Extinct, but still roaring
August 27, 2012
Call it morbid curiosity. There’s a brave saber-toothed cat on its way to the La Brea Tar Pits, where thousands of its kind met a sticky prehistoric demise. The new cat—actually a mechanized puppet of the extinct Smilodon fatalis—is the star of the live educational show Ice Age Encounters.
The show and the puppet got their start at the Natural History Museum, where they entertained about 45,000 guests in 2011. The Page Museum, located at the Tar Pits, aims to make the Ice Age show a hot ticket in its new location.
“We’re hoping our show will bring more audiences to the Page, especially school groups and families on the weekend,” said Peter Wylie, who manages the show. “It provides a nice, easy introduction to help people appreciate all of the various artifacts throughout the museum.”
Museum paleontologists bring scientific legitimacy to the performance, incorporating the latest theories on the animals’ appearance and behavior while providing details about how the cats became trapped and fossilized. The performances will add a new dimension to the museum, which is also an active laboratory for fossil excavation, repair and identification.
The saber-toothed cat was built in Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, famous for breathing life into the Muppets and the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are. Operating the life-sized puppet requires two people working together. An actor is harnessed into the 70-pound contraption and outfitted with forearm stilts. A second puppeteer works the robotic head—which bites, blinks and roars—by remote control. A cub, controlled marionette-style, is part of the act, too.
Audiences will watch Ice Age Encounters and other museum programs in The Page’s newly-renovated East La Brea Theater, which Wylie says provides an “intimate, up-close” experience with brand-new technology.
Sneak preview performances will be held at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 1:45 p.m. on Labor Day, Monday, September 3. Regular performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays start September 12. Details are here. The show is free with admission to the museum.