Best In Show
by Scott Broecker
The audience files in, filling the seats of Monterey Peninsula College’s Morgan Stock Stage. Tonight's show is the Monterey Theater Company’s sold-out performance of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” a musical comedy that takes place aboard a luxury liner sailing to London. Waiting behind the curtain, in great anticipation, is a little red-haired girl named Piper who will be making her first big stage appearance.
The house lights dim, signaling the start of the show. Tucked in her kneeling mom’s arms, Piper is gently massaged behind her ears to keep her relaxed. Along with a dozen other actors, they all remain quietly frozen while awaiting their cue. As the curtain rises to the three-quarter mark, the actors spring to life and the stage comes alive. The band, located on the upper deck, kicks into its first jazz number. Piper eagerly pulls her mom, Lanier, from stage left to center stage to greet two of the kid passengers who are also aboard the S.S. American cruise ship.
Prior to the show, one-and-a-half year old Piper, a ten-and-a-half-pound Terrier, Min Pin, Chihuahua, Italian Greyhound mix, had little exposure to kids and was very afraid in their presence. It took three rehearsals with both of the kids, Katee and Tanner, offering up a tasty treat upon every encounter, to slowly get Piper over her fear. During the scene, Piper tows Lanier over to greet the two kids, and Lanier hands them each a treat to give Piper. The ship’s photographer recognizes a cute scene when he sees one and proceeds to set up his large format camera to capture the kids adoring the dog. The ship sets sail, and with Lanier’s help, Piper waves good-bye to the kids as the scene closes.
Back in January of this year Lanier first approached director and local legend, Walt de Faria, with the idea of having Piper in the show. Walt, having worked with dogs numerous times in other shows, liked the idea but needed to be assured that it would work out well. After seeing Piper’s short, but impressive resume, and also her impeccable down/stay, Walt was satisfied that his biggest concern had been met, which was having Piper backstage on her own during the numerous times Lanier would go on stage without her. This would be put to the test unexpectedly in show three, act one. After one of Piper’s scenes, Lanier headed into the darkened side stage area to put Piper in her crate. Leading her into her crate, she placed Piper’s treat at the front of the crate before closing the door. Lanier went back on stage and performed her tap dance number. When she returned backstage to get Piper, she was surprised to find Piper outside of her crate sitting there patiently with the crate door still shut! Piper knew to stay even while hearing Lanier’s voice across the stage from her.
Since adopting Piper from Monterey County Animal Services at sixteen-weeks-old, Lanier Fairchild, who has a background and degree in exotic-animal training, has worked continuously with Piper, teaching her twenty-five different hand and verbal signals to date. With Lanier’s passion for theater, it seemed natural to get Piper involved in the play. Leading up to the show’s opening was a long series of rehearsals, six nights a week for ten weeks. During these rehearsals, while mom was practicing her lines and learning to tap dance, Piper found many ways to keep herself entertained. When not practicing for her own part, Piper could be found playing fetch across the stage, army crawling to scratch her belly on the lobby carpet, meeting and greeting cast members, or chasing the broom around while the stage manager swept. With all that rehearsing, Piper grew so comfortable that it hardly fazed her on opening night when the rising curtain revealed a large crowd looking back at her.
For three straight weekends, including an added Thursday night, Piper performed flawlessly in twelve shows. Her only barks were soft ones (boofs) at the start of the first three shows and occasionally during one scene in which passengers react with gasps to another passenger’s behavior, slightly upsetting Piper.
Up until that point in the play, Piper has gone au natural or without a costume, but just before the final scene known as the “Anything Goes Grand Finale,” Piper is secretly dressed in a special outfit just offstage and seated on a small stool. Lanier signals her to stay and takes the stage for the final two songs.
As the last song ends and the stage goes dark, Lanier runs offstage and scoops up Piper, the curtain drops, and they race back to center stage to join the cast for final bows. The actors form three rows: passengers, sailors and sailorettes, and supporting and lead actors. Within seconds, the curtain rises back up and there is Piper in Lanier’s arms, now an honorary sailorette dressed in blue and white stripes to match her fellow actors. With much applause the cast links hands and paws as they bow with a wow!