Before each production of “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live,” the performers issue a caveat to the audience.
“We say, ‘You all know dinosaurs are extinct,’” says Miron Gusso, puppeteer with the show.
Nevertheless, when the stage fills with life-size dinosaur puppets, it is only a matter of time before children start demanding, “is that real?”
It’s no wonder they are so easily bewitched.
After all, the prehistoric puppets ranging up to 100 pounds in this educational show aren’t made of socks.
Designed alongside real paleontologists, they walk, roar and even fly, appearing deceivingly lifelike.
With kids invited to interact with these creatures and learn their history and biology, this show offers a satisfying taste of the real thing.
“There’s so much pride taken with the skill of the puppeteers and the engineering of the puppets, you quickly forget there’s a puppet on stage and you think it’s an animal,” Gusso says.
A New Dinosaur Age
This concept sparked from museums around the world commissioning dinosaur puppets from Erth Visual & Physical, an Australian company renowned for its distinctive aesthetic.
All created from recycled materials with the help of the museums’ paleontologists, the puppets earned such rave responses that the idea for a traveling show was born.
“After a while, the company had a big collection of dinosaur puppets, and we thought, ‘We need to do something with them,’” Gusso recalls. “Our main mission for the show is to empower kids. We want children to get the opportunity to come on stage, interact with dinosaurs and overcome their fear.”
The show presents 11 prehistoric animals, he says, ranging from babies to a “huge, long-neck sauropod.”
All the featured creatures once lived in what is now America, including the T-rex.
Each is designed to scale, Gusso adds, though many must remain babies for this to be possible.
“Our T-rex is a 5-year-old,” he notes. “If we wanted a full adult T-rex, it wouldn’t fit in the building.”
Building Dinosaurs from Scratch
Audiences experience a wide span of puppets at the show, including wearable puppets strapped to puppeteers’ backs, as well as hand, string and even inflatable puppets.
“If you’ve ever seen used car lots and those giant balloons that wave in the air, we got our idea from that,” Gusso says with a chuckle. “We always want to use various styles to educate children.”
Designing each dino involves drafting detailed sketches, he says, then constructing each dinosaur from all-local materials.
“The idea always starts with real dinosaur fossils,” he says. “We look at a particular dinosaur bone and the age of the dinosaur based on that, and the design team makes a puppet scaled to that age.”
Children’s responses to the puppets worldwide remain “mind-blowing,” Gusso notes.
“When you teach kids about dinosaurs that are already popular, and you pair it with such a popular entity as puppetry, it’s a win-win,” Gusso says. “It really captivates the child.”
“Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” runs on October 11 at The Smith Center.
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