Fire shooting and flying dragons will invade Quicken Loans Arena in September and one man will control the creatures eyes and other movements.
Gavin Sainsbury is the head puppeteer for the show–HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON LIVE SPECTACULAR–coming to The Q Arena, Wednesday, Sept. 5 – Saturday, Sept. 8. Show times are:
- Wednesday – Friday –7:00 p.m.
- Saturday – 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Click here for ticket information.
I talked with Sainsbury in June while he was in Wilkes-Barre, PA–the first stop of the show’s North American tour. The show features 23 dragons, standing 20 feet tall with wingspans up to 46 feet. While actors drive the puppets, Sainsbury is the remote control puppet strings, who maneuvers the dragon’s eye movements.
Sainsbury shared with me how he recalls from a very early age, his mother making puppets for him. Growing up in Australia, he decided to take a puppetry course at school.
“I began playing with puppets when I was 11 years old. I put on my first show, Jack and the Beanstalk,” Sainsbury said with a laugh. Performing in the school concert, Sainsbury says he remembers getting a pretty good round of applauds. That’s when he knew he was onto something.
“I started getting booked to do shows; was doing multicultural festivals, so I was earning money when I was about 11 years old. Somebody would call me and say, ‘can you do a show.’ I was in demand for some time,” Sainsbury reminisced.
Throughout school, he continued to do shows. As a teen, he would get the ultimate break.
“At 15, I got my first professional gig at a theme park in Sydney, Australia called Wonderland,” Sainsbury said. He got to operate string puppets for Hanna-Barbera characters. You know–Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, Wilma and Betty. (I’m having a flashback right now of Fred yelling, ‘Yabba-Dabba-Do’ AND Fred starting the car with his feet.)
Sainsbury worked at the theme park for nearly eight years. He continued to sharpen his skills and would later score many opportunities to perform at schools.
“I did one-man shows around Australia for about three years, performing for school children. Schools would book shows everywhere near South Wales, Queensland. I would do around 900 schools a year. That was lots and lots of fun,” Sainsbury said.
Referring to those one-man shows at schools as one of the highlights of his career, Sainsbury said of the children, “they’re a hard audience, but very loving.”
While in Wilkes-Barre rehearsing for the opening of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON LIVE SPECTACULAR, Sainsbury said he got to see his first fireflies. “I felt like a little boy,” he laughed. I told him he’d also experience that boyish feel in Cleveland, as the city that rocks also has its fair share of the beetles–often called lightning bugs.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON LIVE SPECTACULAR is a state-of-the-art show that allows the audience to experience larger-than-life sized dinosaurs, soaring around the arena at great speeds.
Excited about the production, Sainsbury told me it’s a family show with an emphasis on relationships.
“It’s a story about a relationship between a young boy and his pet, a relationship between different species. Everyone has a pet when they’re a child. The other part is the relationship between a boy and a father. He doesn’t get along with his father; they don’t see eye-to-eye, as many boys don’t agree with their father when they go through their youth.”
Another key message in the show, Sainsbury says, is how one person can say something a little different and it can change the world. “This boy sees these creatures in a different way. Once this boy encounters the dragon, Toothless, they both realize they’re in similar situations.” The moral of the story: don’t judge a book by its cover.
Sainsbury calls the show a theatrical extravaganza. It’s based on the animated movie, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, released in 2010 and produced by DreamWorks Animation.
Asked what’s next for Sainsbury, he quickly replied, “Oh, I’m just getting started. I love my job and I love working for DreamWorks.”