Friday, March 4, 2011
"Would you be interested in allowing your dog onstage in a play?" That was the question presented to me before morning service at a major Savannah Church and one which didn't involve much arm-twisting on their part. "The Miracle Worker" search for an "obedient hunting dog” had been unsuccessful until they heard of a church-attending dog named Erin. The premise of the play along with the dog's role was briefly explained and the drama department director was to be called if there was further interest on my part. A call was placed the following morning and while this offer produced both excitement and angst, this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed over. We discussed Erin's therapy dog service, obedience training, friendly demeanor, etc. and mutually decided she would be perfect for the role of Belle.
The following weekend she took part in her first rehearsal with her fellow co-stars and they treated their four-legged actress with the utmost respect and affection. It was called rehearsal but for Erin it was a chance to receive as much attention as possible while eating delicious food and sneak quick naps whenever possible. The cast and crew loved the non-human roaming around; children and adults alike continually doted on her while taking turns walking her around the auditorium. She often wandered off-leash exploring every inch that was made available to her while in pursuit was a gaggle of kids longing for a hug or a kiss on the cheek. Over the next several weeks, she got together with fellow cast mates to walk through their three scenes together and they all expressed confidence in her ability.
I walked Erin backstage as the auditorium overflowed with hundreds of paying customers while beaming lights, sound checks, set changes, racks of costumes and props told me it was show time. Amongst the crowd were family members and loyal friends who had come out to support us during this once in a lifetime event so reluctantly Erin was handed over to a teenage actor who would be her backstage guardian and I joined them at a table near the stage. When her first scene came, she was led onto the stage by two youngsters holding the leash and they hit their mark where the scene unfolded around her. The crowd buzzed upon seeing a beautiful dog onstage and you could hear murmurs at nearby tables. She did very well and lived to the hype of her co-stars but I could tell she was searching for me in the crowd; it stressed me out to think of her missing me. At the intermission, I went backstage to comfort her and decided to remain with her for the rest of the evening and at her side I remained for the following performances.
Erin’s scenes went very well including a pivotal scene where a young Helen Keller tries to teach Belle (Erin) sign language, it was so awesome to see just the two of them onstage with the spotlight shining upon them. Helen was sitting down with Belle’s paw in her hand instructing her in the art of signing while Belle looked lovingly into her eyes. During Erin’s scenes, I was hiding in the shadows watching as a proud father and loyal friend but otherwise we were backstage or hanging with the child performers in the church nursery. A standing ovation took place after each performance with Erin joining her human co-stars in soaking up the love of the audience; it was a special time for her. After the audience took their seats the cast lined up outside the door for a meet and greet with the spectators who streamed by to pay their respects to whomever they desired. So many people stopped to give Erin a compliment, a pet on the head, while praising me for raising a wonderful dog; it was a wonderful experience for us in every aspect.
It was bittersweet when the production ended as we made so many friends and shared in many laughs along the way. She had an incredible time, touched many hearts and I’ve never been prouder of her than at that moment; as always she never disappointed me. Everything she attempted was achieved with the highest results and her stint as a stage performer was no different, despite my worrying as a concerned father she was amazing every night and gave me many more great memories. After Erin’s passing I received a letter of condolences from the drama department director on behalf of the entire cast and crew, it meant alot to know she was still in their hearts years after the production but that says so much about my angel; she was very special. RIP Erin!!