New Victory Arts Break: Aanika’s Elephants

In Aanika’s Elephants, everyday materials are transformed and expertly crafted to depict lifelike animal characters. In these Arts Break activities, we’ll experience the magic of puppet creation as a team and then explore the show’s themes of conservation and family through art-making. Gather your herd and let’s go!

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Colorful arrows surround an illustrated title that reads New Victory Arts Break: Aanika's Elephants, the latter portion illustrated against an African savannah and a photo of a young woman cradling the trunk of a life-size baby elephant puppet.

Some of the videos in these Arts Break activities were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future, and we encourage you to learn more about these vibrant communities.

Before the Show: Ensemble Puppetry

Sometimes the most magical puppets can be made from materials you have right at home—even puppets as big as elephants! Let’s join New Victory Teaching Artist Andrea Ang, along with Marlyn and Jaden from the New 42 Youth Corps, as they work together to gather materials and perfect the gentle movements of an ensemble elephant puppet.

Step One: Think about how elephants move! Consider the rhythm and size of their steps.

Step Two: Elephants are heavy! In order to add some weight to your steps, imagine tying heavy-but-floaty rock balloons to each ankle. Notice how this affects your movement.

Step Three: Practice your elephant stance! Keep a slight bend in your knees and rock gently from side to side. If you’re seated, move the rocking motion into your torso and shoulders.

Puppetmaking materials: a tube sock, some masking tape and plastic bags, glue, scissors and a roll of paper

Step Four: Craft your puppet props! We used parchment paper for the ears and long socks full of plastic bags for the trunk. Everyone grab a prop and practice breathing and moving them as a group.

Step Five: When you feel ready, practice taking slow steps as a group. Right, left, right, left!

Step Six: Try moving as an ensemble in different scenarios! We took our elephant out to find some breakfast. What can your elephant do?

Can you and your puppetry ensemble create other animals with materials at home? A beaver? A blue whale? A bumblebee? When designing puppet props, think about which parts of that animal might move in interesting and expressive ways.

Did You Know?

Martin P. Robinson, the puppet designer and builder for Aanika’s Elephants, is a long-time Sesame Street Muppeteer. He’s performed Telly Monster, Slimey the worm and the beloved Mr. Snuffleupagus!

Martin P. Robinson stands between two Muppets: Telly Monster, who is red and furry, and Mr. Snuffleupagus, a woolly mammoth with long eyelashes

Mr. Snuffleupagus has a similar structure to the elephant puppets you’ll see in Aanika’s Elephants! He’s built using a sturdy, lightweight material called rattan—a plant material made from the stems of Old World climbing palms.

A Filipino man harvests rattan outdoors, hoisting a big bundle of it over his shoulder with more scattered on the ground around him and a field of more stems in the background.
Rattan canes being harvested and treated in the Philippines
Photo: Jason Houston for USAID

On the Way: Conservation Conversation

In Aanika’s Elephants, Aanika’s family works at an elephant orphanage—a safe place for young elephants to grow and receive care. It was inspired by a real elephant sanctuary in Kenya—the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Learn more about why places like this exist in the video below, and get to know some of the dangers that elephants face, both in reality and in the story of Aanika’s Elephants.

As you head to the New Victory Theater to see Aanika’s Elephants, chat with your companions about what you think needs protection in the world. Use the questions below to guide your conversation.

  • What is something in the world you think needs protecting?
  • Why does it need protecting? Why is it in danger?
  • What ideas do you have to protect this thing?
  • What could your family do to help?
  • How can you let people know about this cause?

Keep the conservation conversation going as you take your seat for Aanika’s Elephants! Enjoy the show, and come back here afterwards for more activities.

After the Show: Honor Your Family

There’s more to Aanika’s Elephants than just impressive puppetry—it’s also a story of family. Big or small, inherited or chosen, human or animal, family and its traditions are worth celebrating through art. So, let’s gather some materials and create a family-honoring collage!

Materials: Printable template or blank paper, coloring utensils, photos, magazine cutouts, printed illustrations, stickers, scissors, glue or tape

Step One: Think about the members of your family, from your immediate family to distant cousins and dearest friends. Who are the people closest to you?

Step Two: Consider family traditions you all share. Are there special meals that you all cook? What about holidays that you cherish?

Step Three: Grab some paper or print our template and brainstorm ways of depicting the people and traditions of your family. Since we’re collaging, this can be as abstract as you like. You could cut and paste images from magazines, washi tape a favorite photo or glitter glue some loving words!

Siobhan from New Victory Education created a collage celebrating the fun that her family has when they gather for holidays, from Easter to Halloween:

Siobhan's family collage with "Familia" written at the top, cutout illustrations of different holiday decorations, silly photobooth photos of her family, stickers and hearts.

After you’ve created your collage, show it off to the people who inspired it and find a prominent place to display it for all to enjoy.

And Beyond: More Ele-fun

From playing with ensemble puppetry to celebrating animal conservation and the bonds of family, we hope you enjoyed engaging with the world of Aanika’s Elephants! Check out The Secret World of Elephants at the American Museum of Natural History, and continue the fun at home with more arts-based activities from our superbly talented New Victory Teaching Artists:

New Victory Teaching Artist Renata Townsend
Go on a shadow puppet animal adventure with Renata Townsend.
New Victory Teaching Artist Curt James
Use household objects to design a Bunraku-style puppet with Curt James.
New Victory Teaching Artist ChelseaDee Harrison
Interview a loved one and honor their heritage with ChelseaDee Harrison.

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