Wednesday, August 10, 2011
And The Tony Award Goes To....
This photo was taken during a production of The Miracle Worker in which Erin played Belle the Keller family dog and in this scene a young Helen Keller is attempting to teach sign language to Belle.
"Would you be interested in allowing your dog onstage in a play?" That was the question presented to me by a member of the drama department before morning service at a major Savannah Church and one which didn't involve much arm-twisting on their part. The staff's search for an "obedient hunting dog” had been unsuccessful until they heard of Erin through the grapevine thus I was approached with details about the dog's scenes and the drama department director was to be called if there was further interest on my part. This was an opportunity that couldn't be passed over so a call was placed the following morning to Wayne and Erin's therapy dog service, obedience training, friendly demeanor, etc was discussed at length and mutually we decided she would be perfect for the role of Belle.
Over the next several weeks Erin took part in rehearsals with her fellow co-stars and it's an understatement to say she had a great time. It took little time for Wayne to express complete confidence in my stage performer thus her scenes were rehearsed the bare minimum but that was okay as that decision allowed more time to bond with fellow co-stars. It was called rehearsal but in reality it was a chance for Erin to receive as much attention as possible and everyone treated their four-legged star with the utmost respect and affection. The cast and crew loved having her around and heaped praise upon her; children and adults alike doted on her and were constantly calling her name so she could wander over for a round of socialization. She often wandered around the auditorium 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 but without fail she always returned to lay near my feet. Another perk of rehearsals was the delicious catered food and we especially enjoyed the lasagna from Olive Garden; Erin never took her eyes off the fork as she knew I'd give her a portion and I most certainly did.
Erin was taken backstage as the auditorium overflowed with hundreds of paying customers while beaming lights, sound checks, racks of costumes and props told me it was almost show time. Reluctantly she was handed over to a teenage actor who would be her backstage guardian then I headed to a table near the stage where family members and loyal friends were sitting in anticipation of this once in a lifetime event. I was a nervous wreck waiting for the play to began and all I could think about was Erin backstage with strangers wondering why I deserted her. On cue she was led onto the stage by two youngsters holding the leash and they hit their mark where the scene unfolded around them; she did very well but I could tell she was searching for me in the crowd so that really stressed me out as I knew she missed me. The crowd buzzed upon seeing a dog onstage and murmurs could be heard at nearby tables about the doggie actor; I was beyond proud of my girl. At intermission I promptly went backstage to comfort her and the cast said she was very anxious due to my absence so I decided to remain backstage with her for the rest of the evening and future performances.
It was calming for both of us to be together backstage and when the time came for her scenes I reassured her "It's okay. Go on. Daddy will be right here" then she walked out into the blinding light. From the shadows I watched with a huge smile as Erin did remarkably well and when she was brought backstage I smothered her with affection and praise while her tail wagged a million miles a hour. 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 Helen's eyes, it was so touching and endearing to everyone in attendance. 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 indeed. After the audience retook 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 pay Erin a compliment, pet her on the head, and many praised me for raising a wonderful dog; it was an amazing experience for us in every aspect.
It was sad when the production ended as we made so many friends and shared many laughs along the way. Erin 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 condolence from Wayne on behalf of the drama department and a phone call during which he said everyone was saddened to hear of her sudden death; it meant alot to know she lived on in their hearts but that demonstrates how special my angel was.
And the Tony award goes to Erin Smith....