How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular to Premiere in Australia

How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular to Premiere in Australia

In Melbourne this morning (March 7, 2012) Lucy Graham joined the media pack at Hisense Arena to meet the stars, ahead of the World Premiere of How to Train Your Dragon-Arena Spectacular.

After three months of rehearsals, Director Nigel Jamieson is ‘not getting too much sleep’, saying while the show is completely safe, there are so many interconnected computer cues, that the slightest glitch has the potential to bring the show undone.

Hisense Arena is a mighty large, three-dimensional stage. And it needs to be in order to accommodate the show’s stars. Twenty-four dragons dwarfed their human counterparts, who had to battle for our attention this morning.

Each of the five largest dragons weighs 1.6tons, that’s about the weight of your family car, and each requires three operators: one driver and two voodoo puppeteers, with one manipulating head, tail and gross motor movement, and the other minor movements such as eyes, mouth and roars.

The World Premiere of How to Train your Dragon – Arena Spectacular is the result of a creative partnership between RZO Dragon Productions, Global Creatures, responsible for the wildly successful Walking with Dinosaurs-The Arena Spectacular, and Dreamworks Theatricals.

The collaboration is one Global Creatures CEO Carmen Pavlovic says ‘fuses our own world-class technology with the vision and dedication of a company renowned for its cutting edge creativity and storytelling skill.’ 

Based on the 2010 DreamWorks animation movie which grossed approximately $500 million world-wide, How to Train Your Dragon is set in a Viking village, where young boy Hiccup, challenges his village’s established attitude to dragons, as creatures to be feared and therefore slain by the heroic dragon-slayers.

Auditions for humans were conducted in 13 international cities, before two young Australian performers clinched the roles. ‘We went all over the world and auditioned 2,000 people,’ said Jamieson, ‘and guess where we ended up!’

Hiccup is played by Rarmian Newton (Billy Elliot the Musical 2008), who hails from the Victorian city of Geelong. It’s a role that has him flying around the arena on a dragon’s back, being caught mid-air and even hanging by a dragon fin. Newton shares the role with young Hollywood actor Riley Miner.

The role of Astrid is played by nineteen year-old Queenslander Sarah McCreanor, who has been cast for her ‘impressive speed and prowess as a physical performer’. She shares the role with American stunt performer Gemma Nguyen, who is a third degree Black Belt, and six-time word champion in Tae Kwon Do.

With a cast and crew 80 strong, including circus and acrobatic performers, and innumerable technicians, How to Train Your Dragon will also make extensive use of projection, pyrotechnics, music and fire, and will require no less than forty semi-trailers to take it on tour.

How to Train Your Dragon is in Melbourne until 11th of March before travelling to Sydney (March 16-25), Brisbane (March 28 – April 1), Auckland and the USA. 

Check out Lucy Graham's review -

Our Earlier Coverage

Theatre Where Size Really Does Matter

Frank Hatherley ‘meets’ two dragons and a Hollywood legend at the launch of a $20million+ touring mega-production.

It’s a question of size. Stage Whispers writers are well attuned to offbeat venues, pokey platforms and cut-price creativity. Football-field-sized rehearsal rooms, giant computer-assisted props and $20m+ budgets are not our usual beat.

But my editor assures me it’s still theatre, so off I trot to the PR launch of How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular, the even more expensive follow-up to Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular. It’s ‘the first day of rehearsals’ and I’m to ‘meet the cast’ and a ‘stunning never before seen dragon’.

When I arrive outside Sound Stage 7 at Sydney’s Fox Studios I join a crowd of video crews and photographers. Instant mass publicity: luring the local media to ‘please, please take notice of our show’ is clearly not a problem here. Tall sound guys, their earphones already in place, jostle for position.

Constructed inside what was once the Easter Show’s mighty Commemorative Pavilion, Sound Stage 7 is a colossal 3,400 square metres of rehearsal space — sound-proofed, air-conditioned, with soaring arches. How much would it cost to hire this for a day? At one end a dozen young circus/gymnasts, flexible beyond belief, were whirling, flipping and martial artsing. One girl was swinging through space on a harness.

Dinosaurs had been a global hit. A co-production by The RZO Companies of New York and Melbourne-based animatronics aces Global Creatures, it has just ended a five-year world tour. The production, it says here, ‘played to 6.5 million people and has taken over $350 million at the gate’. No wonder they can spend big on the follow-up.

Now Dragon brings in a dynamic new partner, DreamWorks Theatricals. DreamWorks Animation had produced the hit 2010 movie ($500m worldwide gross) on which this show is based. And here, now, in Sound Stage 7 is legendary Hollywood figure Jeffrey Katzenberg, former Disney CEO, now CEO of DreamWorks. He’s a neat, slim, bespectacled figure and he ‘just loves’ coming to Australia.

Director and Adaptor of the new show is Nigel Jamieson. He directed a segment of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony and then developed the opening and closing of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. He’s done vivid proscenium arch work, too. His 2008 version of Gallipoli at the STC was memorable. Maybe I’ll ask him if he misses traditional stage work.

Now t-shirted Jamieson, much looser than the tight Katzenberg, takes charge. He turns the camera crews away from the rehearsing gymnasts to introduce Gronckle, star dragon of the event. “We’ve only had him for a day,” says Jamieson, “so he doesn’t yet have all his bells and whistles.” Down the long space, with booming background music and amplified roaring, stomps the undeniably impressive giant puppet/animatromic/robot.

Gronckle is being driven at floor level by an operator in what looks like a camouflaged go-kart, but he sure looks like he’s walking on his four thick legs. He’s got wings, evil-looking eyes that blink, and shiny teeth that look like they’ve just chomped some unspeakable breakfast. He puffs out volumes of smoke aligned with the roars. Apparently he will breathe convincing fire, too, come the day.

After Gronckle comes Nadder, a comedy dragon (you can tell from the tinkly soundtrack) with teeny wings and a rather threatening discharge hole at the rear. I note that when the soundtrack isn’t playing, each dragon’s manoeuvres sound like my electric mower from Bunnings.

During the action I note the raised platform full of the technicians. These are the ‘Voodoo Puppeteers’. Using wireless, remote-controlled joysticks, their nuanced hand movements control every aspect of a dragon’s performance. Each dragon has a driver and two VPs.How many backstage/technical staff must be needed to run the show! According to the PR notes, the touring cast and crew will number 80.

I also take note of the huge ceiling grid: a 3-ring track has been suspended over the studio floor. Soon dragons will be flying, no doubt ridden by their circus-trained human friends. I later learn that the space hasn’t been hired for a day or a week: silly me, it’s theirs for three months.

As the TV crews move in for their close ups, I join the line to talk with the two young Australian leads (Rarmian Newton and Sarah McCreanor - seen here meeting the Egg Biter - photographer: Jim Lee) and director Jamieson. I have decided not to bother Katzenberg who I overhear telling Channels 7 and 9 of his ‘excitement’ at this ‘spectacular version’ of an ‘enduring story’. What else is he going to say? He’ll certainly never give me the inside story of his split from Disney.

The actors are likewise ‘thrilled’, ‘blown away’, etc., so I decide to have my two minutes with Jamieson, who is juggling the PR madness with keen, blue-eyed professionalism.

Yes, he loves arena theatre: “with all these wonderful toys to play with we’ll be pushing technologies to new limits.” And the projections — he’s got 60 square metres of screens behind the action and 1000 square metres of floor underneath. March in Melbourne will be the start of a 5-year world tour and he will be seeing the show every three months. It’s already time for my Stage Whispers question: does he miss the proscenium arch? He looks at me archly. “Not at all. Now I can bring some theatre magic to people who never get the chance to go to the STC or whatever. I saw the previous Dinosaur Show in Bangkok recently. 100,000 people saw it in one week.” But...

He’s gone. More TV cameras await.

I leave the great hall, Easter Show venue of my childhood. I’m convinced that this is going to be a big show. Big big big. Really big. But is it Theatre?

How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular plays the Hisense Arena, Melbourne, 2-11 March; Acer Arena, Sydney, 15-25 March; Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 18 March – 1 April. It then goes to Auckland before its US tour, commencing in June.

Tickets (now available) range from $19.90 to $99.90.

Originally published in the January / February 2012 print edition of Stage Whispers.

More earlier coverage

On the eve of the World Premiere of How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular, the Seven Network aired an exclusive TV special, How To Train Your Dragon Comes To Life.

This exclusive television special delves behind the scenes during the creation of How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular. This arena show is based on Dreamworks' highly successful animated feature film How To Train Your Dragon. The publicity promises high-flying, fire-breathing dragons to life in an unprecedented live entertainment event.

The television special, to be aired nationally at 6.30pm on Saturday 4th February, will feature the cast and crew preparing for the show’s World Premiere in Melbourne in March. The star dragon of the show Toothless, will be introduced to viewers with his dark colour, piercing eyes, and lovable nature.

Audiences will also get a glimpse into what it takes to bring these mythical beasts to life via animatronics and 'voodoo' puppetry, and how these enormous creatures are brought to life through theatrical magic and ground breaking engineering. Audiences will also meet the entire cast as well as their favourite dragons from the film.

Cast members Rarmian Newton, Riley Miner, Sarah McCreanor and Gemma Nguyen look at various aspects of the production and how the engineers and creative team mount a spectacle of this size - from the massive wall-to-floor projections, to the amazing flying rig, to the dragons themselves. 

Dreamworks AnimationCEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, award-winning theatre director Nigel Jamieson and Creature designer Sonny Tilders, also take viewers behind-the-scenes for a rare look at how theatrical magic can transform an arena stage into a mythical world with dragons, vikings and images that will leave audiences in awe.

How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular will begin its World Tour in Melbourne in March 2012.

Image - Sarah McCreanor and Rarmian Newton meet the Deadly Nadder. Photographer: Jim Lee



Our Initial Coverage



Global Creatures, the masterminds behind the phenomenon Walking with Dinosaurs – The Arena Spectacular, and DreamWorks Theatricals are bringing high-flying, fire-breathing dragons to life in an unprecedented live entertainment event for a worldwide audience.  How to Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular is an epic arena adventure inspired by the Academy Award nominated DreamWorks Animation film, How To Train Your Dragon..

Performances will be held at Hisense Arena in Melbourne from March 2 to 11, Acer Arena in Sydney from March 15 to 25, and the Brisbane Entertainment Centre from March 28 to April 1. The production will then tour to Auckland before commencing its United States’ season in June 2012.

“In our film, audiences around the world were transported to the mythical world of Vikings and Dragons… and now, we are excited to immerse them in a one-of-a-kind live event in How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chief Executive Officer of DreamWorks Animation.

“The innovative team at Global Creatures and the creative storytellers at DreamWorks Animation have done an inspired job in every imaginable way to present this story on an unprecedented scale that will take audiences to unforgettable new heights.”

Global Creatures CEO, Carmen Pavlovic, explained “Working with DreamWorks has brought us into a relationship with one of the world's leading entertainment companies. The collaboration fuses our own world-class technology with the vision and dedication of a company renowned for its cutting-edge creativity and storytelling skill. We are excited to expand the boundaries of public expectation by creating a show that combines dynamic creatures, world class performers and incredible staging to not only thrill and intrigue, but to engage audiences on an emotional level as well.”

The live production is inspired by the phenomenally successful 2010 DreamWorks Animation film How To Train Your Dragon, which grossed approximately $500 million at the worldwide box office and was among the best-reviewed movies of 2010.  In How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular, audiences across the globe will have the unique opportunity to experience the world of How to Train Your Dragon in a one-of-a-kind, live theatrical event that promises to break every rule of traditional arena entertainment. In this state-of-the-art production, fire-breathing dragons will soar overhead, immersing audiences in a magical and mythical world of Vikings and Dragons.  The astonishing cast of characters features 24 Dragons, some with wingspans of up to 14 metres, Viking warriors and villagers as well as world-class circus and acrobatic performers. The arena spectacular will feature unrivalled production values, projections, flying, stunts, circus performers, fire and pyrotechnics. In one of the largest theatrical arena productions ever to go on tour, How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular will require an unprecedented 40 semi-trailers to transport the production around Australia.

How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular rolls fire-breathing action, epic adventure and laughs into an original story that is set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and is based on the book by Cressida Cowell. It centres on Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. 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 Dragons in How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular have been created by Sonny Tilders and his team at The Creature Technology Company, whose previous work brought to life the stunning, lifelike dinosaurs in Walking With Dinosaurs – the Arena Spectacular. Included in the cast of 24 Dragons are reincarnations of all of the favourites from the DreamWorks Animation film: Nadder, Gronckle, Nightmare, Toothless the Nightfury and Red Death, which is the single largest animatronic creature ever made by The Creature Technology Company. 

Creature Designer Tilders said “How To Train Your Dragon Arena Spectacular will incorporate everything we learned from Walking with Dinosaurs whilst taking the technology to a brand new level.  Using state of the art computer software we are able to make these creatures perform in ways that we previously thought unimaginable.  Utilising computer controlled flying systems we have created a show that inhabits the air above you as well as the arena floor below.”

The creative team includes theatre director and writer Nigel Jamieson, multiple award-winning Australian production designer Peter England, and leading theatre, film and opera designer Dan Potra amongst others.

The score features compositions from Icelandic singer-songwriter Jonsi from Sigur Ros and Oscar-nominated British film composer John Powell who created the original score for the Academy Award nominated feature film How To Train Your Dragon.

(From the media release.)

Tickets to HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON ARENA SPECTACULAR go on sale on Friday 19 August from or 132 849. 

Ticket prices range from $49.90 to $99.90

National Tour Dates:

MELBOURNE                      March 2 to March 11                    

SYDNEY                                March 15 to March 25                    

BRISBANE                            March 28 to April 1                

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