Duncan, a life-size Tyrannosaurus rex puppet, is the newest attraction at the Santa Barbara Zoo, hitting the stage for an educational performance that will have viewers roaring with laughter.Duncan is a 15.5-foot, human-manned electronic beast who walks, poops and stars in the 15-minute show “How to Train Your Dinosaur.” Dean Noble, director of marketing at the Santa Barbara Zoo and writer of the show’s script, said the production is meant to entertain and educate people about the behind-the-scenes jobs of zookeepers and their interactions with the animals.
Noble said Duncan will serve as a safer alternative to other unpredictable, live animals.
“Zookeepers work intimately with animals,” Noble said. “Gorillas get their teeth brushed and elephants get pedicures. However, it is difficult to get elephants and gorillas up on stage — so we thought, why not get a dinosaur?”
Chiodo Bros Productions, a company specializing in lifelike creatures seen in productions such as “Dinner for Schmucks,” “Team America: World Police,” “Elf,” “Roboco” and “Gremlins” manufactured Duncan by hand so he could be easily operated by employees. An operator manipulates Duncan’s aluminum frame, head, tail, jaw and even bowel movements.
According to Noble, the audience reactions to the prehistoric puppet have been very positive so far as Duncan entertains crowds with its life-like qualities.
“One of the highlights of the show is when he poops,” Noble said. “People get a real kick out of that. The poop mixture has to be just right, otherwise it won’t work. People usually start applauding right when he enters the stage because he’s so impressive.”
Christopher Costanzo, a second-year theater major, is one of the operators responsible for bringing Duncan to life and said despite his initial apprehensions, he was thrilled to meet and operate the zoo’s newest addition.
“At first I was wary, and immediately the image of Barney popped into my head,” Costanzo said. “I checked the job out anyway and was shocked to learn the great secret the zoo had been guarding from the public — Duncan the 15-foot T-Rex. When you slide into the dino puppet you are manning the controls to some sophisticated, high-tech station.”
Costanzo said he was fascinated by dinosaurs at a young age and now enjoys bringing that same cheer to children.
“The best part is the audience and its reaction when Duncan comes on stage,” Costanzo said. “The kids absolutely love it — by far the best part of the job is giving them that sense of awe, that feeling of ‘Wow, I just saw a real live T-Rex!’ I know at that age I was obsessed with dinosaurs, so to have something like this show would’ve been a dream come true.”
The show is free with zoo admission and drew a crowd of 800 audience members at the premiere show last Friday. The show is held every weekend at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the outdoor Rolling Hills Theatre.