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Knowing his audience is an important tactic Landsberg has learned over his many performances. With preschoolers, he sits farther away from the children, who are often frightened by the puppet. For children under five, he allows them to see him put his hand inside Dusty so they will understand he is "make believe." And with the first to third graders, Landsberg makes sure to have the puppet already on so the kids can pretend the dragon is real. Everyone loves the big finish when Dusty blows actual smoke.
From the concept of the smoke-smelling dragon puppet to Dusty's first performance was a fast four months, with Landsberg working with Steve Axtell, president and creative director of Axtell Expressions in Ventura, CA. Landsberg developed the script, then he and Axtell e-mailed back and forth with changes. When the two finally agreed on the script, a CD was produced of Dusty speaking. And no special skills are needed to integrate Dusty into a department's fire safety education program. It may look like a highly skilled ventriloquist act, but the CD leaves space for the fire educator to speak. All that's necessary is learning a few easy lines and gestures, such as holding up a smoke detector for the children to see.
Dusty is now available internationally through Axtell, which offers the puppet and CD at cost to fire departments. "It's just about the cheapest fire safety education program available," said Landsberg. The entire package with the dragon, CD and smoke is priced under $500."
"Axtell Expressions has always been dedicated to the entertainment, education and protection of kids," said Axtell. "Our puppet characters are an amazing way of connecting with them - they are so incredibly effective. We create programs and characters for educators and safety instructors as part of our regular day to day work in our studio and are constantly expanding our creative, magical product line for performers and educators." Axtell Expressions' product line is available at www.axtell.com.
So far, departments in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin have added Dusty to their teams. Landsberg and Axtell are continuously working on educational concepts. For more information, contact Landsberg at LSUE321@aol.com.
GRETA SHARP is an Alabama-based freelance writer specializing in fire-rescue service topics.