New children's program 'The Seas of Science' sails this weekend

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Science education is now a cause taken up by CEOs, teachers, women and, yes, reporters. They argue it's increasingly important in California, where students have tested at or near the bottom nationally in just about every measure of science learning. One Angelena has her own modest and musical proposal. Her name is Tabitha Esther. She's a staff geologist at a soil remediation firm by day, and the creator of a new children's program called "The Seas of Science" by night.

Esther grew up in Tustin, but she wasn't dreaming of Erlenmeyer flasks and lab coats as a girl. By the time she got to UCLA, her dreams sometimes consisted simply of being employable.

She liked mathematics; she majored in it, and applied sciences. She took a graduate degree in geology at USC, then a job at a remediation firm. But her wacky spirit and passion for science still needed a home.

"If you're not content with easy answers, welcome aboard," the show's characters sing. "Cast off and sail a sea of science!"

"There's a shortage of good accessible fun imaginative programs for kids about science," Esther says, "and I wanted to fill that void with something that would make science fun."

Naturally, a good signifier for fun is a robot.

Among the other key ingredients to a good show are an alien king puppet, three scientists, a friendly fern and a boat. "Marisol is a young girl; she has a mother and friends in Cleveland. She has a porthole in her attic, through which she joins her friends on a magical sailboat," Esther says. Marisol's best friend is Barry the robot; Sergio the cook is represented by a puppet with nutcracker-like teeth.

This inaugural show is about photosynthesis. Act 1 concerns how plants grow; Act 2 takes the team to the rainforest.

"Deciding how much science to go into the show is hard," she says. "I wanted to reach out to a younger audience, but not too young, so I wanted to have a little chemistry involved with it. Really, I wanted the show to flow really well." Esther taught for a while at the university level. She says that helped her realize that science should be accessible to everyone, not preserved for academia.

The production team huddled during a recent dress rehearsal. The show's happening at the Doll Factory, a warehouse in historic Filipinotown, home to the L.A. Derby Dolls. "Everybody, can you reset for just that last bit? Ba-bing, Brazil?" Lights flip on and off as they test cues; in the background, you can hear wheels around the track, roller derby practice in session. Esther consults a clipboard. "OK, so it will be like, 'let's go to Brazil,' yay, wait for the lights and then you can take off."

Most of the cast and crew call Esther by her Derby name. "I was part of the Derby Dolls for just under five years and my skate name was Paris Killton," she says, laughing. "I had a good time skating and a lot of the people involved in the show are from that part of my life."

The seas of science open to kids and adults with music written by Ben Davila Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. More information about tickets is available at the Seas of Science website.

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