August 16, 2013
Several months ago, my sister volunteered to be in a play. This was not an official production or a project from a theater professor, but rather a thesis project for a friend of hers going for a Masters degree in Fine Arts. The concept behind the project was “unconventional casting”, where those who were selected to act in the play were not the people the audience would be expecting. For instance, one actor was in a wheelchair, some had visual problems, two men playing Brittish gentlemen were from India and the Middle East, men played women and vice versa, and so forth. The play these unconventional characters were to act out was an adaptation of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”, whose overarching theme of looking past initial impressions and surface traits went perfectly with the thesis.
Let me pause here, now that you know the project, and make one thing very clear: I had no interest, at all, in acting in this play. I’d done some acting in school and church plays and had not overly enjoyed the experience, plus I was not very good at even simple roles. So, when my sister asked me in May if I would be willing to be in the play, I refused. When she asked me again in June, saying that they really needed a few more actors to fill important roles, I said “Absolutely, let’s do it! I love acting!”
Yep, you got me. I actually refused a second time, despite her saying that the director loved the idea of one of the characters using a guide dog. When she asked (well, begged) me again in July, I finally gave in and requested a copy of the script. Long story short: I was at rehearsal the next week, ready to fill the role of Mr. Wickham, a womanizing, conniving, lying, smooth-talking jerk who is out to get everything he can from life, no matter what he does to anyone else. Let me rephrase that: Cosby and I showed up at rehearsal, and everyone loved him (but then, he’s a pure-bred yellow lab who loves people, so no one stood a chance against his charms).
Over the next few weeks, I memorized my lines and continued to attend practices. One Sunday, it was just my sister, the woman playing Elizabeth (with whom nearly all my lines took place), myself, and a snoozing Cosby. I was trying to go through my scenes from memory, and I was stuck on a line, so my sister muttered the first few words. Over the sound of the air conditioner, though, all I heard was something about Rutherford. I asked who Rutherford was, and Elizabeth quickly pointed out that, as Cosby did not yet have a stage name, he could be called Rutherford… and a star was born.
Let us now skip ahead to the three days in a row when we put on the play, one performance per day. First, though, remember that Cosb… sorry, Rutherford… is, shall we say, very economical of motion. If I stay too long in one place, especially indoors, he decides to go into energy-saving mode and lay down. The definition of “too long” can vary, though, depending on factors far beyond my ability to comprehend, and during the play performances, “too long” apparently meant about eight seconds. As soon as I paused, ready to walk from the side and over to where I was supposed to be once I got the cue, down he would go, and down he would stay, until I coaxed him into reluctant motion when it was time to go on-stage.
In some ways, his utter lack of willingness to move was good. During one scene, I had to perform a dance with three other people, and so I put him in a down-stay until the dance was over. He did not move, just as I knew he wouldn’t, but he was confused. Someone told me later that, during the first performance at least, he just stared over at me for the entire dance, with a look of complete perplexity on his doggie face… It was apparently hilarious.
Sometimes, though, his amazing ability to conserve energy and motion was a bit more problematic. For one scene, myself and Elizabeth were to walk slowly to the center of the set to simulate walking outside. We were at the edge, just starting to move, when Cosby decided that enough was enough and flopped onto the floor. Despite my entreaties with both quiet words and the leash, he insisted on playing the role of a Labrador statue (and, to his credit, he played it perfectly). So, not only could I not move without dropping the leash, Elizabeth couldn’t move… The statue had decided to lay on the train of her dress, and no amount of urging by me, or even physical pushing from a helpful extra, could get that dog to move an inch.
So, all in all it went well. Even when Rutherford was misbehaving, the audience thought he was adorable. In preparation for this event, I taught him the “bend” command, where he lowers his front half until the lower part of his front legs is on the ground, then stands back up, the closest a dog can get to bowing. Despite my best efforts, I could only get him to do it once, which was too bad. He did well at guiding me and ignoring the audience, thankfully, and except for his over-zealous love for making as much contact with the floor as possible, he did a good job.
Caleb arrives today! No, I’m not replacing Cosby–he’s still doing fine. My sister is returning from Guiding Eyes today with her first guide