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‘Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live’ puppeteer brings science to life

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Broadway in Detroit is presenting “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live,” an Australian experiential theatre production that takes audiences on a prehistoric journey in which they meet a menagerie of insects, mammals and dinosaurs. The show features a large-scale cast of dinosaur puppets brought to life by sophisticated design and puppet mastery.

This monster production will feature sixteen dinosaurs on stage: Children can watch and learn, but can also interact with the creatures in this fun, educational and unique presentation.

As with such shows as “Lion King” and, more dramatically, “War Horse,” the lines between costume, puppetry and choreographed movement are blurred in “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live.” And no one appreciates this like the team of performer/puppeteers who bring the dinosaurs to life.

Kelley Selznick is a New York-based puppeteer and textile artist who performs with the show as ZooKeeper / Puppeteer. She is a recent graduate from Cal State Northridge where she studied puppetry and costume construction. She apprenticed with shadow puppeteer Maria Bodmann and after moving to New York interned with Jessica Scott.

Kelly was nice enough to tell us more about the production, with an insider's "behind the puppet" perspective.

Q) You have created and performed with a variety of puppets, including some quite delicate creations. What led you to working with this production of “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live?”

Kelly Selznick: When auditions went up for Erth's Dinosaur Zoo Live I was working as an intern for the puppet artist Jessica Scott and starting rehearsals for another show, so I wasn't really looking for additional work at the time. By pure serendipity, one of my friends who is an actor/clown had scheduled an audition and told me to submit for the project, since he wasn't going to be available and he thought it would be perfect for me. He was right. Just after that he booked a different national tour, so it worked out for the best for both of us.

Q) Were you one of those little kids who was fascinated with dinosaurs/ science?

Kelly Selznick: I was the kind of kid who wrote stories and spent hours making up shows with my dolls. That being said, I also loved to watch Eureka! and Bill Nye the Science Guy. I definitely had a hand in both worlds. I do feel that when I went through school the worlds of art and science were presented as being antithetical and I can't disagree with that more. Science gives you a way to observe the world which is useful in everything, including art. I am proud that “Erth's Dinosaur Zoo” combines the two using real science and theatre to create a dynamic theatrical event.

Q) Tell us about the dinosaur puppets – their size, variety, construction? What does it take to bring them to life?

Kelly Selznick: That's a big question. Erth has been making dinosaur puppets for about 10 years in our studio in Sydney, Australia. We have nineteen individual puppets in the show which range in size, variety, and construction. The Leaellynasaura for instance took two years of development to figure out the best way to make the legs move as smoothly as they do. All of our puppets, including the Triceratops puppet developed just for this tour, are operated by one puppeteer.

Q) Do you have a favorite puppet… or a favorite scene that we should keep an eye on?

Kelly Selznick: The Leaellynasauras are my favorite. They are the most intelligent dinosaurs in the show and because of that are very curious and a little mischievous. It gets them in a lot of trouble that Amiee, our host, has to try to keep a hold of.

Q) What surprised you most about this production when you first got involved?

Kelly Selznick: The detail and realism of the dinosaur puppets really struck me when I first saw them. I was awestruck.

Q) Any advice or inside tips for parents who are thinking of bringing children to see this production?

Kelly Selznick: Expect to enjoy this show just as much if not more than your kids.

Q) Any advice for young would-be puppeteers?

Kelly Selznick: Detroit actually has some wonderful puppet resources. There are some great exhibits of puppets in Detroit at the Children's museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit has a really cool festival, the MotorCIty Puppet Blast, including kids' workshops and performances. The only way to learn something is to do it and seeing it done well. If you want to be a puppeteer make a puppet and see puppet shows.

Q) Will you have a chance to visit Detroit’s “PuppetART” when you’re in Detroit?

Kelly Selznick: I plan to if I have time. I have heard wonderful things about them.

You can catch Kelly and the entire cast of dinosaurs and performers when they visit Detroit in a couple of weeks. They are here for ten shows only, so it's best to get your tickets now. "Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live" runs March 12 – 16, 2014 at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre, located at 3011 W. Grand Blvd., in Detroit. Showtimes are: Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday matinees at 11:30 a.m., Saturday matinees at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Sunday matinee at 1 p.m., Sunday evening performance at 5 p.m.

Tickets for "Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live" range from $19 to $39 and are on sale at all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1-800-982-2787, or online. A limited number of $49 premium seats, which include safari hats, will be available through Ticketmaster and at the box office. This production makes for a great school outing: for group sales (10 or more), email groups@broadwayindetroit.com or call (313) 871-1132.

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