Imagine Steve Irwin, but with dinosaurs instead of crocs. That’s how the writer and artistic director of Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo has described the show to reporter Carolyn Millet.
A production touring the region at the start of the school holidays could make show and tell pretty interesting next term:
“I went to the beach!”
“Nan and Pop came to stay!”
“I got to feed a dinosaur!”
Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo is hitting the region for the first time in its eight years, and its artistic director Scott Wright likens it to an encounter like the late Steve Irwin would have had with crocodiles and snakes at Australia Zoo.
“I like to think of it as a live animal presentation, something you’d expect at any good zoo or wildlife park - the only difference is that all of our creatures are dinosaurs,” Scott says.
“We love to take them and show them to kids. On occasion, we will invite some children to come up and help us during the show.
“Those children get to help us feed the dinosaurs, or give them water, or look after them if they’re sick.
“And if the children misbehave, we feed them to the dinosaurs. We charge extra for that.”
Erth is a Sydney-based visual and physical theatre company, which was established about 25 years ago and takes shows across Australia and the world.
“We get everything from just pure, unadulterated enjoyment and thrill, to caution and trepidation,” Scott says of Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo - no matter the age of the child.
“I think the thing we’ve learnt time and time again is that, if you set an age limit for something, there’ll always be a kid that’s younger that will be an exception to that rule.
“So a three-year-old could hold their own against a T-rex, where an 11-year-old could freak.”
However, Scott says the life-size puppets “get reactions from everybody” - not just the kids.
He says he was always interested in puppetry when he was growing up in Ballarat, Victoria.
“I’ve done puppetry since I was a kid - since I can remember - even making my own puppets.
“I was obsessed with Sesame Street and, in later years, Star Wars.”
Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo was born through the company’s work making puppets for museums.
They became more and more in-demand, so Erth decided to create its own show.
“In the early days, every [Erth] dinosaur was made was due to a relationship with one paleontologist or another, because we work quite closely with museums,” Scott says.
“Some dinosaurs are quite specifically based on the opinion or beliefs of certain people.
“Paleontology is a very malleable science.”
Scott says paleontology has also been a longtime personal interest.
“The paleontologist I really look up to is Luis Chiappe. He’s all about feathered dinosaurs.
“At a time when people were saying it couldn't possibly be true, he was saying dinosaurs evolved into birds, and now it’s pretty much a given.
““He also said imagination is the most important tool for a paleontologist...
“We focus on creatures that come from Australia, specifically, so it is unique..
“What we want is for people to feel they’ve got a bit more out of paleontology than just going to a museum and looking at some bones.”
The performers in Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo are “really diverse”.
“Most people come to us as performers or artists, but the backgrounds are just so varied, which is great and keeps everyone fresh,” Scott says.
The company looks for people with dance, circus or puppetry skills, but there is something else that’s much more important.
“[We also look for] just generous people, you know? People who have an enthusiasm or a desire to work with us.
“It’s really important because our show connects very much to the audience.
“It’s a show that talks directly to the audience and invites them to respond and sometimes to participate.
“So it’s really important that all those people are good communicators who like to have a chat with a complete stranger, who care about whether or not a child who has a vision impairment gets a valid experience, and might invite them backstage so they can feel the dinosaurs, get to feel what they couldn’t see so well.
“It's really important that the people in Erth are wonderful.”
A dinosaur petting zoo with huge puppets, puppeteers, prehistoric sets and audience interaction sounds like an enormous production needing hordes of people to pull it off.
Not so. There will be a team of just four people - “they just work very hard”.
The show has been running and touring for eight years, but it’s the first time it will come to this part of the state.
Scott says regional shows tend to get a “much more enthusiastic” reception.
“I think that people are a lot more appreciative.”
The eight-year-old show has “many incarnations”, depending on the location, venue and audience.
“That whole North West area is our first time and so we’re bringing our smallest version of the show,” Scott says.
“We’ve got a show that’s manageable, that we can get from one place to another.
“This is their first time and if they enjoy it, the next time we come back we’ll evolve it.”
Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo will appear at:
- Roxy Theatre, Bingara, September 23
- Crossing Theatre, Narrabri, September 24
- Chapel Theatre, Glen Innes, September 25
- Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts, Tenterfield, September 26
- Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre, September 28 and 29
- Gunnedah Town Hall, September 30.