This Sunday, June 15 from 2-3 PM, Erth’s extraordinary DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE will visit the Thinkery as part of our STEAM on the Spot series. You can then catch the show at the Long Center from June 17 – June 22.
In anticipation of this weekend’s event, we spoke with Erth puppeteer Kelley Selznick about what goes into making the show, the rewarding process of mixing education and entertainment and, of course, dinosaurs!
- How did you get involved in puppeteering? What inspired you to pursue that career?
Like everyone else of my generation, I’ve been exposed to puppetry since early childhood with “Sesame Street,” Lamb Chop and various other puppetry programs. I even had a puppet bunny named “Marshmallow” which was one of my favorites. I never thought about it as a career until my college, Cal State Northridge, had a puppetry workshop with Rouge Artists Ensemble. We made a rehearsal bunraku puppet and worked on fleshing out a new piece. I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life and I never looked back. I’m very lucky to have a job where I get to work with such wonderful puppets everyday.
- What challenges come with balancing education with entertainment and spectacle, and what is rewarding about striking that balance?
I think its more a matter of timing then anything else. There is a certain level of spectacle to the dinosaurs in their own right. I remember the first time going to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and being awestruck by how big those dinosaurs were (and that’s just their fossils). We have a lot of interesting facts that we want to share with the audience, but it’s a balance of sharing them in moments that the dinosaurs aren’t stealing the show. We also make sure to use the facts we do know about the dinosaurs to propel their action. A great example of this is our T-Rex: new findings have lead to the theory that T-Rex were covered in feathers. Instead of just telling the audience about this, we show it with our feathered T-Rex.
- What is most audience members’ favorite aspect or moment of the show? What about your team’s?
Most of the kids I talk to love the interactions with the T-Rex. The T-Rex is one of the most well-known dinosaurs and was indigenous to North America. One lucky child gets to help us feed the T-Rex and that tends to be the highlight of the show. Children have such natural responses to these dinosaur puppets. I am on stage at that moment, as the T-Rex’s handler, and I get to see expressions of pure joy and ‘fight-or-flight’ instinct going on at the same time.
My personal favorite moment is when the female Leaellynasura is able to make a break for it. In some venues she’s even been able to make it into the audience, and once even borrowed someone’s hat. She is a bit mischievous but everyone who saw it loved it.
- What sort of research goes into ensuring that the puppeteering is an accurate portrayal of dinosaur physiology?
The team back in Australia worked with paleontologists to ensure accurate anatomy and movement, and during rehearsals Scott Wright, the director, worked with us [to portray] how different dinosaurs might have [behaved]. When it comes down to it, though, there is always a level of artistic interpretation to how any creature may act, especially one that has been extinct for over 6 million years. Birds are the closest living relative of the dinosaurs, so most of our behavioral inspiration comes from their actions and movements, but there is no way to know for sure how a dinosaur would actually act. We have to use the knowledge we have uncovered about these dinosaurs in tandem with what we know about animal behavior today, and then make educated guesses. Luckily paleontologists are doing this as well, and there are new theories on dinosaur behaviors coming out all the time.
- What is your personal favorite dinosaur?
I’m in love with the Leaellynasura. Not only are they super cute but they were highly intelligent herbivores that were curious about the world around them. I may be a bit biased, though, because its the main dinosaur I puppeteer!