Origins of Odis

A puppet like Odis comes with a personality; it was up to us to find it. Like many a creative endeavor, Uncrated has not turned out exactly the way it looked on the drawing board. In this month's entry I will discuss the origin of my adventures with Odis and a little background on the people who make the magic that we call Uncrated.

(1) How do you clean a T. rex? Climb inside! (2) Tidying up displays w/ Jordan (3) Leading a tour for Center for Learning in Retirement (4) Nikki modeling a goat sock puppet she made for Dinosaur Billboards (5) PaleoFest with Jordan, Nikki, and Uncrated supporter from day one, Isaac Schott (6-8) crates from GIANTS: African Dinosaurs at Burpee Museum

Initially, the plan for Uncrated was to show the process of assembling a museum exhibit. As such it is named for the exciting and laborious, process of "uncrating" exhibit components from their shipping crates. This concept stemmed from my 6+ years working in maintenance and education at the Burpee Museum of Natural History which provided the opportunity to assist with many exhibit installations, occasionally even in our local mall. A friend once told me, referring to raising children, "It doesn't get easier, just different." I found this to be true of the exhibits that came through various doors of Burpee. And we used ALL. THE. DOORS. Exhibits could be difficult to get into the building but fairly simple to assemble, exceptionally modular with a slew of technical issues, or (cue Old Prospector voice) a beast of a bear that required a small army working 'til the stars wink for pert near a fortnight to set the show by the opening date. In stride with the unique headaches, travelling exhibits can be valuable museum additions that, by their nature, require regular maintenance, repair, and innovative spatial decisions over their lifespan. So I wanted to document the trials of museum staff and volunteer corps while lending a hand in the dirty work. After realizing that idea would not be quick to produce, along with a number of other issues, I went with a simpler informative tour/behind the scenes approach. The idea of co-hosting a show with a puppet struck me out of the fear of being a bread-stick of a solo host, so I asked my Muppets-loving friend, Jordan Marine, if he would play an eager-to-learn puppet character. A regular volunteer at Burpee Museum for many years, as pictured above, Jordan did not hesitate to express his excitement about this idea.

With a puppet, Jordan's range of voices, and a vague idea of making funny, educational, museumy videos, we decided to meet up and see what would happen when I talked to a puppet. The puppet was purchased from a Goodwill store some years before we ever thought to make up a show. He got sporadic attention in those years, especially after my wife and I brought home our twin boys, but he did not have a starring role in our everyday lives, or even a consistent personality of his own. Now came his time to shine as the puppet master brought him to life and gave him a name. Watch the video above for a taste of the first instar of what I thought Uncrated might be. Growing up watching The Andy Griffith Show and other early TV classics, I loved the idea of playing the Andy Taylor to Odis' Barney Fife-like character. My wife, NIkki, who also spent time as a Burpee volunteer and staff member, (and whose title in the credits should read "Editor of Idiocy" because I bounce every absurd thought off her) was not satisfied with the ole "Barn & Ange" routine.

"BIRD!" They shouted in unison as they scuffled for rights to the binoculars.

When the camera turned off, Jordan slipped into a different voice, like an old actor relishing his break. It was a gruff voice, a little demanding at times, saying things like "Are we done yet? Somebody get me a cigarette. Quiet on set!...I mean I don't want to hear a word." I did not like it for our show idea. Nikki loved it. Jordan kept going. I watched my kids fall for this opinionated, inquisitive, rough and tumble character and realized he had hooked me, too.

The first video we filmed was Odis' tour of the seasonal Reptiles & Amphibians exhibit at Burpee Museum, quickly followed by the first scripted video, "Pygmy Tyrant", and a Volunteer Spotlight with Burpee volunteer and Northern Illinois University Time Arts student, Ryan Dewey. Nearly a year later, after playing with editing software and hosting a couple watch parties with friends, the channel was born in an unexpected way: PaleoFest 2019. We had not talked much about covering events until Burpee Museum Director of Paleontology, Josh Mathews, suggested we bring Odis to Burpee's annual PaleoFest and chat with anyone who was interested. And so Uncrated was born.

Over the past year, we have also had the good fortune to collaborate with Midway Village Museum, Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI), New Genres Art Space, and Highland Community College Mass Communications department. We are thankful to their staffs, docents/interpreters, volunteers, and students for their support, and hope to bring you more fun, informative adventures as soon as we are able. Until then, stay tuned to our social media for more backyard nature education! Be safe as you...

Explore. Question. Uncrate an adventure in your backyard!

Photo credits:

Jordan Marine

Scott Williams

Burpee Museum of Natural History

Andy Griffith Show:


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