At Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, they love pets so much they’re working them into scripts that don’t have them.
Cats crawled all over Angela Timberman in a 2015 production of “You Can’t Take It With You.” Last year’s staging of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” included a scene-stealing pooch. That helps explain why artistic director Sarah Rasmussen responded favorably when director Christina Baldwin suggested a dog for the current “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.”
“Christina said something early on about Anne maybe carrying around a little dog and I thought, ‘Really?’ ” says Rasmussen. “The script does not call for a dog but the idea was so fun. It shakes up an audience to have a cast member who is unpredictable in the way that animals are. It sparks the energy in a different way because anything can happen.”
In “Two Gentlemen,” “anything” included actor George Keller needing to keep treats in her pockets at all times because the dog, Bear (Keller’s actual dog, as well as her theatrical one), loved the stage so much that he wouldn’t exit without a puppy cookie as inducement. In “Miss Bennet,” Lily Bee — who is paid a small fee and has a comfy bed in the green room — learned her role along with the actor who carries her, Anna Hickey. When Hickey covers the dog’s eyes to shield her from an imagined horror, Lily Bee now anticipates that moment, and tries to avoid being shielded.
Rasmussen says four-legged friends can help their two-legged counterparts keep things fresh, because they force actors to react to whatever they’re doing on stage. Which may be one reason Rasmussen is already thinking about the pooch who could pop up at the Jungle next spring: Previous productions of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” in which jazz singer Billie Holiday gives her final performance, have included Holiday bringing her dog on stage. There’s still time to decide not to include a dog at the Jungle, but smart money is on it making the cut.
After all, says Rasmussen, “A good dog and a love story? That can go a long way with an audience.”