Throughout the years, canines have had their time in the spotlight.
From the heroic rough collie Lassie to Frasier Crane’s father’s wire-haired Jack Russell terrier Eddie, there is no shortage of memorable pooches who’ve made their foray to the big screen.
Hounds have also been a part of the live music scene.
During Sublime concerts, Lou Dog — the Dalmatian of lead singer Bradley Nowell — would often stroll the stage as band members jammed out. Even Brit rockers Pink Floyd collaborated with a German Shepard, called Seamus, in the ‘70s.
“A dog onstage is magical, he’s listening and watching and the audience can see the intelligence at work,” said Tim Orr, Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s artistic director. “We see dogs every day in our lives, but when one steps onto a stage, we fall in love all over again. I can’t explain it.”
While organizers are open to any breed of dog, they are hoping to cast a couple that are relatively calm and almost unfazed by their surroundings. Ideally, two dogs would share the role of Crab.
“There’s a great moment in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ when Crab the dog patiently listens to his master’s complaints about life and he’s thoroughly unmoved,” Orr said.
During Orr’s time at CSF, he doesn’t recall ever seeing a dog on stage.
“This is a first,” Orr said.
Bright lights and big crowds shouldn’t excite the potential four-legged thespians. Given the fact that the Mary Rippon Theatre is an outdoor venue, the sight of the occasional speedy squirrel, soaring bird or other creature shouldn’t stir the pups.
“What is the perfect dog?” Orr said. “A calm, maybe older dog that would be comfortable in front of an audience — possibly not too interested in the occasional rabbit darting across the theater. That would be a bonus.”
Crab’s disposition in this early Shakespearean work is described as indifferent, and that’s a quality auditioning canines should have.
“In this particular production of ‘Two Gents,’ the perfect pup for Crab would be the canine version of Buster Keaton,” said Carolyn Howarth, the play’s director “I’d love to work with a zen doggy who possesses the perfect deadpan response to most excitement.”
Howarth has worked with dogs before in other productions outside of CSF, including performances of “Two Gents.”
“It’s such a fun element of the play and usually steals the show,” Howarth said. “Dogs are always in the moment.”
“The Two Gentlemen of Verona” rehearses on the CU Boulder campus from May 17-June 5. An impressive 21 planned performances will run from June 5-Aug. 7.
“I also directed a hyperactive Border Collie in a world premiere play set in the American West,” Howarth said “She was perfect for the role, but a total challenge. She wanted to herd the actors. And was quick to excitement. But played her part wonderfully.”
CSF is offering a stipend of $300 to the owner/handler for the rehearsal period and the dog won’t be needed at every session. In addition, they will receive $50 per performance, plus eight complimentary tickets to the season.
If seating is available, the handler can also watch the show each night with a guest. Backstage handling procedures of the dog will be discussed.
“The pup has to be specially cared for backstage and carefully rehearsed so they understand the show, so they feel comfortable,” Orr said. “The benefit is a live dog makes live theater feel even more alive.”
Crab has several scenes with the character of Launce, Proteus’s servant.
“I love dogs, so I’m always delighted to make a new doggy friend,” said Gary Alan Wright, who will play Launce. “They have such distinct personalities and they’re always honest, always in the moment, always emotionally available — all very important qualities for an actor.”
This is Wright’s eighth season with CSF. He has appeared in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” “The Inspector General,” “Treasure Island,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and many other productions.
“There are plenty of humans in this play, but only one dog, so my goal will be to not get in the way of the audience enjoying Crab’s performance,” Wright said.
Wright is enthused to revisit this role he played two decades prior.
“I’m super excited to have another shot at this role,” Wright said. “I played Launce once before, about 20 years ago. Very different stage in my development as an actor — and as a person. So my approach to the scenes and my relationship with my furry scene partner will be very different this time.”
While “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” offers audiences plenty of comedic moments, a love triangle, a band of outlaws and bumbling servants, it’s likely Man’s Best Friend will be the real draw for theatergoers.
“For one thing, I’m finally ready to admit that the dog is much more interesting than I am,” Wright said. “Probably a better actor, too. And I’m at peace with that. So my mantra will be ‘I don’t have to get what I want from Crab, I just have to want what I get.’”
Those interested in signing their dog up for auditions can do so my accessing this sheet: forms.gle/gi4DWZpXwUE8UJ9T9. If you have difficulty accessing the Google doc, email Kurt Mehlenbacher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Who wouldn’t want to audition dogs?,” Howarth said. “They are endlessly entertaining.”