Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dogstock and Backyard Agility

We've been hitting the dog park at peak times the past few days. Today was huge -- dogs and humans of all shapes and sizes! A veritable Dogstock, a gathering of representatives of the many canine clans.

Some folks were settled at the various benches chatting, while their dogs made their rounds. Other humans were scattered about the park, as dogs swirled around them. Hamlet's mode is to check everyone out and then find one dog to play with, preferably a puppy or any dog that likes to run and play. Doesn't matter how many dogs are running about the park, Hamlet wants one best buddy to romp with.

He's very adept at avoiding conflict, going into Mr Submissive poses when aggressive dogs get too dominant. He'll either roll over on his back to show his literal lack of balls or run behind a bench or throw himself into a down in the grass, his sudden stillness confounding his aggressors. Upon arrival today, a big black dog started following Hamlet around, barging in between him and any potential playmates.

I remembered this dog from earlier in the summer. "Gertrude" (name changed to protect the innocent) had fixated on Hamlet and kept bowling him over. Gertrude's human was armed with a spray bottle, chasing this dog all over the park, spraying it and yelling at it. Intermittently, the human would catch up with Gertrude and force her down onto the ground with some sort of Vulcan dog-pinch. I'd never seen such bizarre dog handling strategies, which obviously were not working at all. Eventually, I realized that this human was operating under the outdated assumption that dogs should be handled as if they were wolves and should be sprayed with vinegar and given regular "alpha-rolls" to teach them who is "leader of the pack."

Gertrude's human didn't have a spray bottle today, and so was forced to run around after the dog helplessly calling after it "no" and "stop." I heard the human say to a companion that Gertrude probably thought Hamlet was a member of her "pack" and that is why she was chasing him ("bullying" would be a more appropriate word) around. Gertrude was one wound-up aggressive .. er .. bitch and I'm sure my expression began to reflect my opinion of her owners, as they finally wrestled a leash on her and got her out of the park -- lightening the mood of everybody there, especially young Hamlet.

After an hour or so of Dogstock, we departed for home and supper. Hamlet was not ready to rest though, so we went out back to do some runs through our new "Agility in a Bag" set up. Yes, you too can set up an agility course in your back yard, even in a small yard like ours. I found the equipment online and ordered it to help increase training opportunities as fall brings a change in schedule for this human and her dog. Back to school means that training opportunities must be creatively inserted into the day. With our own hurdles and tunnels set up in the backyard, Hamlet and I can practice agility at morning, noon and night! Below you see Hamlet as a blur of action leaping across a hurdle. The cue is "hup!"

When I unpacked the set, the first piece that sprang out of the box was the tunnel. I set it down on the floor and Hamlet was instantly going in and out of it. It has an attachable chute so it can be used as the official "Tunnel" or "Chute" obstacle. I will probably give into temptation and get a nice long tunnel to use out at my mom's house. She has a lovely big protected yard area where I can set everything up at proper intervals.

I set up the weave poles inside the house, so that in order for Hamlet to reach the kitchen from the living room, he has to go through the weave poles. I figure a week of doing that -- many times a day -- should imprint the pattern into his body and brain. In a week or so, I'll try taking off the guide wires and see if he's got it. It just took a bit of turkey to get him to go through the weave path the first time and after three times through that way, he was going through on cue for a treat at the end of the poles. That was last night. Today, he automatically takes the weave pole route when going to and from the living room.

Here Hamlet poses at the end of a weave run. He's so good at posing. Just a simple "stand" and "stay" and he remains focused on the camera until the picture is snapped and he's given the "OK" release.

And a final shot, rear view, showing him on the twisting path from living room to kitchen.

Final week of P L A Y! Join in before it ends!

Wow! The final week of PLAY, the international festival of alternative theatre, is almost upon us. Beginning tomorrow night, a wealth of physical theatre events are available for Akron area alternative theatre fans to feast upon -- and you can do that literally at the final event, Mary Shelley's Birthday Party and NWPL Friendraiser on August 30.

Check out the the week's activities:

Join in the fun at PLAY! the Akron International Festival of Alternative Theatre. The schedule for the final week is:

Monday, August 24, at 7:30pm in Studio 194, Guzzetta Hall, New World Performance Lab will present an open rehearsal demonstrating the initial phase of their work on Gilgamesh, the ancient epic. Tickets are $5. Free for University of Akron students.

Wednesday, August 26, at 7pm in Studio 194, Guzzetta Hall, in celebration of UNESCO"s Year of Grotowski, join NWPL's co-artistic directors Jairo Cuesta and James Slowiak, co-authors of the book Jerzy Grotowski, for the screening of a recently released film concerning Grotowski's life and work followed by a discussion of the Polish master director.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday August 27-29 at 8pm in Sandefur Theatre, Guzzetta Hall, NWPL's internationally acclaimed production of Frankenstein returns for three more performances. If you haven't seen this production, don't miss it. If you have seen it, see it again and bring your friends. Critics have called it "a showcase of the actor's craft," amazing, provocative, and compelling.

PLAY! ends on Sunday August 29 with a "Friendraiser" in celebration of Mary Shelley's birthday! For information, call 330-867-3299.

For other tickets: online at or 1-800-838-3006.

Come out and PLAY! All performances are on the campus of The University of Akron.

Friday, August 21, 2009

P L A Y Festival -- weekend 2

I had to work box office tonight and so couldn't watch Stairway to Paradise -- but I heard every glorious note sung by Megan Elk accompanied by hot jazz sax player Bobby Selvaggio. Tomorrow, I will get to sit inside Sandefur Theatre for the performance. Seating is cabaret style and delicious fruit drinks are available at the juice bar.

Megan has created a program from the songs of Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Kurt Weill. It is a tribute to the journeys made by immigrants to this country early in the 20th century. According to the program notes, " This work is a love letter to my grandparents -- themselves immigrants and the children of immigrants. It was from their living room stereos and kitchen radios that I first heard the remarkable melodies of these four men." Stairway to Paradise can be seen again at 8 PM on Saturday, August 22. Sandefur theatre is located in U of A's Guzzetta Hall.

Also on this weekend is a piece suitable for younger audiences and their older relatives. The Beetlebug and the Bad Worm is created and performed by Faye Hargate and Jeremy Paul of Cleveland's Theatre Ninjas. The perform "original works and interpretations that draw on elements of film, dance, improvisation, physical theater, graphic novels and music." Looking forward to seeing their work Saturday at 6 PM and Sunday at 2 PM in the Daum Theatre, Kolbe Hall, U of A.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

P L A Y Festival-- gushings of a fan girl

Wow, weekend one of the P L A Y International Festival of Alternative Theatre is over and I am stuffed full of amazing theatrical experiences.

Frankenstein finds the NWPL cast in top form, the piece has sharpened its glittering edges and draws the audience in to the core of the creative forces that came together in the making of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Having watched this piece develop over the past almost three years, I can appreciate the organic nature of its creation and see that the flow of the acting has never been more precise with nothing wasted.

If you are looking for a scripted version of the Frankenstein novel, this is not the place to find it. You will find an ensemble of actors who push their own and each other's limits beyond anything you might imagine.

And speaking of the imagination, Looking for Alice is NWPL's ongoing children's theatre piece. I usually have problems with adaptations of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece. This one stayed true to the master of children's fantasy. A cast of five portray the key figures in Alice's adventure underground via the rabbit hole. Again, the acting here is superb. Each character is clearly delineated and utterly charming! Costumes, sets and props were delightfully rendered. I understand this production is ready for touring and available for schools and community groups. Contact NWPL for further information.

Next weekend, P L A Y continues with two different productions. Frankenstein will return for three final performances on August 27, 28 & 29. Hope to see you there!

Stairway to Paradise August 21, 22 at 8PM in Sandefur Theatre, Guzzetta Hall, ($15, $10 under 18 and UA Students)

The Beetlebug and the Bad Worm August 22 at 6PM and August 23 at 2PM in Daum Theatre, Kolbe Hall, ($10, $5 under 18 and UA students)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Opening Night at P L A Y Fest in Akron

New World Performance Lab rocked the audience for Thursday night's P L A Y Festival opening. The applause was long and very appreciative. Lots of great buzz going round the lobby after the show while waiting for the actors to emerge.

The women of the company emerged in fabulous cocktail wear, ready for the opening night reception. Drop whatever you are doing and go make reservations to see what these women do in Frankenstein: a De-monstration. Truly unforgettable mind-blowing work!

Below are from left to right: Megan Elk, Debora Totti and Jamie Hale.

Then on to Bricco's for the after show opening night social event. What a wine list! And very nice buffet as well. Company members mingled with friends, fans and physical theatre aficionados. That's Chris Buck, Frankenstein himself, enjoying a well-deserved liquid refreshment.

Below: Jairo Cuesta, undoubtedly the greatest actor I've ever been privileged to see perform, has a quiet conversation with a NWPL patron in a dark corner of Bricco's. Jairo is a master acting teacher as well, who has profoundly influenced my own teaching. My students spend hours and hours each year working the space and their awareness within it doing exercises I learned from taking many workshops over the years with Jairo.

Tonight at 8 PM -- Frankenstein, a De-Monstration, Sandefur Theatre in Guzzetta Hall, U of A
Saturday at 10 AM -- Looking for Alice, Terrence Cranendonk's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic tale. In the Daum Theatre, Kolbe Hall, U of A

Thursday, August 13, 2009

P L A Y Festival opens tonight!

Looking forward to a weekend spent with Mary Shelley, her monster, and her friends with whom she spent one summer in Switzerland trying to write ghost stories. Only Mary succeeded. New World Performance Lab's Frankenstein is a montage of physical actions that grew out of the company's examinations of both the Frankenstein story and the story of the renegade artists who gathered by the lake to spin supernatural tales for each other.

This piece has taken years to create, which is one reason to love NWPL. They create their work from scratch and work it hard and take the necessary time to develop it until they are ready to share it. Every now and then, they let the outside world in to take a peek, sometimes via open rehearsals and then each subsequent showing reveals new layers and depths. I have seen Frankenstein grow and develop as the actors with director Jim Slowiak create, refine, and clarify their work. I posted a 2007 review of it here. Looking forward to seeing how it has evolved in two years.

For those who want to celebrate the opening of the PLAY Festival, $20 tickets will get you into the after show reception. You can order tickets online here.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


We've been taking some agility classes out at the Medina Swarm Agility Club this summer. You can see how we are doing in these pictures taken by my friend Teresa when she was visiting earlier this summer. This was week three of Agility classes, and Hamlet was still on leash for the most part. He's off leash now, and really starting to pay attention.

What I'm discovering is how much agility sharpens communication between canine and human. The skills that are tested for the canine really match up to the evolved characteristics of the Shetland Sheepdog. The small toonie dogs that worked the sheep on the islands would need to be sure-footed to navigate the steep rills and rocks of the Shetland mountain-scapes. Shelties are really good at reading human signals because the crash of the ocean from all sides of the islands could make audible signals difficult.

Here's a shot borrowed from a Shetland island site:

And here's Hamlet, sure-footing it up and across the narrow "dog-walk."

Notice that he is off-leash in this exercise. He's got a hand made "tab" leash on, that is short and hangs from the collar. It's a training devise for dogs who aren't totally there yet with their recall. I am proud to say that at last week's training session, Hamlet was brilliant on his recall. At first, he was all about the other dogs, and would run to any new participant as they arrived. Now he's staying with the tasks at hand with only a few bounces away toward other dogs or humans. And when he did, I didn't have to go chase and capture him by the tab. I called "Hamlet, come!" and he turned around immediately and came back to me. This is a hugely thrilling achievement!

Here Hamlet learns to jump, still on leash. Since he's only 6 months old, he can't do any high jumps yet. His skeletal frame and muscular strength are still developing and we have to take it easy until he's at least a year old in terms of going for height. (At the dog park, however, he routinely leaps over other dogs, like they are hurdles!)

No pictures of the tunnel or chute challenges. Hamlet took to those right away. It's fun to chase down to the other end to meet him and be in the correct position to communicate the next move.

Currently, we are working on combinations of challenges and it is becoming more about me being in the right position. When Hamlet misses a turn or a jump, it wasn't him messing up. I have to focus on getting the signals correct in terms of hand/arm/body positions and also figuring out my own path around the sequences and ultimately of course, it is all about the timing.

We have yet to learn the weave poles and the teeter totter challenges. I think he'll be good at the weave. I've already got him doing figure 8's around my legs and we are working on weaving back and forth through my legs while walking.

All kudos to our personal trainer, Terry Cranendonk of DoGoodDog training here in Akron. And all hail to those animal behaviorists who have developed the science of operant conditioning into the art of positive dog training.

The "tire" jump is difficult for some dogs, but not for uber-Sheltie* Hamlet!

*Uber-Sheltie: my term for over-standard sized Shelties, such as Hamlet. His collie heritage is very evident, but he's not going to achieve standard collie size either. That's ok with me!.. I prefer a couch dog to a lap dog, after a hard night's work of agility training.