The heavy job of being a stage raptor in Louis B. Hobson’s A Dinosaur Tale

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An inventive children’s play world-premiering at the Jubilee Auditorium Friday night finds a pair of curious kids face-to-face with a serious of incredible-looking dinosaurs, pulled forward through time and an embarrassingly long extinction.


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The reptilian stars of A Dinosaur Tale are full-scale, realistic-looking puppets, each with a human actor inside, bringing the creatures — themselves full of curiosity and occasional menace — back to life into a world where most of what remains of them amounts to fossils and tiny, offshoot bird descendants.

David Sklar plays one of the big creatures, a Jurassic Park-style raptor named Tyrell, indeed after the southern Albertan museum. He’s on break from rehearsal talking about how to animate the hot and heavy costume he wears for nearly an hour straight onstage during the show.

“It is a bit of choreography. It’s like a dance that we’re working towards,” he notes.

Sklar has worked with costumes and puppets before, even played Fenris Ulf the wolf in Alberta Theatre Projects The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe — but nothing like this. “You’re insulated. You’re surrounded by the puppet itself,” he explains. “And while you’re on the inside, you’re manipulating the head, the body — you’re really trying to bring it to life so it looks like it’s a living breathing animal.”


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As far as Tyrell’s behaviour goes, Sklar workshopped and unearthed an unexpected personality.

“I found out the dinosaur I’m playing is actually more like a dog. I’m gathering maybe less dino vibes, and more like a puppy vibe.”

He says dino — rhyming with wino — though Fred Flintstone’s purple pal Dino rushing from the front door definitely comes to mind.

“It’s a lot of sniffing, a lot of being scared, a lot of being aggressive and really trying to find the balance between the dino aggression and man’s best friend, puppy edition.

“He goes through the range of emotions, anger, frustration, sadness,” and, Sklar laughs, “a lot of confusion.”

The Calgary-based production is produced by Jeff Parry, and written by veteran arts reporter Louis B. Hobson, who still writes for the Calgary dailies.


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“You want to know how old am?” Hobson laughs. “Just before COVID hit, I directed Witness for the Prosecution for Workshop Theatre here. Why? Because 50 years earlier I directed Witness for the Prosecution … for their very first show.”

The 77-year-old laughs, even calls me kid, as we deliberately avoid any dinosaur jokes here.

But how he came to write A Dinosaur Tale is a funny story in itself. Essentially, Parry noticed how much kids love dinosaurs (though this has surely been true since at least 1852, when a park of spectacularly scientifically-inaccurate giants was built outside Bromely’s Crystal Palace over in England — but Parry is still 100% correct about their allure).

Building the kids’ production a little like J.J. Abrams wrote The Force Awakens on a platform of set pieces instead of an actual story, Parry bought a bunch of terrific dinosaur costumes … then summoned Hobson to figure out the narrative.


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“He found a company in China that made them and said, ‘These are the five. You can fill in the blanks, right?’”

This includes a giant Brachiosaurus puppeted by two performers. “On top of that, when they arrived, they sent him a gift — a hand puppet, which is a baby triceratops, which is just hysterical.”

The fleshing out, as it were, is an adorable little story about two 13-year-old kids — Declan and Lisa — paired together on a paleontology-themed school field trip.

Left to find and photograph samples by their teacher Mrs. Henshaw, Declan, the little punk, smashes a rock and finds essentially a Rick Sanchez portal gun, though which — you got it — five dinosaurs from various epochs, spanning at least 80 million years, start wandering though.


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David Sklar, left, as Tyrell the Raptor and Ray Dhaliwal as Declan in A Dinosaur Tale, which opens Friday at the Jube.
David Sklar, left, as Tyrell the Raptor and Ray Dhaliwal as Declan in A Dinosaur Tale, which opens Friday at the Jube. Photo by supplied /jpg

Declan, played by Ray Dhaliwal, pulls a thorn from a raptor’s foot — “A little Aesop’s fable there,” Hobson notes — and the two become fast friends. That raptor is named Tyrell by the kids, 23 kilos of costume and tech Sklar carries around, mostly on his shoulders, for the play’s 50-minute run.

There’s a camera set up inside so he can see where he’s going, generally.

“At first we had no idea what to expect,” says suddenly-saurian thespian Sklar. “It’s quite small inside, but we’re lucky that all of us who are playing the dinos have fans to cool down.

“And we’ve worked on ways where I can sort of chill out for a second or two to really rest a bit, even during the show.

“But I’m not gonna lie, you know, there’s this extra added weight. And for someone who hasn’t been to the gym in 18 months because of the pandemic? It’s been an adjustment.”


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Both Sklar and Hobson mention sound designer Regan Kuemper, who did an amazing job with the dinosaur chatter and explosive roaring, all his own vocal work. “I’m not joking,” says Hobson. “He said, ‘Here are 60 Raptor sounds. And here are 50 T-Rex sounds.’ And the actors listened, and they chose each sound for whatever’s going on.

“And I was dumbfounded, because it works.”

In the script, during a bit of a T-Rex fight, Hobson notes that while there should be a sense of apparent danger, no one’s hoping to give kids nightmares. “I call it the Disney moment” he explains. “There’s always one scene where there’s a real sense of danger.”

But the writer and puppeteer-actor both admit Tyrell the Raptor is probably a bit friendlier and gentler than a two-metre, razor-toothed giant bird ancestor would probably be.

“In real life,” Sklar laughs, “the raptor might have eaten Declan. But in our child-friendly version he becomes good friends with him very quickly.”

Fair enough — though if we know anything about those dinosaur stories, there’s always room for a sequel.

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A Dinosaur Tale

Where: Jubilee Auditorium

When: 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $33 plus service charges and up at



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