The elementary school gymnasium was packed with over 100 third- and fourth-graders doing their best to sit quietly but squirming with anticipation. Whispers rippled through the crowd, which was hushed with anticipation. It was obvious that they were told about their special guests and they were trying their best to be orderly and quiet. There was a section of the gym curtained off from prying eyes, with rustling and murmurs going on behind it. Voices stage-whispered instructions and last- minute preparations.
Emcee Matthew Rimmer came out from behind the curtain with a microphone in hand. He immediately harnessed the audience with the promise of seeing a real, live dinosaur. He explained that the dinosaur that came with him that day was a baby Tyrannosaurus rex named Baby T and it needed encouragement to come out and see them. He led the audience, rapt with anticipation, in chants of “Baby T! Baby T!” Without a sound, the baby T. rex, nearly 8 feet tall and feathered, emerged and made a beeline for the rows of children. There were shrieks of both terror and delight as Baby T made its way through the crowd of children. Some froze in place, and others screamed and scooted across the floor.
The realness of such a creation is nothing if not eerie, and your immediate reaction is curious. Your head tells you it’s a creation, a mock- up, while that vestigial, survivalist part of your brain is setting off one alarm bell after another to get the heck out of there — and quickly. This creature is right there in front of you, yet its existence seems impossible. You notice it’s feathered and that while it is a youngster, it’s also a fearsome creature that stands several feet taller than the average human. At the same time, Baby T exhibits the characteristics of a child, even an 8-foot-tall one. There’s an element of play in its movements.
It isn’t attacking the children; it’s engaging them. The expressions on the kids’ faces ranged from wonder to terror, yet they were all having a ball.
Walking with Dinosaurs is based on the BBC television series of the same name. It features 20 dinosaurs that combine puppetry, animatronics and remote control aspects. They are wonders of special and practical effects, periodically updated using the latest discoveries in paleontology. Each dinosaur takes a team of three people to operate.
Baby T, the smaller of the dinos, is run by only one man. On this tour, that man is Jonathan Macmillan, an athlete and acrobat whose strength and agility make up Baby T’s surprising speed and grace.
“I feel like every [dinosaur] has its own personality,” he said. “It’s not so much me controlling it as letting it do what it wants.”
Walking with Dinosaurs originated in Australia in 2007 and sold out arenas. After a break from touring and some “evolution” of the dinosaurs, the tour is back for what are sure to be seven sold-out shows at Chesapeake Energy Arena in October. For more details about the show, visit dinosaurlive.com.