Daniel Jared Hersh “would see the fish and be scared” when he was a child.
Now, he’s trying to help allay similar youthful fears.
At age seven, he was frightened by all those weird critters that surrounded him while he was snorkeling during a family Caribbean cruise.
In Disney Junior’s “Octonauts Live” he’s helping seven-year-olds get to know — not fear — such denizens of the deep.
“I think it’s great,” said Hersh, 26, who knew nothing about the British-born satellite-TV show before joining its touring version. “It reminds me of ‘Star Trek’ as much as a kids’ show. I love this. I’ve watched it a lot. I’ve always been fascinated about living in a submarine underwater.”
The “Octonauts” premise is based on a crew of explorers living in a deep-water “Enterprise” as oceanic EMTs caring for creatures in ocean water that constitutes 96.5 percent of Earth’s wet stuff.
As Capt. Barnacles — a polar bear — Hersh and his seven deep-water friends guide and guard an undersea menagerie during the 75-minute “Live in the Deep Sea Volcano Adventure” Sunday at Stockton’s Bob Hope Theatre. With songs.
The illusion of what Hersh termed an undersea “tureen” that he commands is created by “giant” video projections onto the back of the stage. He and the cast members wear “full body suits” to authentically emulate the TV characters.
“It’s a big window to the ocean,” he said during a recent rehearsal lunch break in Burbank. “Inside the octopod, I like to think it’s an undersea ‘Star Trek’ command center.
“On TV, it’s very much geared toward learning about new underwater creatures. It reports on the real picture and teaches lessons about marine life and living underwater.”
Hersh — having done his homework by binge-watching the digital cable and satellite show — is joined as Captain Barnacles by:
Kwazii, his “lieutenant” who’s a cat and “cryptozoologist”; Peso, a penguin medic; Tweak, a “bunny rabbit engineer”; Shellington, a sea otter “marine biologist”; Inkling, an octopus who’s a “little bit older with a monocle who knows all the undersea creatures”; Tunip, a “vegemole cross between a vegetable and animal”; and Dashi, a dachshund “information technology officer and photographer.” Cadet 1B is a "human" mentor.
This was all new to Hersh 32 weeks ago.
“Honestly, I’d never watched it before,” said Hersh, who noticed the stage opportunity on a casting website. “I’d heard of it, but never seen it. I think it’s great.”
Videos of him singing attracted Disney producers’ attention. After an in-person audition, he was “called back” — a magical term in the entertainment world — for an “all-day” workshop in April. He’s been an-“Octonaut”-in-rehearsal since then.
Prior to the “Octonauts” trip, he’d been acting in musicals around Southern California and worked for a year at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, hosting the Warner Bros. Kids Club Show.
The “Octonauts” cast — a national tour begins tonight at San Diego’s Balboa Theatre — includes puppets: three blob fish that “interact with us,” Hersh said. “Starfish we rescue. Black puppets that glow in the dark.”
Hersh and his friends wear black suits that create the illusion of swimming. There also are puppets of angler fish; yeti crabs; gulper eels; clams; and a giant sea turtle.
Born in Thousand Oaks, Hersh grew up in Westlake Village and Agoura Hills before his family moved to Henderson, Nevada, a Las Vegas suburb, when he was 14.
Following a third-grade play, “I told my parents I really liked this acting thing. By high school theater, I knew it’s what I wanted to do with my life.
“When you get to become someone else for a couple of hours, it’s really freeing for your spirits.”
After building his devotion to musical theater there and graduating from Coronado High School, he attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood. His dad, Fred, did provide some role-modeling as news director at Channel 7, the ABC-TV affiliate in Los Angeles. Mom, Suzanne, works for Amgen. He has a brother and sister.
Hersh, who recommends the production to parents as well, said the “Octonauts” teach life lessons.
“It’s good to help others,” he said. “We explore and rescue. If anyone ever needs help, we're ... here. The ‘Octonauts’ embody that.”
However, he’s not entirely critter-friendly. Yet.
On his second Caribbean family snorkel, he was “terrified of the fish. I thought every one was gonna bite me or fight me.”
— Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tsaurorecord.