Pets are no strangers to the stage. Dogs often steal the spotlight from their human costars in shows like Annie and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. William Berloni runs a company (William Berloni Theatrical Animals) in order to supply productions with the perfect animals. He found the original Sandy for Annie 35 years ago, and is currently training dogs for the upcoming Broadway revival of the show.
“What I look for are dogs that are dealing with that stress. If an animal can deal with an animal shelter, doing eight shows a week is a breeze. Those are the dogs I gravitate towards, and those are the dogs I tell people who want to adopt a good pet to gravitate towards.” After training the dogs for five to six months, the animals are ready for the stage. Berloni said, “My job is to teach the dog the pattern [of what’s going to happen in the show], make it fun, and keep the distractions at a minimum.”
However, controlling all variables is near impossible. A recent performance of Legally Blonde forced one actress to think quickly on her feet. Some audience members in the first row were eating fried chicken. She knew that when she brought the dog onstage, the smell would distract the animal. Berloni said, “She turned the dog upstage so she couldn’t get a whiff of it. And that’s what you do, as opposed to not being in tune with your canine partner, letting them get distracted, and then having to push them to the spot where they need to be.”
Actors have several tricks to keeping the dogs’ attention, including secretly giving them treats. Berloni said, “If an actor is on their game, in turns of handling the dog, they have to be in the moment.”