It’s one thing to be told Opie is a smash with kids, but it’s entirely another to see it up close and personal.
That was the case Sunday at Toronto’s Word on the Street Festival celebrating literacy and the printed word. TVOKids’ superstar Opie was on hand alongside Gisele to encourage imagination through storytelling—Opie starred in his own bedtime story as Opie-naut, where he encountered aliens called Purple Lurples—and the kids in attendance ate it up. While some preschool aged kids bopped, bounced and bellowed, others stood in rapt attention as Opie, sporting a helmet constructed of aluminum pie plates, told of his otherworldly adventures.
Those adventures extend to Season 2 of Hi Opie! Currently airing on TVO, City Saskatchewan and The Knowledge Network (see airtimes below), Hi Opie! continues to educate and entertain as he helps children transition from home to school. A creation of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the orange-skinned kindergartner is voiced and operated by Jordan Lockhart. It’s quite a kick to hear Opie’s voice come out of the mouth of the lanky, sunglass-wearing Lockhart; he says it took time for him to figure out how Opie would sound and act.
“There was a lot of sweat, blood and tears put into finding the voice and the character,” Lockhart admits. “I think we started shooting [Season 1] before we really landed on what it is now. I’m really happy with the way the character has developed over these last two years and I’m excited to see where he goes from here.” Lockhart landed the plum gig after meeting with legendary puppeteer Rob Mills at an event. Mills told Lockhart to introduce himself to longtime Henson show producer Lawrence Mirkin; the two connected and struck up a relationship. A year later, Mirkin contacted Lockhart to send in an audition tape, followed by reading a script and then a callback for his latest production: Hi Opie!
Lockhart is constantly amazed not only by the quality of scripts he encounters on the set—the series expands to multiple classrooms this year—but by the child actors he interacts with on-set. Unlike most actors, he’s quite happy crouched down and out of a camera’s line of site and takes pride in an odd circumstance unique to puppeteers.
“It’s incredible to see these little people but into the illusion and it’s enormously gratifying to me,” Lockhart explains. “They are completely unaware of my presence and are locked into Opie. You have to really be present and listen to these people, and what you end up seeing is a complete abandonment of reality.”
Hi Opie! airs weekdays at 6:15 a.m. ET, 10:30 a.m. ET and 1:50 p.m. ET on TVO, weekdays at 9 a.m. CST and 11 a.m. CST on City Saskatchewan and weekdays at 11:50 a.m. PT on The Knowledge Network.