Dinosaur show takes audience on prehistoric journey

Each performance breathes more life into the Leaellynasaura.

Never heard of a Leaellynasaura? Well, neither did Kelley Selznick before joining the “ERTH’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” cast.

She’s the puppeteer for the Leaellynasaura, pronounced lee-el-in-a-saw-rah, which walked Earth during the Early Cretaceous period, which lasted between 104 to 112 million years. It had long legs, a long tail, large eyes and lived on the continent now occupied by Australia.

Now, there’s no need to worry. The Leaellynasaura is a plant eater.

That’s important to know, because some Baton Rouge area children will be asked to interact with him on Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s when “ERTH’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” will come to the Manship Theatre.

Two sold-out performances also are slated for Jan. 23 and 24 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette.

And Selznick will be there, handling the Leaenellynasaura, which seems to be developing its own personality.

“He comes to life more each time I work with him,” Selznick says.

Selznick is a New York-based puppeteer and textile artist. She auditioned for the production last fall and began rehearsals in December. Baton Rouge will be one of the earliest stops on the “ERTH’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” tour.

“We’ve performed shows in Mesa, Ariz., and Dallas,” Selznick says. “The show isn’t improvised. We have a host named Aimee Louisiane who has a script, and she brings the kids on stage to interact with the dinosaurs.”

But dinosaurs don’t always stick to the stage.

“There are times when they go down into the audience, too,” Selznick says. “But the best interaction occurs on stage.”

The show is experimental theater produced by Erth Visual & Physical, Inc., in association with Red Tail Entertainment, ArKtype and East Bank Entertainment. It was created in Australia, which is still its home base.

And the best part? The production is as much educational as it is entertaining.

“We explore a lot of dinosaurs, many of which aren’t well-known,” Selznick says. “A lot of them are small, and they are the ones that survived.”

She can’t help laughing at this point.

“I’ve learned a lot, too,” she says. “There were some dinosaurs I’d never heard of before doing this show.”

“ERTH’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” steps into a new dimension, leading its audience on a prehistoric journey to meet a menagerie of insects, mammals and dinosaurs that once roamed the planet. Scientific theory points to Australia as the location where a great asteroid hit Earth to begin an evolutionary process. Dinosaur remains in that country are different from the ones discovered in the United States.

“So, on the United States tour, the show includes dinosaurs that were here,” Selznick says.

And these dinosaurs will be represented through lifelike puppets on stage. In fact, some of them are so lifelike, some audience members become a little nervous.

“In Mesa, a little boy was invited on stage to interact with the T-rex,” Selznick says. “The T-rex is a carnivore, right? He eats meat. And this little boy started getting nervous, so he volunteered his sister to go on stage.”

Another laugh.

“His sister was more than ready to get on stage,” she says. “And she was younger than him.”

The Baton Rouge performance will mark Selznick’s first visit to Louisiana. She traveled the world as an “Air Force brat,” and she studied puppetry and costume construction at California State University in Northridge, Calif., before settling in New York.

And though she’s never been to Louisiana, she is familiar with at least one of the state’s best attributes.

“My roommates in New York are from New Orleans, and they were always cooking Louisiana-style food,” Selznick says. “That food was always so great, and I’m looking forward to eating some of it when I come to Baton Rouge and Lafayette.”

Now, the Leaellynasaura won’t be the only dinosaur in this zoo. There will be plenty of others to meet, including the Plesiosaurs, the Titanosaurs, the Meganuera, the Dryosaur, the Triceratops, the Hadrosaur and, of course, the Tyranosaurus Rex.

If you can’t pronounce all of their names, don’t worry. Selznick can say them easily now.

And as they come to life during the course of the show, you will come to know them, too.