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One of Shakespeare’s most acclaimed tragedies might get a happy ending after all.
At the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, homeless dogs are stepping into the spotlight as actors in Macbeth. Director Tom Delise says the whole cast loves animals, and instead of featuring their own pets in the play, they wanted to do something to help shelter animals get adopted. The rest of the company’s performances this season — Love's Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona — will also star shelter animals.
In Macbeth, the dog portrays “Man’s Best Friend” in the third scene of Act 2. The pet accompanies a drunken porter as he delivers a long monologue and answers the knocking of Macduff and Lennox.
The first performance starred a 9-month-old Boxer mix named Sophia, who was found starving and freezing on a garbage dump. Delise says the pup is a natural actress — very friendly and great onstage. If he didn’t already have a dog and two cats, Delise says he would have taken Sophia home himself. Other performances feature adoptable Pit Bull mixes named Houston and Chunkamonk.
"Of course, the actor is going to complain,” Delise jokes. “If you bring an animal onstage, the actor is always going to get upstaged."
Speaking of being upstaged, the shelter’s felines weren’t about to let the dogs hog all the spotlight. Adoptable cats get their time to shine during the “Witches’ Corner,” a short pre-show when actors talk to the audience (and introduce them to some cats looking for forever homes).
For Macbeth, the shelter selected canine actors who are currently in foster homes, says Wendy Goldband of the Baltimore Humane Society.
“We need them to be able to handle a lot of people,” she says. “We try to choose one of the easier-going dogs with some training. We’ve got to be careful.”
The dogs don’t require too much rehearsal time — they show up about an hour before the play starts. Each performance, the featured pup gets a full-page playbill insert with a headshot and biography. And if an audience member adopts a dog after seeing it in the play, the shelter has offered to halve the adoption fee.
Macbeth concludes this weekend, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, at St. Mary’s Outreach Center. Check the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s website for information about upcoming productions starring the shelter animals.
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