Westie Wiz Kids

| October 2, 2011

(Links to Youtube clips at bottom of this page or search YouTube for “Westie Wiz Toto”)

Out of the blue, I received a call from a “stranger”. His name was Phil Janness and he was casting for the role of Toto in the Troy (Michigan) Athens High School play. Phil is a dog trainer and a parent of the Scarecrow (Hunter Janness) in the play. He took on the role of finding and training Toto. Phil received my name from a fellow member of Rock N Roll K-9s, a local performance team. When he called, we quickly realized that we had met before when he was visiting his brother who lives directly behind me. I agreed to take Molly and Glennie to the tryouts. (I didn’t even consider their younger brother, Jake. I thought Jake would either end up in the audience greeting the crowd or he would be trying to eat the flying monkeys!)

When we got there, we found a Westie and his owner (Michelle Smith), someone we have met before and have even had dinner with at their home. And there was a Cairn owner (Bobbie Green), a lady who we know through the Terrier Club of Michigan. I believe my dogs got the part because we live very close to the school so they weren’t worried about bad weather or traffic keeping me from rehearsals; also because they wanted the dog to be off leash. My dogs’ obedience training gave them an edge. Molly impressed them because she would bark on cue and because she walks with a cute little prance. And Glennie’s begging on his haunches really fit into one scene in particular.

Glennie Begging (Photo By A. Mannino)

We learned we had the part and began to attend rehearsals about 3 weeks before the show opened. We experimented with coloring and then the Director suggested that we just leave them white. I was really glad of that. I had the groomer trim Glennie a bit shorter and leave Molly a bit longer so that they would better “match”. Because Toto is supposed to be a farm dog, we did the grooming a week early so that they would be a bit dirty or at least not so bright white (never a problem for Molly!). Rather than train everything from scratch, Phil took what they already knew and tried to build on that. We began to call them “Toto” and gave them a treat each time they responded. I don’t think they think Toto is a name. I think they believe it is another word for “treats”. As such, they now respond to recalls better using “Toto” than with their own names!

At first Glennie was to be the understudy but we quickly found that we could switch them out and let Glennie do the scene where Toto steals the hotdog from the Professor. Glennie was able to do his begging and then grab that hotdog. Glennie found that he absolutely LOVES show business. Ten minutes of work and he gets an entire hotdog each night!!! What’s not to love?

Molly did the rest of the show largely because she is the smallest and easiest for Dorothy (Liz Ferguson) to carry and because she is somewhat more reliable off leash and her natural “strut” looked so cute on the yellow brick road. They both had to learn to run onto the stage when Dorothy called them. And Molly had to struggle and then run away when the Winkie guard “dropped” her. Molly had to follow Dorothy and her co-hurts down the yellow brick road four times and she had to follow them when they did the “Lions and Tigers and Bears” scene. She did so well, moving when they did and stopping when they did. And she had to run after Dorothy when the flying monkeys took her away. I think, though, the part the audience liked best and really seemed to amaze them, was the scene when they go into the poppy field and fall asleep. Dorothy would lay down with Molly and Molly would plop down on her side and pretend to be asleep for what must be about a minute, with the scarecrow and tin man running around, calling for help and almost stepping on them at times. The trick, of course, is that Dorothy had a treat in her hand. (I know most people do the “bang, you’re dead” where their dogs fall down to the ground but I was doing nursing homes with her when she was a youngster and that just seemed a little insensitive so I chose to call it “Sleepy Girl” which fit in very well!)

At various times, Molly had to be held by Dorothy, Miss Gulch, the wicked witch, and the Winkie Guard as well as the gate keeper in Oz and another Winkie guard. She seemed to have no problem with this and often put her ears back in character when Miss Gulch or the Witch picked her up! She also had to learn to pull on the Wizard’s curtain. This was the hardest for her because it wasn’t a trick she had already and they didn’t get the curtain made until two days before the show. So it took a couple of shows before she understood to do that but by the end she was doing it like a pro! They wanted her to bark in a couple of spots but Miss Molly is a natural barker and “Dorothy” had worked hard to stop her barking on stage; once she did, Molly assumed she was never to bark and we had a hard time getting her to start barking again even when the Lion pretends to attack her when they first meet. We hoped to get her to jump back and bark when the Lion roared and pushed his paws at her. At first she just looked at him with a look that said, “Oh for Pete’s sake, leave me alone!” but by the last weekend, she began to charge him and growl!

The Fab Four with Glennie

The first show was a “Dress Rehearsal” for a group of senior citizens. The school has them come in, feeds them a meal and then they get to see the rehearsal. Normally there would have been another week of rehearsals before this, but this year the school’s orchestra had a trip to New York where they will perform at Carnegie Hall (!!) and the schedule for that pushed forward the play schedule. So this dress rehearsal was the first time anyone, even the director, (Krista Manfredi) had seen the entire play put together. I was amazed at how well it went. We were in the rehearsals for 2 weeks at this point (although they had done a lot before we started). Even so, I had never seen most of the costumes myself. (They were still sewing the night before the dress rehearsal!) I thought it was going to still be pretty rough. Poor Dorothy had a cold and was still having trouble singing the day before! But when they put it together, it was amazingly good. Dorothy sang beautifully and the dogs “did their thing” very well.

Dorothy (Liz) with Toto (Molly)

I was talking to the director during intermission that first night and while I stood there, everyone who came up asked, “Who owns those dogs?!” The director teased her kids by telling them that, “You think you are the stars……you are not….those dogs are the stars!” Well, I know she was joking with them but I do have to say that when the dogs were on stage, that is where everyone’s eyes were. And when Molly got creative, the crowd loved it even more, I think, then when she did the part correctly!

By the fourth yellow brick road in the 2nd performance, Molly decided she knew where they were going and she just proceeded directly to front center stage, stood on the yellow brick road and waited for the characters to “catch up” to her. She then led them down the yellow brick road and out! The next day, she did this after the 2nd time around so on Saturday, before the matinee, we had a special rehearsal for her. We had Dorothy show her a treat and do some stopping and turning into her, treats in the middle of the road etc. until Molly understood that she wasn’t to take short cuts! After that she did it correctly except for one time where she got distracted mid-way and didn’t follow them all the way out. Dorothy came back and said, “Oh Toto, there you are and picked her up!!”

Mom, Molly and the Tin Man (Logan Manfredi)

In the second show, Glennie came running out to Dorothy but did a quick turn and went to where he got the hot dog the day before! Dorothy thought quickly and grabbed him up before he got too far but this occasioned some “reminder” rehearsals before each show so he could remember that Dorothy had a good treat for him in her hand. Once Glennie had one show under his belt, he would spot the hotdog quickly and lean forward in Dorothy’s arms in an exaggerated way and followed that hotdog everywhere it moved so the audience was anticipating what was going to happen. When he was set down, the beg was immediate and then a quick grab and some gulping and it was gone!! The audience loved it!

By the Sunday matinee, everything was running almost perfectly. This show had a couple of Brownie troops attending and they did a special meet and greet afterwards. I ended up signing autographs for Molly and Glennie!! They greeted the kids and let them pet and thoroughly enjoyed the attention. Molly even rolled over and let them give tummy rubs. After that show I made up “Pawtograph cards” to hand out and the kids loved them.

Pawtograph Card

But it was very tiring. On Monday morning, Molly stayed in bed when we all got up. Glennie went back to keep her company until she was ready to get up. They had five days to rest up and get ready for the following weekend. There were no rehearsals scheduled so I just kept working with Molly on pulling the curtain by using curtains in their bedroom. She got her breakfast that way each day. But it was also a diet week because they both needed to get their weight back down to normal. All that training added up to a lot of treats and it is hard to keep a svelte figure when you are eating an entire hot dog every evening!!

Glinda, Good Witch (Katie Morang) and an Ozian

Wicked Witch of the West (Erin Foley)

The second weekend went nearly perfectly. No one could fault the dogs for their acting. The only issue we had then was related to the fact that Molly is getting older and has a bit of incontinence at times. Medication keeps it under control. But during the shows, she is getting so many treats and it is so warm, that she is very thirsty. I will not withhold water because letting her get dehydrated could be life threatening. So she had to be taken outside a lot! There were a couple of times when poor Dorothy had a wet dress front after carrying her around so much. It didn’t show to the audience and I figure that it is just the price of fame! If you think about it, it could be worse!! Miss Gulch got wet once too. When she came back looking for the dog who escaped, she says, “He tried to bite me again!” I think, in that performance, she should have said, “He peed on me” and showed the audience her wet dress front! They would have roared.

The reaction to the dogs was amazing. Everyone told me how wonderful they were and could not believe that dogs could be so well-behaved! Some even thought the dogs must be mechanical because no one could ever get a dog to do these things! I wish we had had more forewarning. We would have put a Westie Rescue ad in the program and our breeders could have advertised there too. I am sure a lot of people came away with a very good impression of our breed and I wouldn’t be surprised if Westies are considered the next time they think about getting a dog.

Dog Trainer (Phil Janness) With Glennie Scarecrow is Phil’s son

At my age, I don’t often interact with high school-aged kids. Other than a different style of dressing, some unusual hairdos, and electronic equipment seemingly attached by umbilical cords, I was surprised to find that they didn’t seem any different than kids in high school in my generation! Ms. Manfredi managed to pull them all together into a really good show; her job would have given me a nervous breakdown! And I have to say, that these two little Westies thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Glennie, who is 10.5 years old and very shy, couldn’t wait for his turn on stage. Molly who turned 13 last November, felt that a starring role was only appropriate and loved the spotlight!!!!

I will always wonder what she thought was going on each time she followed the yellow brick road. It must have been a surreal experience for her. These dogs, and certainly I, will always remember this experience and relive it again and again in our memories.

Molly (granddaughter of the Beaudry’s) greets Molly (Toto) after the show.

1 Toto?s (Molly?s) first entrance


2 Dorothy sings to Toto


3 Toto?s (Glennie?s) entrance


4 Glennie?s hotdog scene


5 Toto (Molly) and Dorothy take the yellow brick road


6 Toto (Molly), Dorothy and Scarecrow take the yellow brick road


7 Toto (Molly), Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man take the yellow brick road


8 (Molly) Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!


9 Toto (Molly), Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion take the yellow brick road


10 Toto (Molly) falls asleep in the poppy field


11 Flying Monkeys capture Toto (Molly)


12 Toto (Molly) escapes


13 Toto (Molly) reveals the Wizard of Oz

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Category: Our Westies, Westie Wiz Kids

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