Walk with dinosaurs at UMass

By Lori Szepelak


AMHERST A live theatrical production of 15 roaring, snarling dinosaurs will present an awe-inspiring experience next month at the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

"Walking with Dinosaurs The Live Experience" is based on the award-winning BBC television series, and will stage seven shows from March 27-30 at the Mullins Center.

The production is brought to North America by Immersion Edutainment, and promises a "brilliant blend" of special effects, escapism, excitement and information about the dinosaurs that ruled the earth for 200 million years.

"This is a show that could only fit in arenas as the creatures are so absolutely immense in size," said Bruce Mactaggart of Immersion Edutainment.

Mactaggart noted that audiences seated in the lower seats will all be "overwhelmed" by the dinosaurs, while those in higher seats can view the entire spectacle and panorama of the production.

"It is the closest you'll ever get to experiencing what it was like when they walked and ruled the earth," he added.

Artistic Director William May developed the creative vision of the show after Mactaggart approached him with the original idea to create an arena version of the "Walking with Dinosaurs" television series. After years of planning, the show came to life in Australia in January 2007, and was an immediate sensation, according to Mactaggart.

Ten species are featured from the 200-million-year reign of the dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaurus Rex, known as the "terror of the ancient terrain," said Mactaggart. Dinosaurs also represented include the Plateosaurus and Liliensternus from the Triassic period, the Stegosaurus and Allosaurus from the Jurassic period, and Torosaurus and Utahraptor from the Cretaceous. The largest of them, the Brachiosaurus, is 36 feet tall, and 56 feet from nose to tail.

Mactaggart noted that it took a team of 50 including engineers, skin makers, artists and painters, fabricators and animatronic experts a year to build the original production.

The show depicts the dinosaurs' evolution, complete with the climatic and tectonic changes that occurred, which led to the demise of many species.

Director Scott Faris, a Broadway veteran, showcases interactions between dinosaurs, as well as how carnivorous dinosaurs evolved to walk on two legs, and how the herbivores fended off their more agile predators.

For history buffs, the history of the world is played out with the splitting of the earth's continents and the transition from the arid desert of the Triassic period to the lush green prairies of the later Jurassic. With oceans forming, volcanoes erupting and a forest catching fire all leading to the impact of the massive comet which struck the earth the forced extinction of the dinosaurs is played out with cinematic realism.

"We take the audience on a journey back in time and show them how the dinosaurs might have actually looked in their prime huge, sometimes frightening, sometimes comical monsters that fought for survival every day of their lives," said Faris. "Our dinosaurs move exactly like they are real with all the roars, snorts and excitement that go with it. The realism is mind-blowing."

To give the appearance that the dinosaurs are flesh and blood weighing six, eight or even 20 tons, engineers use a system called 'muscle bags,' made from stretch mesh fabric and filled with polystyrene balls, stretched across moving points on the body. These contract and stretch in the same manner that muscle, fat and skin does on real creatures.

To make the dinosaurs move, puppeteers use "voodoo rigs" which are miniature versions of the dinosaurs with the same joints and range of movement as their life-sized counterparts. The puppeteer manipulates the voodoo rig and these actions are interpreted by computer and transmitted by radio waves to make the hydraulic cylinders in the actual dinosaur replicate the action, with a driver hidden below the animal, helping to maneuver it around the arena. Suited puppeteer specialists, who are inside the creatures, operate five of the smaller dinosaurs.

For ticket information, call 733-2500 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. For more details on "Walking with Dinosaurs The Live Experience," visit www.dinosaurlive.com.