Little Rock’s Newest Actors Take a Bow-Wow
There’s not a lot of difference between Skye and Caledonia (Cali) Lind and any other budding pair of actors. Both throughly size up an interviewer before settling into the process of dealing with the press. Both face long hours of rehearsal to develop chemistry with their fellow performers. And both feed off of the rewards that come with a job well done.
In fact, if not for their being dogs, you might not notice them as different at all.
“Skye is more energetic; she’s like always panting, bouncing up and down. Cali’s calm and collected,” said Ruby Reeves, who plays the lead in “Annie” with the two Collies. “When I was training with them I could see the difference of how they were because of who they were.”
The actress and her canine co-stars couldn’t be more different from an experience perspective. Reeves, 12, has been appearing in shows for three years in Benton and Little Rock and has an eye on a career in musical theatre. She topped a field of 40 would-be Annies who auditioned for the production, to be presented this fall at Wildwood Park for the Arts in Little Rock.
Three-year olds Cali and Skye, co-cast as Annie’s dog Sandy, are rank novices to the stage and were invited to the project when artistic director Dr. Bevan Keating contacted his friend and co-worker Vicki Lind, the pups’ owner.
“Dr. Keating and I work together at UALR; I teach music education, he’s the choral director,” Lind said. “He’s followed the dogs since I got them. He’s watched what we’ve done and has always been really encouraging about it. When he wanted to do ‘Annie’ he asked if I’d be interested in having the puppies participate.”
Keating said the role of Sandy is a more substantial animal part than other productions, therefore, he needed canines that could stay calm and follow commands before a crowd.
“Lots of times in live theater when you use animals they have one small role. Dog walks across the stage, hug dog, get off the stage quick before something happens kind of idea,” he said. “In this case, Sandy has been a character that has been in the comics all the way back in the 1930s and ’40s. Without having a Sandy you’re actually taking away from what people’s expectations are as an audience. So I really like the challenge of the expectation that Annie and Sandy are integral to the story and not to be a distraction to that story.”
Lind adopted Skye and Cali as puppies with the intention of turning them into therapy dogs and both animals have undergone extensive training for that purpose. Cali already holds therapy certification and is set to test to become a crisis response dog in September. Skye has a few more classes to go, but both are at ease in situations that would bother many animals, reducing the chances they’ll succumb to doggie stage fright.
“What I’ve done with these two since the beginning is take them into every situation I can where dogs are welcome,”she said. “They love Bass Pro Shop; I love taking them there because it’s a highly stimulating environment and they get to meet a lot of people there and there are a lot of noises.”
Therapy dogs differ from service dogs in that service dogs are specifically trained to help people with physical challenges such as blindness live independently. Therapy dogs are used to calm humans in highly stressful situations such as hospitals or crisis shelters. In Little Rock, therapy dogs are used in nursing homes, at some counseling centers and in schools.
Central Arkansas Library System even brings service dogs into some library branches as part of the Tail Waggin’ Tutors program whereby children can read to a dog, helping them improve their reading skills and confidence.
“If there’s an earthquake, a fire or a flood, the crisis shelters invite therapy dogs in just to be a presence. Therefore, they’re training for an environment which is very noisy,” Lind said. “They both passed the Canine Good Citizenship test and one of the things they do on that is make loud noises to see how the dogs react.”
“(At rehearsals) we’ll have people in the audience walking and making noise. I do jumping jacks in front of them, I use squeaky voices, I do all these things around them to purposely desensitize them to things going on around them. And we’ll have Ruby do the same thing; she’s going to have to teach Sandy to stay on the stage and not move for a while.”
Reeves met the dogs at audition callbacks where the four Annie finalists were judged in part on how well they interacted with the pups. Having two dogs of her own, she said it was love at first sight.
“I immediately felt comfortable since I’ve been around dogs for a while,” she said. “They were just so sweet and easy to work with. It wasn’t hard to get used to them.”
Even so, everyone admits there’s a chance the dogs could spook during a performance and run right through the audience.
And if that happens?
“Well, that’s why Ruby’s our choice for Annie; she’s shown she can ad lib,” said Keating with a big laugh. “Just chase him through the audience and it’ll be the highlight. It’ll be great.”