Prehistoric puppetry – an interview with Erth
Erth is a Sydney based theatre company that recently brought ‘Dinosaur Petting Zoo’ to London. Scott Wright, the Artistic Director, tells us about the company, the show and the Australian puppetry scene.
“The company has been operating for 23 years, in which time it has toured the world with many shows, but ‘Dinosaur Petting Zoo’ has become the company's most successful of anything the company has created” says Wright.
“Over the years we've strapped fireworks to ourselves, jumped from skyscrapers, gained access to rare museum collections, collected ancient indigenous stories and essentially followed a brief that has been set by its original members with an emphasis on self sufficiency and sustainability. A fierce independence means that the company is driven by innovation and experimentation but at its core it all comes down to storytelling.”
‘Dinosaur Petting Zoo’ was developed five years ago as a street show that toured around Australia quiet regularly, and since then it has “snowballed” and appeared in Broadway with great reviews. “The show has been to Europe a couple of times, fairly inconspicuously due to the logistics of international touring and being so far away, but all of that is about to change with this stint at Southbank and a six month return tour later in the year” says Wright.
“The idea for ‘Dinosaur Petting Zoo’ came literally as a joke. After creating custom made life sized dinosaur puppets along with specific public programs for several international museums it became apparent that the glory that these museums were getting was far greater than what the company itself was receiving.” He adds that the show then started to be performed on the street, free of charge, which enabled members of the audience (namely little kids) to join in the performance, “which always makes for great and hilarious theatre.”
Erth uses different kinds of puppets for their production, essentially two types: full body puppets that require the puppeteers to climb inside to operate them and puppets that are operated externally. They are mostly operated by one person, except for a couple of very big ones, which obviously require more puppeteers.
There is a strong element of interaction with the audience and, according to the director “for some reason adults find it hilarious when kids respond, usually in terror by the puppets. It's all tongue in cheek, there is never any real danger and everybody has a great time. Of course there is a lot of educational value in the show but really the show is driven by everybody's fascination for dinosaurs, whether they are children or adults.”
Wright says that there’s a small but healthy puppetry scene in Australia, with five or six companies that have each been operating for more than 20 years plus lot of smaller companies and individuals that are doing great work. “The great thing about the scene in Australia is that, being so far away from the rest of the world and having no traditional form of puppetry ourselves, we tend to bastardise all the other forms which gives us a naive freshness.”