Dino Might: On tour with Walking with Dinosaurs’ final T-rek
For a six-part TV miniseries, Walking with Dinosaurs has – much like the terrible lizards for which it’s named – had a remarkably long life. Initially airing on the BBC in 1999, Walking with Dinosaurs has spawned several television spinoffs (2001’s Walking with Beasts and 2005’s Walking with Monsters); a 2013 feature film, also called Walking with Dinosaurs; and books, video games and, perhaps most successfully, a live show, Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular.
Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular (WWD) debuted in Australasia in 2007 as Walking with Dinosaurs: The Live Experience, and has since been seen by more than nine million people in 250 cities around the world, picking up ILMC’s Best in Show 2012 award along the way.
The latest, and final outing for WWD began in the UK at the Metro Radio Arena (11,000-cap.) in Newcastle, on 20 July, and is scheduled to close in Russia at St Petersburg’s Ice Palace (12,300-cap.), on 26 May 2019, although more dates are set to be announced.
The show is doing “superstar” numbers in Ireland, says Noel McHale of MCD Productions, which is promoting shows in Belfast in August/September, and Dublin in December. McHale says he anticipates selling more than 150,000 tickets over nine days (five at the SSE Arena and four at 3Arena), largely on the back of the buzz around previous WWD tours. (The production last visited Europe in 2013, although it toured North America in 2014 and Australasia the following year.)
“We’re on target to sell over 150,000 tickets, so it’s real superstar business,” McHale explains, adding that the show is “doing a lot of repeat business, as the word-of-mouth praise for the last tour is phenomenal.”
Carmen Pavlovic, CEO of Global Creatures, the Australian company behind the show, says the fact that 11 years after its debut WWD is embarking on its third world arena tour is “a testament to the strength of our production and the popularity of dinosaurs with fans all over the world.
“The dinosaurs are much easier to deal with than the touring crew, as they don’t need visas, hotels, per diems or flights…”
“The world’s fascination with dinosaurs is enduring,” Pavlovic, also executive director of the production, tells IQ. “We’re fortunate to have developed a loyal base of promoters who are excited to introduce the show to the next generation in their local markets.”
That next generation is key to WWD’s lasting popularity, suggests McHale. “There will always be a new crop of kids getting into dinosaurs as they are endlessly fascinating,” he says. “And parents who bring their kids are blown away by the sheer size and quality of the production.”
For the new tour, Global Creatures’ touring crew is tasked with operating, maintaining and transporting across the world a total of 18 dinosaurs, representing nine separate species. These range in size from nine ‘large’ dinosaurs, operated by a team of three (one driver, and two ‘voodoo’ puppeteers each taking either the head and tail or minor movements, such as blinking or roaring); a 7m-tall adult T-rex and two 11m brachiosaurus; and four smaller ‘suit’ dinosaurs, including two 2.5m utahraptors. (Not the raptors made famous by Jurassic Park, which were modelled on utahraptor’s smaller, not-technically-a-velociraptor, cousin deinonychus. And not actually from Utah.)
As with previous tours, historical accuracy is a key consideration for WWD’s technical team, which once again consulted with palaeontologists to ensure the appearance and behaviour of all dinosaurs match the latest scientific consensus.
“We have added rudimentary feathers to the raptors, liliensternus and T-rex, which we didn’t have on the first tour,” explains resident director Ian Waller, “as it wasn’t proved to be fact then, but now is.”
“Some hay for the herbivores, and the odd human sacrifice for the T-rex and it’s done – no sorting the M&Ms or fancy water for them”
Ferrying the 18 dinos around the planet they used to call home are Transam Trucking, who are using no less than 23 trucks – a number that’s actually down on 2012, when it was 27, says general manager/booker Nick Grace, largely due to the use of more compact lighting, sound, video and rigging designs.
No reptile dysfunction
In spite of a gruelling touring schedule – the show is doing several split weeks, which naturally leads to dino wear and tear – regular maintenance means that technical problems are mercifully rare, according to Grace. “This is tempting fate, but the dinosaurs, who receive daily maintenance, never break down,” he says. “They are much easier to deal with than the touring crew, as they don’t need visas, hotels, per diems or flights…”
As a bonus, the dinosaurs’ riders are “really quite modest,” jokes Mary Shelley-Smith, global operations director of the show’s caterer, Eat to the Beat. “Some hay for the herbivores, and the odd human sacrifice for the T-rex and it’s done – no sorting the M&Ms or fancy water for them.”
Waller, meanwhile, pays tribute to the work of the technical team, who he says quite literally do the bulk of the heavy lifting. “It is quite busy for our actors and suit performers, but the main workload is done by our technical team, who have to continually take down the show and put it back up again,” he comments. “They take the real brunt of the work.”
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