By Meredith Hines-Dochterman/The Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — Have you seen an oversized dinosaur bobbing his head up-and-down in the back of a pickup truck lately?
If so, you’re not alone.
“The Washington High School marching band was outside as we drive by and pom-poms dropped,” Joe Link says. “There was a lot of kids pointing and saying ‘Look at that.’”
You can’t blame them. It’s a dinosaur. A Tyrannosaurus Rex, actually, although this one is named Tyrannosaurus Fetch.
Link built Fetch to star in “Tyrannosaurus Fetch,” the latest Brucemore Outdoor Children’s Theatre production. The oversized puppet will make his debut at Brucemore on July 25, surprising not only Cal, who expects a toy dinosaur to arrive in the mail, but the audience.
The production is Link’s fifth collaboration with Brucemore. The writer/director pitched the idea for an oversized dinosaur puppet before he even wrote the story.
“As we all do, I was bouncing on the Internet and found this exhibition ‘Walking with Dinosaurs,’” Link says.
A marketing ploy for the program had a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex “visit” an elementary school. Link said the students’ reactions as the dinosaur walked in the gymnasium convinced him he had to have a dinosaur star in his next show.
“It was instantaneous. They were thrilled, excited — I knew I wanted to do that,” says Link, who is associate drama director at Jefferson High School.
But how does one build a dinosaur that can move across the stage, interact with people and not scare the children watching? For Link, who has created puppets for years, the answer was metal crutches and walkers.
“They’re the perfect prop because they’re light but can hold a lot of weight,” he says. “That’s their purpose.”
His 3-year-old daughter picked Fetch’s color — a bright green that gives the large puppet an animated look, as Link didn’t want children to be afraid of Fetch.
“Every single day my daughter asks me at lunch ‘How’s that paint working out for you?’” Link says with a laugh.
Apparently pretty well. Fetch’s first public appearance at the Freedom Festival earlier this month was met with laughter and a few hugs.
“He’s a friendly dinosaur,” Link says. “Kids like him.”
So do the actors who work with him in “Tyrannosaurus Fetch.”
“It’s really cool because you’re looking up and you have this tall figure staring at you,” says Justin Cervantes, who plays “Cal.” “After a while you forget there’s this other body in there.”
But there is. Nathan Nelson has worked with Link in several productions.
“This is a different challenge simply because we’ve never worked with a puppet this size before,” Nelson says moments before crawling into Fetch’s costume.
With his tail attached, Fetch is 11-feet-long and about 9-feet-tall. Weight distribution, Link says, was a big challenge. He wants to hide Nelson from the audience as much as possible, but the weight of holding Fetch’s girth in his shoulders for too long is too much.
Wheels were added last week to help Nelson keep Fetch steady and assist with moving him around the stage.
“Just remember, you don’t have to run,” Link tells Nelson at a recent rehearsal. “You’re a dinosaur. Be slow.”
“Tyrannosaurus Fetch” will be performed at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. July 25 through July 28 at Brucemore’s natural amphitheater near the pond. Gates open at 5 and 7 p.m., and on-site parking is available.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children age 10 and younger. Tickets may be purchased the night of the show. Children and their adult chaperones are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs. Food and beverages aren’t allowed.
“I feel like Joe continuously tops himself,” says Tara Richards, Brucemore’s marketing and program director. “I watched rehearsal the other day and I have to say, I definitely felt like a kid standing next to the dinosaur.”