Lit­tle or­phan Sandy

Af­ter the hard-knock life, shel­ter dog gets new life on the stage of Zilker Sum­mer Mu­si­cal ‘An­nie’

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By Claire Cana­van

Sandy, a shaggy-mixed breed dog star­ring in the Zilker Sum­mer Mu­si­cal “An­nie,” which opened Fri­day, might be Austin’s new­est method ac­tor.

When ac­tors use “the method,” they draw on their own ex­pe­ri­ences and mem­o­ries to in­fuse their char­ac­ters with life. In this case, Sandy’s re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence as a home­less dog wan­der­ing the streets is help­ing her bring a touch of au­then­tic­ity to her role as the stray dog that be­friends an or­phan girl named An­nie.

Sandy’s jour­ney from an­i­mal shel­ter to stage be­gan when Melinda Parr, the ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “An­nie,” and Su­san Pat­ton, founder of Haute Dog mag­a­zine, a pub­li­ca­tion with re­sources for Austin dog lovers, de­cided to part­ner to­gether to res­cue a dog from a lo­cal shel­ter and cast her in the mu­si­cal.

“An­nie” has a legacy of us­ing res­cue dogs. The 1977 Broad­way pro­duc­tion also cast a shel­ter dog that went on to be­come one of the long­est-run­ning ca­nine per­form­ers in Broad­way his­tory.

Haute Dog Mag­a­zine de­cided to spon­sor the months-long “Share. Care. Sandy.” project, which would mean res­cu­ing a dog from a Cen­tral Texas shel­ter, fos­ter­ing and train­ing her, shar­ing her story through a blog (share­care­sandy.word­ on the mag­a­zine’s web­site, and work­ing to find her a per­ma­nent home af­ter the show.

Pat­ton re­cruited Joyce Martin, a pro­fes­sional dog trainer who uses only pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment, a sys­tem based on re­ward­ing dogs for good be­hav­ior.

Ini­tial cri­te­ria for pick­ing a dog in­cluded re­siliency, as well as a friendly and train­able per­son­al­ity.

Martin got a call from a Cen­tral Texas shel­ter about a se­nior dog that might be a good can­di­date. When she went to meet the dog, she kept hear­ing an­other dog bark­ing in the back­ground.

Con­tin­ued from F

“Fi­nally I turned, and here was this big, goofy, fuzzy dog leap­ing into the air, bark­ing, as if to say, ‘What about me?’” Martin laughs. “I said, ‘That’s the dog I want!’ I was look­ing for one that showed po­ten­tial to be fo­cused on peo­ple and had some spunk.”

The dog, who has been re­named Sandy, had been at the shel­ter for sev­eral weeks and was cov­ered in ticks and fleas.

“She had not been trained,” Pat­ton said. “She had no man­ners. But she was happy and kind and sweet, the things you can’t train in a dog.”

Martin brought Sandy home and gave her time to ad­just to her new sur­round­ings. Sandy vis­ited the vet, where she got spayed, vac­ci­nated and spruced up. At home, Martin fo­cused on the ba­sics of house and crate train­ing.

Then she be­gan teach­ing Sandy to sit, lie down and come when called. The pair worked on ba­sic obe­di­ence for at least three ses­sions a day. Sandy also went out on fre­quent trips to meet new peo­ple and get used to dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments. “She re­ally is a so­cial but­ter­fly,” said Martin.

Fi­nally, it was time to meet the cast of “An­nie.” Di­rec­tor Michael McKelvey worked to put to­gether the dog’s script, which broke down all the things Sandy would need to do dur­ing the show.

Martin then worked closely with Sarah Ni­chols and Jor­dan Mor­gan, who al­ter­nate play­ing the role of An­nie, to teach them hand sig­nals they can use to cue Sandy. The girls also spent ex­tra time get­ting to know Sandy so that she re­sponds to their cues.

Martin wanted them to un­der­stand that “a dog is led by the nose. You can get her at­ten­tion with the nose and the dog will fol­low you any­where.” In Sandy’s case, her nose pre­ferred to fol­low hot dogs.

At a re­hearsal the week be­fore open­ing night, ac­tors belted out the cho­rus of “Hooverville.” Sarah Ni­chols guided Sandy into place by her col­lar, while Sandy looked like she wanted to run and join the danc­ing cho­rus.

Be­tween scenes, Sandy re­laxed, pant­ing in the sum­mer hu­mid­ity. Jor­dan Mor­gan came over to spend time with her. “It’s so much fun,” Mor­gan said. “I love dogs, and this one is ex­tra­or­di­nary.” Mor­gan grabbed an orange mon­key, one of Sandy’s fa­vorite toys, and the two had a vig­or­ous tug-of-war.

Be­cause Sandy is not an ex­pe­ri­enced per­former, the cast has had to learn to ex­pect the un­ex­pected. “In the next scene, they want her to look sad and lonely when she comes across the stage. One day she might do that, but the next she might gal­lop across like a pony,” Martin said.

There’s a say­ing in the theater that you shouldn’t have chil­dren and dogs on­stage be­cause they are no­to­ri­ously un­pre­dictable, which McKelvey ac­knowl­edges with a laugh.

Af­ter one re­hearsal that did not go so well, “the dog came back out 15 min­utes later and was fan­tas­tic,” he said. “It’s a moment by moment ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“An­nie,” which in­cludes mu­sic by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Mee­han, is ap­proach­ing its 35th an­niver­sary, and plans are un­der way for a Broad­way re­vival in 2012.

McKelvey be­lieves the story is time­less. The show, set dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, re­volves around an or­phan girl who wins the af­fec­tion of wealthy Oliver War­bucks, Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt and the en­tire au­di­ence with her eter­nal op­ti­mism.

“I am hop­ing we get au­di­ences of all ages out there,” McKelvey said. “We’re try­ing to make this a fast-run­ning, fam­ily-friendly show.” But don’t bring your pooch, as bark­ing dogs in the au­di­ence could be too great a dis­trac­tion for Sandy.

Ap­pli­ca­tions to adopt Sandy are avail­able. Rais­ing aware­ness about pet adop­tion is even more im­por­tant now that Austin is mov­ing to­ward a nokill pol­icy, Pat­ton said. “There will be more dogs in need of good homes. Sandy is the per­fect ex­am­ple of a res­cue dog that can be the star of a show, the star of your life.”

So how is Sandy han­dling all this pres­sure? A week be­fore open­ing night, Sandy sat back­stage with Mor­gan, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to her new role. She didn’t ap­pear wor­ried. She just looked around ex­cit­edly, ready to make her en­trance.

Jar­rad hen­der­son pho­tos AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Sarah Ni­chols, 15, and Jor­dan Mor­gan, 1 , who will share the role of An­nie, play with Sandy dur­ing re­hearsal for the Zilker Sum­mer Mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion of ‘An­nie.’ Like the dog in the mu­si­cal, Sandy is an or­phan. She was found in a shel­ter and still needs a per­ma­nent home.

Sandy has her own blog: share­care­sandy.word­ En­tries de­tail her daily life while she gets ready for the mu­si­cal, which opened Fri­day.

Jar­rad Hen­der­son pho­tos amer­i­can-states­man

Sandy has been liv­ing with pro­fes­sional dog trainer Joyce Martin while learn­ing the many tricks she’ll need to per­form on stage. Hot dogs seem to mo­ti­vate Sandy to fol­low the ac­tors.

Jor­dan Mor­gan leads Sandy off­stage dur­ing a scene in which the lo­cal dog catcher threat­ens to take Sandy away.

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