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Published Oct. 18, 2005

For several weeks now, Bill Lorenzen has been creating props for the University of South Florida's upcoming production of The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder, a play that is full of contradictions in time and space. For Lorenzen, this is just another one of his more than 250 productions, most for USF, where he is a professor in theater and a master puppetmaker.

"The play is full of anachronisms," says Lorenzen, "to show how yesterday, today and tomorrow are all the same in dealing with a crisis."

The play is about the Antrobus family, a symbolic family of loveable folks who through the ages have survived a thousand calamities . The first act has them facing a new disaster _ a new Ice Age, with an impending glacier about to sweep away home and hearth.

The two family pets are also at risk _ a dinosaur and a woolly mammoth named Frederick and Dolly, respectively.

The human-sized puppets are made of a variety of materials, from foam rubber and PVC plastic pipe to crushed upholstery velvet ("which we got on sale; we could never have afforded it otherwise," Lorenzen notes) and balls of yarn.

Fred the dinosaur is being built around 6-foot Wade Bombenger. "We have to build these things on their bodies," Lorenzen explains. The dinosaur is being constructed so that "the whole head-neck thing is on a construction hardhat. He's in a walking position," Lorenzen explains.

"He has this long, lashing tail behind, like a V-shaped sock, filled with plastic rubber balls and plastic jack-o-lanterns for the light weight, with a big fishing weight at the end. He swings his rear end and his tail moves back and forth," Lorenzen explains.

Andrea Chrien, who will be inside Dolly the woolly mammoth, will be walking on all fours. However, to keep her from looking like she's going downhill all the time, special crutches out of PVC pipe are being built for her arms and hands so her arms and legs will be of equal length.

These are just two of 67 costumes for this production.

Lorenzen says foam is used for its light weight and the heaviest part of each costume will be the crushed velvet covering. "It's kind of like wearing two overcoats," he says. Underneath, the actors will be dressed in cotton to absorb the perspiration, sweat bands and towels around their necks.

Lorenzen has been making adult puppets for years. He is on the cover of this month's issue of The National Journal of Puppeteers of America, and he designed The World Showcase Marionette Theater that opened EPCOT at Walt Disney World and ran for 3,000 performances.

The Skin of Our Teeth will be staged in Theater 1 at 8 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 1) through Saturday and again Nov. 7-10 on the Tampa campus. General admission is $6; students and senior citizens pay $3.50. For reservations: 974-2323 (Tampa).

KESTREL INC. will present the Florida premiere of Gilles Segal's The Puppetmaster of Lodz this weekend through Nov. 24 at the Boatyard Village, 16100 Fairchild Drive, Clearwater.

First produced in France in 1984, this is the fourth production of this play in the United States, according to Nan Colton, director. The story focuses on a Jewish victim of the Holocaust who remains in hiding long after the fall of Hitler's regime. Alone, he creates a mythical reality of puppets that transforms his suffering into a bearable existence.

Kestrel Inc. will offer audience-cast discussions _ "talk backs" _ for interested individuals upon request.

The production will feature Mort Lubitz as the puppetmaster.

Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10. Call 536-8299 (Pinellas).