Schenectady native and Scotia-Glenville grad ‘making meaningful fun’ with latest show

Ainara Alleyne and Kat Kelly Hayduk on the set of "Ainara's Bookshelf." (Photo provided by Turtlebox Productions.) 

Ainara Alleyne and Kat Kelly Hayduk on the set of "Ainara's Bookshelf." (Photo provided by Turtlebox Productions.) 

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SCHENECTADY – Growing up in Schenectady Kat Kelly Hayduk remembers the setting of “Sesame Street” resonating with her as a child.

Decades later, she’s gotten to produce several interstitials (or short films) for the show through Turtlebox Productions, which she runs with her husband.

“I cried the first time I signed a ‘Sesame’ contract because growing up in that little city neighborhood, ‘Sesame Street’ really spoke to me as a kid,” Hayduk said.

She lived near Hamilton Hill and attended the Open School in the 1970s, which had a focus on arts and drama. However, it wasn’t until she started high school that she became interested in film.

“I discovered the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. I would see movies like ‘My Life as a Dog’ and I would just really love cinema,” Hayduk said.

By that time her family had moved to Scotia and after graduating from Scotia-Glenville High School in 1987, she headed off to Hope College in Michigan. While she initially planned to study social work, an elective on art of the cinema changed her mind. After she’d done particularly well on a test, the professor asked if she had aspirations of working in film.

“I thought that was something like people in California did,” Hayduk said.

After learning that career path was even a possibility, she made the switch to studying film and went on to land an internship in New York City. Following graduation, she waited tables for a while until she decided to take a leap, pack her belongings in her Honda Fit, and — with $250 to her name — move to Los Angeles.

“I had someone to stay with and literally the next day, I landed a job answering phones at a visual effects house,” Hayduk said.

She was later hired to be an assistant at DreamWorks Animation, which at the time was a fledgling company.

“I was one of the first 50 employees at DreamWorks, which was crazy lucky,’ ” Hayduk said.

There she worked on the 1998 film “The Prince of Egypt,” which starred Val Kilmer, Sandra Bullock, Ralph Fiennes and others. Following that, she managed the film room on the popular 2001 movie “Shrek.” Around that time, she met her husband, Cam Hayduk, who was working as a cameraman in the Vancouver film industry. She moved there and took a job at Electronic Arts, a video game company.

“I managed teams of artists on various video game titles at Electronic Arts but I didn’t really like it because I love storytelling, and I love even playing a small role in helping to bring stories to life,” Hayduk said.

In 2009, she took another leap and with her husband founded Turtlebox Productions, a production company specializing in making videos for health-related non-profit organizations. Over the years, they’ve grown to also produce kids’ shows and videos.

“What’s great about the kids’ space is that you can still be one of those producers that’s doing educational [work], trying to shape tomorrow’s grown-ups, it still appeals to our do-gooder hearts but we can also have a lot more creative fun,” Hayduk said.

They’ve produced shorts for “Pinkalicious & Peteriffic” as well as “The Ruff Ruffman Show” and others. Their work has appeared on PBS KIDS, CBC Kids, WGBH and others.

Most recently, the Hayduks have focused on helping diversify and enrich the reading lives of viewers with “Ainara’s Bookshelf.” The show is hosted by 13-year-old Ainara Alleyne, a reading-obsessed Instagram influencer who helps tweens discover new books. Each episode includes book discussions and interviews with creatives like Jerry Craft, Peter Ramsey and David A. Robertson. It was shot both in a studio and at various locations around the United States and Canada, as Alleyne travels to meet with the authors.

The Hayduks, who are based in Hamilton, Ontario, started working on “Ainara’s Bookshelf” about a year ago, shortly after they discovered Alleyne on Instagram. There, she’d developed a following, posting book recommendations that feature diverse characters and hosting live author interviews.

“Her message was something we really cared about,” Hayduk said. It also fits in with the Turtlebox Productions slogan: “Making meaningful fun.”

The show expands on what Alleyne has been doing on social media.

“Our goal was to take that and elevate it and add the travel component and have the interviews be active and engaging,” Hayduk said.

It premiered on YouTube last month and was first broadcast Thursday on TVOkids in Canada. They are working with a distributor to get it into the U.S. market.

Hayduk hopes that the show will soon find its way into classrooms.

“We really feel like this series is really going to find its home in classrooms,” Hayduk said.

“If you’re a teacher of middle-grade kids, check it out. I think it’s a really useful tool for classrooms,” she added.

To view the show, visit marbleKids on YouTube.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady, Scotia Glenville

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