are able to do this.”

MSU Associate Professor of Communications Tonya Hays is one of the play’s authors. Hays, who founded the WINGS Performing Arts program during her 20 years at Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, co-wrote “Banner: A Sea Turtle Sage” with MSU’s Jonathan Harris, who is the Northern Gulf Institute education and outreach director, as well as a marine scientist.

“We are increasingly concerned about the influence of human activity on the Gulf’s marine ecosystems. For instance, tons of plastic waste end up in the Gulf, killing or harming sea life and changing marine ecosystems,” Harris said. “We need to inform and inspire the next generation to help us conserve, protect and restore the Gulf to protect our health, quality of life, and survival.”

The show featured thespians wearing puppets of various marine life as they told a story about Banner and his journey. The puppets were designed by Coast theater veteran Tim Baker of Gulfport. Baker is well known for his work with theater projects across the Coast, Marvel Studios, and Universal Orlando.

Hays’ daughter, Aubrey, wrote original songs for the play, debuting on the MSU campus on November 14th with a second performance on November 17th. One of the songs performed in the musical, “Song of the Sea,” was written after the BP Oil Spill of 2005.

NGI sponsored the play and provided the funding for its Nov. 22nd performance at the Gulfport aquarium.

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