Even playwright A.R. Gurney might not have been able to imagine his play, Sylvia—the story of a man’s willingness to risk everything for the sake of his dog—being performed in front of an audience that had much in common with the title character. Yet, this is precisely what happened at “Dog’s Night Out” in the canine-obsessed city of Seattle, where pooches outnumber progeny by more than two to one and dogs are regular denizens at cafés, outdoor restaurants, shops and now, the theater.
The event was the brainchild of the Seattle Rep’s director of external relations, Katie Jackman, who hatched the idea for a doggie performance in 2006 when she worked on a production of Sylvia in Minneapolis. Her initial idea was met with some skepticism. “This was well before the ‘dog rage,’ where
people started taking their dogs everywhere,” she says. “Now, taking dogs everywhere has gone mainstream.”
The success of the previous event gave Jackman and the Rep the confidence to invite Seattle’s theatergoers to bring their dogs to the latest incarnation of Gurney’s play. One hundred dogs answered the call, and many arrived wearing pearls, bow ties and other opening-night attire.
Dogs attended the event for many reasons: One, Sylvia, came to see her namesake. Bindi, a miniature Labradoodle in training to be a therapy dog, was there because her person had won the tickets at an auction. Jack, a five-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, was there because he “needed some culture.” And Lulu, an eight-year-old Coton de Tulear, was there because she goes everywhere with Marlene Tenzler.
Everyone had had a good run before the show, and a bath.
“It was asking a lot of our artistic team,” Jackman concedes. Alban Dennis, who played the lead character, Greg, admits that he had some initial reservations about how it was going to go. As it turned out, the event went off sans accidents in the theater and with only a trace of opening-night jitters when the canine patrons barked their approval at the beginning of the first act as the house lights went down.
“At one point, I looked into the audience and saw dog heads and faces where human heads and faces usually were. For me, the experience was playful and exciting. In a number of ways, performing for the dogs heightened the experience,” says Dennis.
The jury is still out on whether the dogs were culturally enriched by the experience, though many of them watched the entire performance. When I asked Tenzler if Lulu had enjoyed the show, she admitted that Lulu had slept through most of it. But what can you expect from a dog who’s used to accompanying her person everywhere? As Tenzler explains, “She thought she was in church.”
This article first appeared in The Bark,