This week, the HP Pavilion at San Jose welcomes Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular. The groundbreaking production runs December 26 through December 30 in downtown San Jose, CA and brings the magic of the popular film How to Train Your Dragon to life, complete with live-action stunts and more than a dozen exquisite animatronic dragons.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Queenslander, Sarah McCreanor, who plays the role of the strong-minded Astrid. McCreanor spoke with me about how she got involved with the production, what part of the show is very exciting for her, and what makes the How to Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular stand out from other live events.
You’ve been a part of How To Train Your Dragon for over a year now; how did you get involved with the production?
Well, just like with any other show or tour, we had to audition. The audition process was pretty intense, but it was actually fun. It was like a circus workshop. And the director and the producer went around the globe twice to find what we have now, which is an international cast. It took a long time to hear back whether I had got a callback, then another couple months to find out that I actually got the part of Astrid.
Had you worked on a production like this before?
Absolutely not. This has not been done before, so I’ve never done anything to this scale. I don’t think anyone has; it’s such a huge experience. Previously, I had just been working on my own self-devised [shows], mainly comedy theatre or musical theatre, just with local companies. So, I hadn’t ever toured before. This is definitely a huge step for me.
What was training like during rehearsals for this show?
It was so fun, honestly, because everyone in the cast has such a different skill set. Everyone is so unique and diverse. Even to this day when we do warm-ups, which is every day before the show, we’re still teaching each other new tricks and new things, and still improving in our skills. The rehearsals were just a really big creative experience and workshop, where we got to try new things, experiment with things.
Also, since the show hasn’t been done before, we’re part of the first creative process. That’s something I really value, because we got to see it being built from scratch. It’s such an honor to be a part of that.
You’re playing the role of Astrid. Can you tell me a little bit about her?
Yeah, Astrid – she’s the “girl power” of the show. She’s very feisty and determined, and quite confident with herself. She is striving to be the best dragon trainer and along the way, Hiccup [played by Rarmian Newton/Riley Minor], who is a bit of a nuisance to her, starts taking over and she’s not very keen on that. But she’s got a really strong character and a bit of a dry sense of humor. It’s fun to play her onstage. She’s really strong.
I also share the role with Gemma Nguyen, who is from L.A., that’s been real interesting, as well. Primarilarily, I’m a dancer and Gemma is a six-time world champion in sport karate. Definitely during the rehearsals, I was very intimidated, thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have never done that before.” We’ve taught each other so many different things. It’s really been great getting to see what we’ve both brought to the role of Astrid. Being able to share that, as well, has been really an interesting experience for both of us.
Is there a scene of yours that has become your favorite and keeps the show exciting for you each night?
You know what, flying a dragon every night is still really thrilling. It’s not something you can just sort of sit through on auto-pilot and think, “Ah, OK, whatever. I’m gonna fly a dragon.” It’s actually really exciting every single night. It’s actually one of my favorite parts. We get to fly over the audience’s heads. We get to see their faces light up, and at the end of the show, we get to even wave at the kids, and that is such a really cool moment in the show for me.
I know that the dragons are being managed by operators, but does it ever get scary riding the dragons as you’re going over the audience?
It’s not scary as much, it’s more exciting, for me. Also, we’ve got things to think about when we’re on the dragon. We’re still in character, we’re acting, we’ve got lines, but then every now and then you do realize that you’re 17 meters in the air, and this is pretty much a dragon roller coaster. It kind of gives me goosebumps every night, and I love it. Prior to this show, I had never actually been on a roller coaster, so this is a new way of getting rid of my fear. It’s still really fun; it’s just like a ride.
You get to work with these magnificent animatronic dragons –how different is it acting with the dragons versus acting with your human co-stars?
You know what, it’s like acting with a pet, because there’s three to four people, rigger operators, working a dragon at one time, so it is actually working with them. They all have their own personalities. Each dragon has their own special tricks and little jokes that they might know on stage.The whole time you’re aware of what they’re going to be doing, because even though it’s really fun and it could be really playful, they are huge dragons, and we do have to get out of the way if they’re walking or running towards us.
They feel real. They feel so real and look so real, so when I’m on stage, I’m not even really acting, I mean, if a dragon is charging at me, I run away automatically. They’re so unusual and so quirky, it’s been such an awesome experience working with dragons on stage.
You mentioned that this is the biggest touring experience you’ve had; what has been your favorite part about touring?
Definitely the travelling has been amazing. I’ve been to so many new places that I never thought I would ever get to. To be able to do it and see these places in this way has been unbelievable. This is my first time in America, as well. My favorite part about this whole experience is still before each show when we do a meet and greet with the kids, who buy the VIP package. That is so exciting, because we get to meet them, we get to give them high fives, we get to take photos with them. It’s so exciting doing that, because it just reminds me every night that this is such an experience for these kids and these families coming to see the show. It’s like their dreams coming true, and it kind of just gives you a boost, and that really helps when you perform every night, and I love that feeling.
What do you think makes the How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular stand out from other types of live events?
Well, first of all, there’s dragons on stage and that’s not a very common thing in live theatre. The difference between the movie and the show is that these creatures are coming to life in front of you. When you’re sitting in the audience, you’ve got flames bursting in front of you, and you can feel the heat. You’ve got bubbles in your face, then you’ve got dragons above your head. It really just feels like you’re part of the village; it feels like you’re there with us. I think that’s such a really cool experience for the audience members, because it really just embraces you. It’s just such a unique experience that has not been done before. I’m lucky enough to actually sit in the audience sometimes and get to feel that side of it and it’s thrilling.
Photo credit: Dreamworks Animation