Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.



By Jess Fenton
4th December 2011

In 2010, DreamWorks Animation (the people behind the 'Shrek' series and this years 'Puss in Boots') gave us the Oscar-nominated ‘How To Train Your Dragon’. The 3D animated feature that grossed almost half a billion dollars worldwide has made it’s way to our shores... this time it’s REALLY in 3D (or is it 4D? I’m not up on my D’s). Anyway, the film that was formally a book by author Cressida Cowell is now an Arena Spectacular, premiering in Melbourne 2012 before embarking on an Australian east coast tour.

The show boasts 24 animatronic dragons that can breathe fire, smoke rings, some can fly and one even poops. (Sorry. Spoiler alert!) The story takes place in a mythical world of Vikings on an island with a bit of a dragon problem. Oh, if only there was someone to train them! Dragon slayers are highly regarded, and only one member of this Viking clan dares stand out from the rest - Hiccup. “Hiccup’s world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.”

The impressive cast of performers hails from a variety of backgrounds including stunt acting, martial arts and dance and have come from across the globe, brought together after an exhaustive audition process taking months and visits to 13 major international cities.

With Global Creatures, the expert team behind 'Walking With Dinosaurs' in charge of the designs of these amazing dragons, as well as music provided by the films original Academy Award nominated composer John Powell, along with Icelandic rock star Jonsi from Sigur Ros, audiences can surely be set to strap themselves in for quite a ride.

After having the pleasure of being introduced to both a Nadder and Gronckle dragon at this week's media preview, I chatted with DreamWorks Animation CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg and show director, Nigel Jamieson while Jeffrey was in town for the start of rehearsals.

So how does one direct a dragon?
NJ: With care and caution. They are probably the most sophisticated puppets on the planet and they’ve got incredibly delicate controls, and every part of your mobility as an actor translates into the dragon. They can be a little bit badly behaved and they can spit fire at you after a long day. What happens in the show is that they fly on this incredible arial rig and they fly against projection. So there are so many new sciences that we’re trying to push to the edge and use in really radical new ways.


Is that level of technological wizardry what attracted you to the project?
NJ: No. Firstly, I think it’s a really beautiful story. It’s about important values. It’s got a message and is really beautifully constructed. Secondly, I’d seen GC’s works. They’re amazing, world class. Thirdly, I think it gives us (Australian theatre makers) an opportunity to make something the world has never seen before. DreamWorks wanted it to be like something the world has never seen before. They’ve got the resources to take a punt on that. We’ve been on this for two and a half years. I don’t know if there’s ever been a theatre show going out to arenas that’s ever been this complicated and this sophisticated. Jeffrey did 'The Lion King' and that was a new kind of theater. It felt really different to the musicals we’d had before.

What made you think that this story would translate so beautifully into this arena?
JK: Well, it has everything. One, it has these great mythical creatures which we knew Global Creatures could bring to life in the way that you see today. Two is, there’s great action in it and also fantastic heart. In order to have a really enduring story, any story, no matter where it’s being told, it needs to have emotion and heart to it. This is one we saw as a film that touched people's hearts, and we’re convinced that as an arena stage play it can also have a lot of heart.

That heart’s not going to get lost in the spectacle of it all?
JK: I don’t think so. No.

NJ: The animatronics aren’t about blowing something away - they’re about allowing those moments of intimacy and care.

In 2008, 'Shrek: The Musical' debuted on Broadway. Is 'Dragon' the second show in DreamWorks' new love affair with the stage?
JK: This is very different from that. That’s a traditional Broadway show and this is a whole new enterprise. Other arena shows, with the exception of ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’, which was the inspiration for us, have been much more modest and really geared to a much younger audience. What we’re trying to do here is redefine what an arena show can be. There’s a much greater level of sophistication and the production values of this is huge. Nothing has even been done like this before. And so I think this is creating a new kind of entertainment.

Do you have a favourite dragon?
JK: I’m always a fan of Toothless. I’m waiting for Toothless to fly. There are 5 flying dragons in the show.

The range of emotions the animatronics seem to have is remarkable.
NJ: That’s the key. Joy and excitement are great in an arena but if you can show an emotion in front of 15,000 people that’s a lot of emotion feeding in and out of one little boy in the middle of an arena. We’re committed to not doing a circus, we’re telling a very powerful and moving story.

Finally Jeffrey, can you tell us anything about the ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ sequel?
JK: It’s coming along. It’s actually got 2 parts to it. They’ll come back to back in 2014 and 2016. So they’re comin’.

© 2011 - 2024 SWITCH.
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us!