Smart Small Fry is the wife/husband team of Diane Rains and Stu Janis, along with an aquatic crew of clever goldfish and seahorses. We specialize in the education of aquarium fish. We have trained aquatic puppet show actors, quadruple hoop swimmers, pole weavers, soccer stars, spin dancers, waiters, bell ringers, glockenspiel tappers, piano players, tango sea ponies, and the World's Most Musical Fish.
Our clever fish have gained international recognition. They have been featured on Animal Planet television, BBC Radio, a Ripley's Believe It Or Not book, and newspapers worldwide.
Diane has been an enraptured observer of animal behavior since childhood. When she grew up, it was only natural that her career path would be guided by this fascination. She earned two degrees in Wildlife Management with an animal behavior specialty, and completed most of a PhD program in Veterinary Physiology. Rigorous scientific scrutiny dominated her view of the animal kingdom. But this view never felt quite right to Diane. She came to realize that what she really craved was direct interaction with the amazing creatures that populate our world. At the same time, she discovered puppetry quite by accident. Soon the bright lights of puppet theater replaced the slow illumination of science. Diane met and married the wonderful Stu Janis, and Freshwater Pearls Puppetry was born. Diane left academia behind, and animal behavior took a seat in the back row of the audience — for awhile.
In 2004 Diane and Stu decided to train a live Toby dog to perform in their hit puppet show, Professor Freshwater's Punch and Judy Show. Only the most humane, fun, and effective training method would be good enough for Professor Freshwater's canine co-star. Operant conditioning (positive reinforcement) was the perfect solution. Thus Diane Rains the Puppeteer became Diane Rains the Puppeteer/Animal Trainer. And that was a perfect transformation. It fit her like a glove.
Because Diane never does anything halfway, she embarked (sorry for the pun) on a quest to become the most educated, practiced, and effective animal trainer she could possibly be. That meant more education. Off she went to Chicken Camp, where she studied with Bob Bailey, the world's authority on operant conditioning. There she earned the distinction of training the world's only Chicken Marionettist. Diane learned to be an accurate and still (without unnecessary movement) trainer. She learned the importance of data collection and objectivity. And she learned to let the scientist in her re-emerge — just enough.
But what about fish? Keep treading water, readers, we're almost there!
Diane dove into fish training with plans for a new puppet show, The Ugly Guppy, featuring live goldfish actors interacting with shadow puppets via digital video. Like most people who have never really gotten to know a fish, Diane didn't expect a lot of them. To her surprise, these aquatic beauties were intelligent, charming, willing trainees. Diane was hooked.
The rest is not history, but today. And when it comes to fish training, Diane expects today to last forever. Smart Small Fry is deeply immersed in innovative fish training projects, along with Freshwater Pearls. We will premiere The Ugly Guppy in 2012. Plans are in place for a puppet show spotlighting trained seahorses (The Water Horse of Skibbereen). Diane continues to teach goldfish unprecedented skills. Case in point: Jor Jor, the World's Most Musical Fish.
Smart Small Fry ~ exploring new waters, crystal clear about fish potential!
Like Diane, Stu Janis's life is a balance of artistry and science. As a corporate statistician with 3M, Stu knows the value of project planning, data collection, and objective analysis. These are all necessary tools for the serious fish trainer. But Stu also knows the value of artistic expression. He is an outstanding musician and has played professionally for over 30 years. Hammered dulcimer, bowed psaltry, concertina and other instruments sing beneath his nimble fingers. From Irish jigs to Jewish klezmer, Stu's music is pure enchantment!
Having grown up in a family of avid birders, Stu has enjoyed a lifetime of animal behavior observation. He is a gentle, focused, and patient trainer.
They say everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. Apparently that includes fish! In Jor Jor's case, perhaps celebrity is not that suprising. After all, not many fish play handbells, windchimes, and glockenspiel; have amassed a sound library of notes and chords; can play in up to four-part harmony; have accompanied Barbra Streisand and American Idol (karaoke style); and will soon release a music CD. In fact, it's safe to say that Jor Jor the World's Most Musical Goldfish is the only fish to claim these achievements!
For awhile this amazing piscine talent swam under the sonar, so to speak. But in May of 2010 Jor Jor and her trainer quite suddenly and unexpectedly became famous. This tale of fins to riches (metaphorical riches only) begins with an offer by our friends at R2 Fish School. They asked if Diane would be interested in having a British news agency do a story about Jor Jor's musical achievements. The idea was to generate some publicity both for Freshwater Pearls and for R2 Fish School. Sounded good to us! So the story was written, and for a week or two we heard nothing more about it.
Then on May 26 a massive drift net of celebrity swift us off our feet and fins. The Sun, Great Britain's premiere gossip rag, picked up Jor Jor's story. And from there the story whizzed through the international news media faster than a minnow chased by barracuda. By evening Jor Jor's musical talent was splashed across media in the UK, Australia, India, China, Russia, and other countries. People everywhere were tweeting and blogging about Diane's humble trainee.
Calls came in from UK radio stations, and Diane and student found themselves being interviewed by BBC Radio London, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Scotland and TalkSport Radio UK. Everyone was eager to hear our special fingirl play, and Jor Jor didn't disappoint. She enthusiastically rang handbells and windchimes, live, in real time, for captivated audiences thousands of miles away from her cozy tank.
Celebrity didn't really impress Jor Jor, though. She was happy bubbling the boundaries at her daily music school, munching the tasty rewards of a job well done, and playing music for her own entertainment. It was a brilliant, fulfilled life. And, as is often the case with fancy goldfish, it was not a long life. Our wonderful, immensely beloved Jor Jor died on September 22, 2010 of amoebic gill disease at about age 4.
Jor Jor completely changed our view of animal intelligence and ability. Thanks to her, we see that every creature holds the potential to surprise, delight, and challenge us. To honor Jor Jor's memory, we have established a musical training program for Smart Small Fry's current and future aqua talents: The Jor Jor Music Academy for Goldfish (JJMAG). We think Jor Jor would have rung a bell of approval.
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