Puppeteers bring dinosaurs to life Feb. 17 on Alma stage

Puppeteers bring dinosaurs to life Feb. 17 on Alma stage

Usually, modern man — and woman and child — meets dinosaurs in a zoo or convention center. “Dinosaur World Live,” coming Feb. 17 to the Skokos Performing Arts Center in Alma, is different. Its (puppet) dinosaurs visit the stage with their friend, “Miranda, daughter of palaeontologists, who grew up surrounded by dinosaurs on a far-away island off the coast of South America.”

“She’d love you to meet them,” says Derek Bond, the show’s writer and director. Miranda, played on this tour by Selin Balcioglu, “is a great storyteller, who can improvise when the dinosaurs don’t behave and utterly believe in the puppets.

“The puppeteers [require] strong hands and the ability to focus completely on the puppet they’re working with,” he adds, saying the biggest dinosaur, 32 feet long, requires four puppeteers. “It’s an amazing job — they have to make themselves disappear and allow you to totally forget they are there.”

Max Humphries is the puppet designer and says even though a puppeteer might have 55 pounds on his shoulders, the puppets are “made of a skeleton of very light aluminium metal. The more complex moving parts are a mix of nylon, steel, aluminium and birch. Then over that is a skin of super-lightweight foam for the muscles and then the skin is either made out of cloth or treated fur for the feathers.

“After agreeing which dinosaurs we were going to be making and what each were going to do, we studied the anatomy and settled on a final drawing of each dinosaur,” he says of the creative process, which took about nine months. “Then we worked out how the puppeteers would fit inside and how all the parts moved. From that I worked out the skeleton and mechanisms whilst the rest of the team worked on sculpting the outside.”

The biggest challenge was keeping them light and strong, Humphries says.

“There are no electronics or hydraulics in our puppets,” he adds. “Everything is people-powered by our great team of puppeteers, so you have to maintain a workable weight while also packing the most stuff into the puppets as possible.”

Even dinosaurs require rehearsals, Bond reminds, and they always start with a physical warm-up.

“Puppeteering the dinosaurs is hard physical work, and the team have to warm up like dancers or athletes do,” he explains. “Then we’ll look at a scene ‘unadorned’ — that’s where the puppeteers are moving around the space without the puppet, but using their hands and legs in the same way they will when they are operating the puppet. We do this because the dinosaurs are heavy, and you can’t keep stopping and thinking about what to do when someone is holding [55 pounds] on their shoulders!

“When we have a shape for the scene that we’re happy with, the puppeteers will get inside the dinosaur, and we’ll test the shape out. Laura Cubitt, our brilliant puppet director, will spot the details that will help the puppeteers to make the dinosaur really ‘live’ — it might be a breath, or a look, or a blink. After running it couple of times, we swap puppeteers; all our puppeteers can operate all the parts of each puppet, though they all have their favorites.”

Bond says it’s easy to forget the dinosaurs aren’t real.

“When Titus, our T-Rex, emerges, the audiences either jump out of their seats or hide under them! But when Miranda needs help to drive Titus back off the stage, everybody joins in,” he says. “It’s great to see children overcoming their fear and fiercely roaring at a [32 foot] long T-Rex!

“It’s an inspirational show,” Bond promises. “It fires the imagination and teaches you things you might not know. … My hope is that audiences will come out desperate to know more about dinosaurs, and with their imaginations working on all cylinders.”



‘Dinosaur World Live’

WHEN — 4 & 7 p.m. Feb. 17

WHERE — Skokos Performing Arts Center, 103 E. Main St. in Alma

COST — $20-$38

INFO — skokospac.org, 632-2129

Categories: Family Friendly