The play I was watching was just 10 minutes in when a black Labrador jumped up next to me and settled in for a nap. This was going to be no ordinary theater experience.
I was at JACK, a performing-arts space in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see Comfort Dogs: Live from the Pink House, the latest experimental play written and directed by William Burke. The Labrador, Gypsy, along with mixed-breed pups Bronco and Bluet, was part of the play’s canine cast.
Comfort Dogs explores the relationship between humans and canines, and our dependence on them, through music and spoken word. Burke was inspired to create the play after reading about therapy dogs visiting a local nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It sparked his curiosity about the emotional responsibility we assign to dogs, and their willingness to stay by our side despite not understanding most of what we say or do.
Normally, when dogs are involved in theatrical productions, their roles are carefully scripted and their behaviors are thoroughly rehearsed. Burke wanted something that felt more natural and spontaneous for Comfort Dogs.
“I didn’t want trained dogs doing things because they had to. That’s not what we were trying to do,” Burke explained. “The idea was to create an environment where the dogs could do anything they wanted, and no one would tell them not to be a dog.”
The result was about an hour of organic interaction between human and canine actors that complemented the play’s monologues and songs. The people also acted like dogs, sniffing, howling and scratching, while the three canine stars were free to be themselves. The dogs’ unscripted roles also meant that each show was unique. It felt like canine improv.
Working with animals, especially in an unscripted setting, presents logistical challenges—among them, finding the ideal performance space. An early iteration that enclosed the dogs on stage, per the original theater’s requirements, took away from the show’s free spirit. The space at JACK allowed Comfort Dogs to unfold as Burke had originally envisioned, showcasing the dogs’ natural behavior.
The three canine actors, each a different breed, size and personality, complemented each other as well, although they were primarily chosen because they were familiar with all of the people on stage. Bronco is Burke’s dog; Gypsy is bass player Paul Ketchum’s pup; and Bluet, whom Burke rescued from a local park, now lives with a friend. The actors’ existing relationships with the dogs grew as they worked on the play together.
It will also come as no surprise to any dog lover that the human actors learned a lot from being on stage with their canine counterparts.
“When you’re an actor, you always talk about ‘being present’ on stage,” says Burke. “With the dogs, they’re present all the time. It was certainly exciting to see.”
Now that Comfort Dogs has closed, the director hopes to work on a longer piece that incorporates more dogs. One of his ideas is to partner with a local shelter so that audience members could adopt the canine actors, making the play even more immersive.
It was refreshing to see Comfort Dogs explore canine theater in this manner, and I look forward to Burke’s next work. Incorporating shelter pups would be an exciting way to give back to dogs, who give us so much.
News: Karen B. London
Singing along to “Let It Go”
This dog sleeps right through Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” featured in “The Fault in Our Stars,” but watch how he reacts when Frozen’s “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel comes on. The way his ears respond first followed by a slight movement of the head, then a head raise and a look directly at the camera makes the sequence look choreographed. The dog acts very much like an actor in a musical at the start of a big number.
I find it especially amusing that the dog yawns and looks ready to sleep again when the music switches from “Let It Go” and returns to “Boom Clap.” This guy knows what he likes. I’m curious about why this dog prefers one song over the other. Personal preference could obviously account for his reaction, but prior experience may play a role, too.
The people who posted the video call “Let It Go” their dog’s favorite song. It certainly makes sense that familiarity plays a role in the dog’s enthusiasm at hearing it. Perhaps, like me, this dog lives with kids in the age range of 4-12, in which case he’s probably heard this song hundreds of times by now.
Whatever the reason, he really has his performance down! Somebody needs his own iPod or a karaoke machine!
News: Guest Posts
This sweet pup, Doogie, who lists his personal interests on his facebook page as "Sassing anyone in a uniform." and "Being under the blankets." loves when his person Shane plays guitar! Watch the video below to see this adorable duo in action. We love how Doogie nuzzles up to enjoy the music!
Dog's Life: Humane
Many of us have experienced this conundrum: We love animals and want to help them— especially our local shelter animals, many of whom experience trauma, confusion, pain and fear. And yet, the very thing that drives us to help—their suffering—can also be the thing that prevents us from actually going into the shelters to help. It’s hard to witness suffering, plain and simple. It’s hard to stand in the midst of such need and fear and sorrow and not fall apart. Suffering can make us feel helpless, which in turn makes us feel that we cannot help other helpless beings. And ’round and ’round it goes.
Two years ago, Pamela Fisher, DVM—a holistic veterinarian and founder of the Rescue Animal Mp3 Project, a nonprofit organization that distributes free music-loaded Mp3 players to animal shelters across the country— found herself in a similar situation. As she says, “I, along with many people, had trouble going into animal shelters. I wanted to help the animals [with Reiki and energy healing], but it tore at my heartstrings to see all those animals shaking at the back of their cages. And the barking can be deafening. I thought, there’s got to be a way I could help the animals feel better and be calmer. All I could think of was music.”
Dr. Fisher has used vibrationalhealing music—music specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions, but also, to help regulate the immune system—for years at her Ohio-based holistic veterinary practice. Thus, she has witnessed its benefits firsthand. These days, most of us are aware that science has proven that listening to specially calibrated music can help lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, stabilize emotions and reduce anxiety. This applies to animals as well as humans; the animals who visit Dr. Fisher’s practice, even the vet-phobic ones, always become significantly more calm in the presence of the healing music.
One of the first vibrational healing CDs Dr. Fisher discovered was Healing Touch for Animals (Volume I). Composed by Carol Komitor and Inner Sound (Arden Wilken), this music is specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions; but to help regulate the immune system as well. “Of all the CDs I play at my office,” says Dr. Fisher, “I probably play this one the most. In fact, this is the one that helped inspire me to create the Mp3 project for shelters. At first, I figured I could donate some of this [Healing Touch for Animals] music to my local shelter. Then I found out that I was required to get permission to distribute all this copyrighted music. I figured if I was going to do all that work, I might as well try to find a way to distribute the music to all the shelters in the United States.”
Thus, the remarkable Rescue Animal Mp3 Project was born. Dr. Fisher began contacting musicians, sound healers and producers, asking them if they would be willing to donate the use of their music to this project. She focused animal-specific, sound-healing CDs. Most of the musicians Dr. Fisher contacted were thrilled at the idea of being able to help shelter animals. Eventually, she secured the rights to reproduce and distribute almost 30 hours of music.
The current Rescue Animal Mp3 is a “best of” compilation in animal sound healing therapy. Selections include tracks from Pet Calm and Pet Healing by Rick Collingwood, Canine Lullabies by Terry Woodford, Harp Music to Soothe the Savage Beast (gotta love that title) by Alianna Boone, Animal Angels and Connecting with Animals by Stuart Jones and Margrit Coates, Animal Healing and Music for Pets by Perry Wood and Margrit Coates, and the Healing Music for Animals and Their People (Healing Touch for Animals®) series mentioned above. (For a full list of music included on the Rescue Animal Mp3).
It took Dr. Fisher almost eight months to acquire the music and complete the necessary paperwork. Once that was accomplished, she went on to raise funds for the project and apply for grants so that she could purchase the Mp3 players and other necessary equipment. Finally, she loaded the players with the music and begin distributing them to shelters. When asked how many hours she put into the project in its preliminary stages, she says, “I won’t even venture to think about it. I work on it nonstop. My mission was to make it easy for the shelters. They don’t have the time or resources to acquire this music, so I did it for them.”
And when Dr. Fisher says easy, she means easy. All the shelters need to do is fill out an application. Project volunteers ship the pre-loaded Mp3 player at no cost, and provide easy installation instructions along with an FAQ page on their website. Typically, the shelter is required to provide its own amplification system (dock, CD player, speakers or computer), which most institutions already have in place. Sometimes, Fisher says, she donates speakers to shelters in need.
The response has been nothing short of remarkable. Survey responders consistently report that the music’s effect is overwhelmingly positive. Dogs have shown signs of reduced anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors such as barking, scratching, pacing and whining. Aggressive animals have mellowed out, traumatized dogs seem less fearful and storm-phobic dogs are noticeably calmer. Shelter workers have even noticed physical improvements in the form of increased appetites and more speedy recoveries from injuries and illness.
“Overall,” says Dr. Fisher, “the animals are better able to cope with the stress of shelter environments, and in turn, this improves their quality of life and increases their chance of acquiring forever homes. It’s part of a whole program. The Mp3 project is helping the animals get adopted.”
Currently, Rescue Animal Mp3s have been distributed to more than 800 shelters in 50 states, calming more than 87,000 animals. The Humane Society has endorsed the project, and the players are in use at such highprofile shelters as the New York CACC and the ASPCA. The project’s calming music can now be heard in animal sanctuaries as well; as of this writing, lions in Zimbabwe are listening to and benefiting from the music.
These statistics are remarkable, considering that the project—conceived and founded by one woman acting with one mission: to help animals— has been up and running for less than two years.
“The whole process of designing this project, starting a nonprofit, raising funds and applying for grants has been an interesting and difficult challenge for me,” Fisher admits. “But so rewarding for the animals’ sake.”
I hope you are as inspired by this woman and her project as I am. To find out more, donate or volunteer, visit rescueanimalmp3.org.
New Order, William Wegman and Fay, the adroit dog
The “gotta-dance-to-it” song “Blue Monday” by New Order was originally released on March 7, 1983 and went on to be the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. We are late in mentioning the 30th anniversary of its release, but it still stands out as one of the favorite tunes of Bark’s editors and staff. We have another great excuse to write about it because in 1988 the Manchester group asked William Wegman (one of our favorite dog photographers and artist) to produce this four- minute-long video starring—besides the band members—Wegman’s young Weimaraner-muse, Fay.
New Order-Blue Monday from Resistol 5000 on Vimeo.
Back in 2011, William Wegman posted his remembrance about how this collaboration came about:
“About twenty years ago, Michael Shamberg (not the one that was involved with TVTV and later produced ‘Pulp Fiction,’ but the art world one, who was also involved with filming and producing) invited me and the fabled Robert Breer to collaborate on a video for New Order's song “Blue Monday.” The rough idea was that I would shoot video of the group performing and give it to Robert to work with his animation process.
I had just begun to work with my dog Fay who was about a year old at the time. Fay was obsessive about the tennis ball. Her eyes bulged in its presence. Some of the band members were Fay-like, I thought. (I’m not sure what I mean by that.) Nevertheless they got along well as I shot video of the group and Fay's hypnotic ball/pendulum involvement.
I liked the song but I have no idea what our video means to it.”
Hope you like this song and the video. For another memorable and very unique version performed in 2012 by the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir from Wales. And to see a more current version by New Order and more of their music, see a great concert video of their 2012 Berlin appearance.
We think Blue Monday is a perfect song to get up and dance with your pup on Monday—or any day for that matter. Do you have a favorite song to dance to with your dog?
News: Guest Posts
Does The Bark have a soundtrack?
You have the magazine, the t-shirt, the bumpersticker—what about the song? Song? Who knew there was a song? Not us, at least not until Bark reader Sara Wagner pinged us that Ben Hassenger had written a tune that could have come out of the Berkeley offices of The Bark.
In “Dog Is My Co-Pilot,” Hassenger celebrates all the ways that a dog is a pal on the highway of life. One of my favorite lines, “…when the traction slips, he will be my rumble strips.”
But Bark magazine’s slogan was not Hassenger’s inspiration. “I wrote this song about my dog Jake, who looked sort of like a big Jack Russell,” the Okemos, Michigan-based singer-songwriter explained in an email. “I adopted him at a flea market (he didn’t have any on him, thank goodness) in Royal Oak, Mich., in 1993. The song is probably the most popular one I have ever written and has been a hit in performances from Michigan to Vietnam and China. It seems to strike a chord with dog lovers everywhere.”
An English as a Second Language teacher, Hassenger uses music in his work. “It helps with pronunciation, vocabulary and culture and it’s more fun than the standard approaches to language learning,” he says.
Hassenger performs as a solo artist and with various duos and combos and plays the guitar and ukulele. He even started a ukulele orchestra at his school. He has also traveled to Vietnam, China and South Korea, using music to teach English and American culture.
Jake died in August 2009 at the age of 15 years and 8 months, and for now, Hassenger rides without a co-pilot. But he says he’s not lacking for animal companionship because he spends lots of time with his girlfriend’s Aussie/Blue Heeler mix and her Calico cat and he dog-sits for friends. “I’m sure I will get my own dogs and cats again in the future,” he says. “It’s just not the right time at this moment.”
You can experience a little more of the magic of Jake in another original Hassenger tune, “Jake,” with a slideshow.
News: Guest Posts
All they need is a soundtrack
My Monday is grateful to Dave Meinert, the Cape Town-based director and filmmaker who turned a weekend dog-sitting gig into an epic dog’s-eye-view music video that captures the zany fabulousness with which dogs inhabit the world when they are given free rein. Created for the song “Hearts” by Johnny Neon, the video follows a rescue dog named Lemon (via GoPro camera rigged to a harness) on a sun-filled ramble through beach and park and beyond. Get me out of this office!
Johnny Neon 'Hearts' from Dave Meinert on Vimeo.
News: Karen B. London
Canine cheer courtesy of music and paintings
Feeling a bit down? Need a pick-me-up? May I suggest taking a peek at this video featuring “The Dog Song” (written and performed by Emily Westman) and a series of dog paintings by Nancy Schutt?
It made me so happy that I wanted to pass it along. I’m surprised how much it lifted my mood and for how long, especially as I was feeling perfectly well before I saw it for the first time. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times since. My mood is up, but my efficiency is down. It’s a worthwhile trade.
News: Guest Posts
Creative director Cameron Woo tripped over this vintage video of “Blue Monday,” a classic 80s dance tune by New Order, featuring Bark favorites William Wegman and his dogs. We figured it’s a perfect way to start the week.
New Order-Blue Monday from Resistol 5000 on Vimeo
News: Guest Posts
The singing-songwriting groomer strikes the right note, again
Last year, we posted the video for “Dog Hair in Everything I Do,” written and performed by Randi Breese, as well as a Q&A with the singing-songwriting dog groomer from Lodi, Ohio. She’s back with another tune, “Let’s Go for a Walk.” This time she captures the simple joy of this daily ritual, which put a little bounce in my Monday. Enjoy, below, and then grab a leash.
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