Dan Whitehead, instructor at The Bartitsu Club; I.O.W, has been able to reveal his involvment in the new, and until recently, closely guarded ‘Dinosaur Days’ project at Isle of Wight theme park, Blackgang Chine. Originally, Dan became involved two years ago at Blackgang as a swordsman and stage fight choreographer working with Patrick Barry of Cutting Edge Theatre. This year, the fight choreography has gone, but the childrens pirate swordfighting workshops have remained with the addition of the new dinosaur spectacle.
The dinosaur suits, which weigh about as much as a large sack of potatoes, were especially commissioned and it is believed that Blackgang is the only park in the U.K to have them. Dan worked closely with drama student Andrew Butcher and park manager Dan Selle in learning to operate the dinosaurs. This had to be done entirely from scratch in just a few weeks, as nobody involved had any previous experience of operating such large puppets. Dan and Andrew also collaborated in devising the interaction between the dinosaurs and the ‘handlers’. Using information from the Natural History Museum website, Dan and Andrew incorporated known facts about the dinosaurs in question, in this case baby Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Inspiration for the ‘handler’ characters and presentation methods came from the late, great Steve Irwin. Irwin, known as The Crocodile Hunter was a tireless Australian wildlife expert and conservationist who specialised in deadly reptiles. Famed for his enthusiasm, getting up close and even handling some of the worlds most deadly snakes and crocodiles, Irwin seemed the natural choice as the basis for a dinosaur handler. However, he was not the first. The initial idea to use the specialist dinosaur suits was put forward by local palaeontologist Oliver Mattson, who is now involved with running the newly refurbished Dinosaur Farm along the Military Road on the Isle of Wight. Oliver got Dan involved because of his acting experience and the fact that, in the initial idea, Dan would play a Victorian Palaeontologist complete with pith helmet and walking cane. Dan’s knowledge of fighting Victorian gentlemen due to his bartitsu studies was considered an asset, but as the project developed, Dan swapped his character to an Irwin-esque Australian.
Joined later in the project by young rugby players, Rob and yet another Dan. It fell to Dan Whitehead to train the other three members for the pirate sword fighting workshops and, together with Andrew, to train the new recruits in the operation of the dinosaurs. A number of Steve Irwins T.V programmes were studied, especially the joint presentation style of both Steve and his wife. ‘It was great to watch Steve Irwin again,’ said Dan Whitehead, ‘I’d forgotten just how nerve racking his shows could be, but his incredible excitement was just so infectious, you couldn’t help but love him. It’s just such a shame he had to pass away so early in his life’. Dan still holds his bartitsu classes on Monday evenings, with the dinosaur event on Tuesdays and Thurdays at Blackgang Chine. The pirate workshops are Wednesdays, also at Blackgang Chine. A link to the initial public reveal of the dinosaurs, filmed by Isle of Wight Radio, can be found below.http://www.iwradio.co.uk/articles/2013-08-01-baby-t-rex-dinosaurs-help-blackgang-chine-celebrate-anniversary
Blackgang Chine theme park; http://www.blackgangchine.com/
Isle of Wight Dinosaur Farm; http://dinosaurexpeditions.co.uk/
Steve Irwin’s legacy of wildlife conservation continues, please check out his official website; http://www.crocodilehunter.com.au/crocodile_hunter/about_steve_terri/