Dinosaur alert

It's a zoo out there in Keene, and the kids couldn't be happier

By EMILY REILY
Special to the Union Leader
March 14. 2018 1:29PM
A little audience member gives a big-sized smooch to a prehistoric creature in “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo.” 
If you go...
WHAT: Erth's Dinosaur Zoo Live

WHERE: The Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

TICKETS: $25 to $55

INFO: 352-2033; thecolonial.org

Dubbed the show “65 million years in the making,” “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” is a family-friendly walk through prehistoric Australia. But paleontologists have made sure the puppet stars of this show are realistic — and up to date.

“Every once in a while these dinosaurs can go back and get a tune-up to make adjustments to them to look like the latest theories that are out there,” said puppeteer Eryn Malafronte of the show set to take over the Colonial Theatre’s stage in Keene March 15. “A few in our show have proto-feathers; I think the T-Rex had feathers.”

Malafronte knows she has some extra big shoes to fill, but she’s up to the challenge.

“I still have two boxes of dinosaur toys that I’ve had since I was a kid at my house in Florida. I grew up with four brothers who were also obsessed with dinosaurs,” she said.

While the T-Rex is one of her favorite dinosaurs, there are a few others who have special places in her heart.

“My favorite dinosaur? That’s tough. It’s either the australovenater (an Australian therapod), which is a dinosaur a lot like T-Rex, a carnivore, except it has way longer arms, so I think it’s a lot scarier-looking than the T-Rex. Or styracosaurus, which is kind of like the triceratops. Instead of three horns, this dinosaur has six horns on the grill and one on the nose. I think that’s a pretty cool dinosaur as well.”

And even with Malafronte’s extensive knowledge of dinosaurs, what kids in the audience know about extinct creatures is amazing.

“Sometimes I meet a kid who can tell me the name of a dinosaur, every single one from A to Z, and I’m standing there in shock,” she said.

The titanosaur is one of the largest land animals to have ever existed; the Leaellynasaura was only 3 feet long. Then there is the tyrannosaurus, the triceratops and the meganeura, an extinct insect with a 25-inch wingspan.

Malafronte said the show’s host introduces children to the dinosaurs. But the history lesson is so animated that as soon as children are brought up on stage the real fun starts.

“Things get a little hectic as she’s introducing the puppets to these kids. That’s where the humor comes in, and it’s interactive. Some of the kids get submerged in it,” said Malafronte.

The focus then turns to the dinosaur puppets, not the operators. She likens the reaction to witnessing a dream come true.

“The thing that they’ve been obsessing over for a very long time is brought to life in front of them,” she said. “They won’t even notice the puppeteer standing there. They’re so awestruck that their dream is coming to life.”

Malafronte said while it’s still a puppet show, “Erth’s” appeal can reach across all age ranges.

“The humor in it is good for kids and good for adults. Adults go to the show and they find it hilarious. Kids go to this show, and they’re just amazed and awestruck the entire time. You don’t even notice it’s educational because you’re having so much fun watching it.”

The puppet dinosaurs are made of neoprene, the same material used in diving suits, and the T-Rex and triceratops models were specially designed as “backpack puppets.”

“They have a whole sound system in there, and we have a camera that attaches to a monitor in the nose. That’s where the weight comes from,” she said.

The camera helps the puppeteer navigate on stage.

“After a while, as a puppeteer, you don’t even really use the camera. Just by using the mesh holes in the side, you’re aware of your surroundings,” she said.

At 110 pounds, the backpack puppets are not easy to wear.

“We have to remain pretty healthy. I work out every morning just so I’m able to lift these puppets and (operate) them,” she said. “You have to walk around, you have to lunge, you have to run. Unfortunately you can’t just stand there. That would be a lot easier.”

Malafronte admitted it can get steamy inside a cumbersome dinosaur puppet.

“We do have a fan to pump it, but it doesn’t really do anything. We just sweat a lot. I sweat a lot,” she said. “I’ve been in these puppets outside in 90-degree weather where it was probably about 110 inside the puppet. Once you’ve come from that, you can do anything.”

Aside from portraying ginormous, ancient dinosaurs, Malafronte has played some bad guys in her career in productions like “Urinetown The Musical” and “Encore!!”

“I mainly played a lot of villain characters, so it’s no surprise that I like the T-Rex the most in the show,” she said.


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