Every show has two dogs, or two cats, or
two rats, because just like the humans, in case one were to become ill, we’d have
to have a backup. [MUSIC] Hi, Bill Berloni, theatrical
animal trainer. We actually teach the actors, who are
interacting with the dogs, to be professional handlers.
So we train the actors how to handle them, how to correct them, how to reward
them. And also what to do if they make a
mistake. Just like any other part of the
theatrical magic that we make. We want things to happen that the
audience may not be aware of how it’s done.
And so we create hand signals or phrases that mean something to the animals but
the audience doesn’t recognize their being cued.
In Legally Blonde, Bruiser comes out and has a conversation with one of the
actresses, that’s how the show opens. And so, you know, how we cue him is part
of the fun when you have to come and see to figure out.
Now, there are times when they don’t get the right cue, where an actor flubs a
line or a hand signal. So they will get the wrong cue and
they’ll look off stage at us to say, what do we do now?
And so you know, that’s when the audience laughs.
They’re creatures of habit, and so as long as their pattern is the same,
they’re very consistent. I get these animals, I train them in my
backyard, and they learn to do it in my backyard.
Then I bring them to a rehearsal studio, here in New York City, and they learn to
do it in a rehearsal studio. And each step, we’re layering on the
different things they’re going to have to deal with.
You know the tech rehearsal is the most stressful, because we’re putting the
lights, the scenery, the music, and we acclimate them to that but I can’t bring
in 1200 people and simulate applause. So that performance, you know hopefully
the animals are so into what the pattern and they feel secure that they ignore
that noise. [MUSIC] Now, there are many times on
stage where he has to stay in one spot, and it would seem odd to me if the
audience saw an actor have to put a dog down and go stay.
That would tip off the fact that some behavior was happening.
So very simply, I just created a hand signal where when you pet his eyes that
means stay to the audience, it looks like Elle Woods is petting her dog.
But she’s actually giving him a command not to move.
Another way that we give dogs cues is using the lines from the play.
In Legally Blonde, when Elle Woods is getting ready to leave her dorm room
she’s putting on her coat, and the director wanted an indication that
Bruiser was getting ready to leave too. So she says a line at that moment, white
shoes after labor day, and to Bruiser that means go to your bag, turn around,
and sit down. And of course, a very important thing
that every good actor needs to know is how to bow.
There are certain things that you can expect an animal to do, can I train a dog
to do a flip? Yes, can it do it eight times a week in a
Broadway show? No, and so very early on with the
directors and the writers, I find out what their intent is and then turn it
into something that can be done reasonably eight times a week over the
possibility of, like Annie for seven years.
Right after I graduated high school, I went to work at the Goodspeed Opera House
as a technical apprentice. My second season there, we were doing a
season then which included two revivals and a new musical, and the new musical
needed a dog. I remember one day in 1976, being called
into Michael’s office, the producer, and he said Bill, how would you like your
Equity Card, and a part in one of the shows?
All you have to do, is find and train a dog for us, for no money.
So I went on a casting search. The local shelters where I found a dog
who fit the description of the dog we needed in the play, and that dog was the
original Sandy, and that musical was the original production of Annie.
The show closed because it didn’t do very well in its original conception.
I moved to New York City, I enrolled in NYU, and I was studying acting with
[UNKNOWN], the famous acting coach. Then all of a sudden I got a call from
Mike Nicols office, they said, he was producing Annie for Broadway.
Would I be interested in working on it? Well, we opened in Washington DC and six
months later when Annie opened in 1977 on Broadway I became a world famous animal
trainer. Over my 32 year career I’ve adopted
hundreds of dogs and cats and have become a strong proponent for animal rights, but
why shelter dogs? The simple answer is, why not?
They are just as smart and just as deserving as any other pet and I think
[MUSIC] to, to use the theater to help change people’s attitudes is one of the
things that I got into this business to do.
It takes them awhile to get into the rhythm and to get the actors into a
rhythm, and so usually I’ll stay with a show for about two to four weeks, just to
make sure that everybody is smoothed out. And once I know that everybody knows what
they’re doing, I can move on to the next show.
Thank you. Thank you. [SOUND]