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WITH THE KIDS

Fun is their scientific method

Snark-a-Snoops want children to get excited about the natural world.

February 22, 2007|Justin Hampton | Special to The Times

ON either side of the stage in the Stella Adler Theatre, Dr. 4 and Professor Cheddar stand with long, plastic cylindrical sleeves. Dr. 4, played by Trish Sie, asks one of the many young theatergoers to just try to fill her 5-foot balloon with air. A boy volunteer attempts to blow it up, barely filling a few inches before running out of breath.

"That's nothing!" scoffs Professor Cheddar (Christin Underwood), opening her tube and blowing into it. She quickly fills the balloon, and children and parents cheer. They've just witnessed a demonstration of the Bernoulli effect, a physical phenomenon that ties increases in velocity to decreases in pressure. Such eureka-type moments of science are the sorts of ingenious stunts the educational musical theater troupe Snark-a-Snoops counts among its proudest achievements.

There is, of course, the Grammy Award that Sie won last week for the treadmill-trundling music video she choreographed for her brother's rock band OK Go. But for now, she and Professor Cheddar would rather stick to education, thank you.

"We actually love science, and on any given morning, you'll find Trish and her husband and me talking about how [water drops] stay on a penny. That's part of where the characters came from," Underwood says.

The career trajectory for Sie and Underwood was hardly linear. After Sie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 with a degree in music, she entered the world of professional ballroom dancing. With Underwood in tow, Sie developed a slew of idiosyncratic side projects, including a hip-hop crew rapping the classics of Western literature (Turnikit) and an interpretive movement duo based around food (The Fruit Flies), from her home in Orlando, Fla.

She initially developed the Snark-a-Snoops in 2004 as entertainment for her son. Sie savors the freedom and fun that comes from entertaining children. "There's something magical about looking at the world like a kid everyday, combining the things that you do the best -- singing, dancing and just kooky mayhem -- and then being able to learn in the process," she says.

SINCE moving to Los Angeles last May, Sie and Underwood have devised a simple yet flexible premise upon which to drape their science lessons. As members of the prestigious SNOT (Sciencey National Organization of Testers), Dr. 4 and Cheddar receive a message from a speaker in their laboratory that determines that day's lesson. With the help of the audience and accomplices such as the 7-foot dancing robot Ethan (David Stamps), surfer dude DJ Lloyne (Danny Hamm) and the insect socialite Kulashi Bug (Minta Fairchild Mullins), the Snark-a-Snoops battle their nemesis King Bat (Derek Mehn) to develop an experiment that illustrates a scientific principle.

Along the way, the Snark-a-Snoops dance, sing original pop-rock songs composed by Sie and Underwood (such as "Sciencey Get Up and Go" and "Water Molecule Crew") and indulge in greasy, gooey kid stuff. They've created 15 shows so far, and although they've developed a TV pilot they sell as a DVD, they would approach a potential broadcast partnership with caution. "We don't want it stamped with some network's formula, because we have something that's our own formula," Sie says. "So if a network thinks that's fresh and great and wants it, cool."

In the meantime, Sie continues to take on projects that have stemmed from her choreography of the OK Go videos "A Million Ways" and "Here It Goes Again." She has worked on ensemble dance for Rufus Wainwright's show, danced in the new OK Go video "Do What You Want" and choreographed videos for a kids' rock group called the Imagination Movers, which will be premiering a show of the same name on Playhouse Disney sometime this year.

Meanwhile, Sie's younger brother and biggest fan, OK Go's Damian Kulash (along with band mate Tim Nordwind), lent vocals and guitar work to songs on the Snark-a-Snoops CD "What's in the Water?"

"There's a very visceral sense of happiness at their shows," says Kulash. "The kids go crazy, and watching the little kids climb up on the stage and dance and just seeing how much they enjoy it is really wonderful."

For all their fun and freakiness, the Snark-a-Snoops understand the need for more scientists, mad or otherwise.

"This country needs more kids interested in science. Kids have a natural impulse to understand what's going on around them. And science has a sort of universal appeal to people," Sie says. "[So we] take the best things out of live action, plot, memorable lyrics and catchy songs and fuse it together to give people a message. Girls can do science. Women can do science. Science can be cool. Science can be funny. It's not all seriousness and it's not all school."

weekend@latimes.com

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Snark-a-Snoops

Where: Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood

When: Noon Saturday and March 3

Price: $15 adults; $10 children younger than 12

Info: (310) 208-5454; www.ticketmaster.com

Also

Where: Victory Theatre, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank

When: 11 a.m. March 4 and April 1

Price: $5

Info: (818) 841-4404;

www.snarkasnoops.com

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