Puppet Arms Are More important than you think
by Allyson Cabot, P.T., Dawn-Marie Ickes, M.P.T., and Gabrielle Shrier, M.P.T.
The inherent nature of Pilates and its adaptability for a wide range of different body types, functional demands and fitness levels has made it one of the most rapidly growing methods of conditioning in the past 5 years. With over 10 million people in the US who practice it regularly, it is not surprising that we are seeing the application of it in some very unique and innovative settings.
The Education and Exhibits division of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is constantly looking for new ways to inspire learning and excite potential scientists of all ages. In 2006 the Dino Hall, which displayed the museum's Mesozoic fossil collection, closed for renovations. The museum was looking for a 'dinosaur experience' for the public until the Hall reopened in 2011. The then-head of the museum's Education Department suggested commissioning Erth Inc. of Australia to make dinosaur puppets to be used in theatrical and educational shows. After months of planning and building, Erth delivered juvenile T. Rex and Triceratops puppets to the NHM , and Dinosaur Encounters was born.
In early 2010, the program expanded to include another full suit costume, a reconstruction of Smilodon fatalis, built by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. The North American Mammal Hall was renovated to have a stage, a bank of theatre lights, and sound and light control system. Ice Age Encounters debuted in November 2010.
From the summer of 2008 to the summer of 2011, the Performing Arts Department has produced approximately 3000 shows for over 500,000 audience members. Today they produce approximately 20-25 shows per week, generate their scripts in-house, and the production assistant's facilitate all aspects of every show. With such a large number of shows per week the museum recognized a need to establish an injury prevention and conditioning program for its performers.
Core Conditioning partners Allyson Cabot, P.T., Dawn-Marie Ickes, M.P.T., and Gabrielle Shrier, M.P.T. were approached by the NHM for a wonderful and exciting opportunity in conjunction with their puppeteer program .
Last Year, Core Conditioning was commissioned by NHM to provide screening, assessment and an injury prevention program designed for the puppeteers, who operate the life-size puppets in their "Dinosaur Encounters" show. These large puppets, weighing between 70-75 pounds, provide unique challenges to the performance artists who operate them. Allyson, Dawn-Marie, and Gabrielle spent time observing the performers both inside and outside of the animatronic devices along with the crew from the Jim Henson Studio, Erth Visual and Physical Inc, who are credited with the creation of these amazing creatures.
Eight participants were screened, data was collected, and specific exercise protocols were prescribed utilizing the Pilates Mat, Allegro Tower of Power, Springboard, the EXO chair and a variety of different props.
What stood out from the assessments of the performers was the unique aspects of each puppeteer's "weak links" and how the demands of the juvenile T. Rex and Triceratops were so vastly different. The Pilates method was the perfect fit for the development of a program to address variable performance requirements and the different needs of the performers who come from a wide range of movement backgrounds.
Ken Endelman, a devout supporter of the arts, was contacted by Core Conditioning to see if Balanced Body might be interested in supporting the project. Everyone involved with the project was thrilled with Ken's response. Balanced Body connected the museum with donors as well as providing equipment themselves in support of the Pilates injury prevention program. An Allegro Tower of power, a Spring Board and an EXO Chair were obtained for the museum and are the fundamental pieces currently being utilized for this program.
“The Core Conditioning team was very patient and wonderful. Even though I had a semester in Tai Chi (which is very core movement based), my body had become accustomed to muscling weights around in the gym. With Core Conditioning, you aren't allowed to muscle and ‘cheat’ your movements; the experts at Core Conditioning kept me true to the core-based movements, and were very patient in helping me to maximize my strength on the Pilates Machines. Since all bodies are different, I was very impressed with how insightful they were in spotting how an individual is compensating for the full movement. They were able to teach me what ways I was specifically selling myself short: that's an amazing skill and quite helpful. ”
-Brian Meredith (Puppeteer Lead)
Core looks forward to a continued relationship with the Natural History Museum, providing ongoing support with body conditioning and injury prevention.