Bearcreek Farms casts homeless, stray dog as "Sandy" in Summer production of "Annie."

May 25, 2011 (PRLEAP.COM) Lifestyle News
A most unlikely star will rise over the performance of Annie next month.

The musical, which is about an adorable orphan, runs from June 30 thru July 24 at Bearcreek Farms Goodtimes Theater.

Bearcreek Farms is a 200-acre family destination resort that has attracted visitors and big-name stars to bucolic Jay County, Indiana since 1975.

Bearcreek personnel decided about a year ago to present Annie on stage this summer. Auditions were held and a cast assembled. But as opening night neared and rehearsals began in earnest, one very important piece of the performing puzzle was still missing: A dog was needed to play the part of Sandy, Annie's canine pal; her one true friend in a cruel world.

Sandy is a very important role in the play even though speaking parts are, shall we say, limited. But that makes appearance and poise and charisma all the more important.

With such responsibilities, not just any dog would do. It would have to have just the right look, be just the right size, and be so well trained that it could handle large crowds, loud music and lots and lots of confusion; in other words, a veteran performer with a sterling resume.

"We started worrying about a dog a few weeks ago," said Carla Strong, General Manager.

Just as she was about desperate enough to ask resort employees if any of them had a dog with such rigid qualifications at home, her prayers were answered. A canine James Dean sauntered into the scene just in time to save the day and steal her heart.

Divine intervention, no doubt about it.

Where others saw a stray dog of questionable heritage, Carla saw a star. Even though the dirty-gray coat was wet, and matted hair covered his eyes and he hadn't had a bath since who knows when, she realized the ten-pound terrier carried a 20-pound heart and that he was a product of a rich and royal bloodline several of them, in fact.

"As soon as I got him in the office and got a good look at his face, I told myself this is going to be Sandy," she recalled recently.

Resume be damned!

But, then, who would know more about a hard-knock life?

She began taking him to the office every day where she could work on his people skills. And she began taking him to rehearsals for Mame, which is playing now, to introduce him to the lights, the sounds, the people and, most of all, the confusion.

"I felt if we did that for the run of Mame he would get comfortable in that setting," Carla said.

"All early indications suggest he will have no problems," she added. "He seems to be very easy going. He does slobber and he doesn't care for the heat, but the theater is air conditioned."

There is one other problem that even Carla is hesitant to admit. He seems to be getting spoiled from all of the attention he's getting.

A typical star, no doubt.

As to the reactions of the humans in the production to their canine co-star, Maggie Frye's was typical. Frye, a 15-year-old from New Corydon who will play the lead the people lead, that is in Annie, said she's been on stage since age eight, and has performed in about 20 shows, but she's never had to share the spotlight with a dog.

"I've never been in a show with a live animal," she confessed. "I'm a little nervous about it. As long as I have some treats in hand it should be OK. He seems calm enough.

"They'll probably clap louder for him than anyone else. But that's OK, too," she laughed.

Having a dog star in the show will be a new experience for the director as well.

Linda Roddon, Bryant, has been working in theater since 1981 and has directed about 30 productions. The only show she directed that had a live animal in it was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. A dog made a very brief appearance in the beginning of the musical and then was done.

"Sandy is going to be in a lot of scenes," she said.

"It's a little scary. We wanted to be sure that he is gentle and good in a crowd, and he is," Roddon added.

Vickie Kibellus will play the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie, another very important role. She too is a veteran of many performances and worked with a dog in The Wizard of Oz. That dog, she recalled, was owned by several kids in the play and was accustomed to interacting with its family. Sandy is the epitome of a loner, at least as far as anyone knows.

"Carla introduced Sandy to us today," she said at a recent Mame rehearsal. "He sniffed my hand and seemed very friendly. He walked around on stage and was very calm.

"I'm looking forward to the experience," she added.

Carla still recalls that first meeting with the then yet-named Sandy. It was April 20. She remembers the date well because, instead of attending an important meeting, she ended up spending the cold, rainy day trying to snag some stray mutt that wandered into the complex.

One look at the scruffy scamp, and Carla's mother just knew the little critter should come inside even if it means her daughter getting cold and wet, Carla recalls. "And you're never too old to do what your mother tells you," she sighed.

Besides, there would be other meetings, and the dog needed her.

"He wouldn't come to me at first," Carla said, "and I couldn't even see his eyes because of the matted hair. I offered him dog food and he slowly, very slowly, crept into the office."

When she was finally able to look him over, she realized that he didn't appear to be starving, and seemed to enjoy the attention staff showered on him. But he wasn't wearing a collar, and he did need a bath. Still, when she opened the door of her husband's car he jumped right in ready to go.

"He acted like he was used to being in the car," she said. Yet, he was apparently lost, wet, and unkempt and seemed a little scared.

He had to have been somebody's pet, she decided. But whose? Where? When? Why is he here?

Carla took him home where five dogs already reside (none of which met the Sandy regimen), and put him in the back yard. She watched to see if he would try to get out of the fence or if he would settle down.

"The rule is, if they stay in the yard, we'll find them a home," she said. "He laid down and I went back to work."

The Strongs have been through the stray dog drill many times. It seems as though their name has been passed from one homeless critter to another. Something about being a soft touch, no doubt.

Later that night she led him down to the horse barn, "and took the scissors to him. He just rolled over so I could do his belly," she laughed.

She had to literally shear him down to the skin. But it didn't spook him. "He looked at me like he was saying, 'Thank you. What a relief.'"

The family played with him for several days to make sure he had no bad habits. No bad ones but a couple of odd ones. He wouldn't sleep on the porch. He needed grass, she recalls, and he wouldn't eat out of a food bowl. He would spill the contents and then eat off the ground.

The next step was a trip to the local veterinarian who took one look at him and said, "Here comes Sandy."

That pretty well sealed the dog's career path, she decided.

The vet also said the dog appeared to be about five years old, was of no recognizable breed, had been neutered and had one bad eye, probably from an old injury. He weighed 10 pounds.

And no, neither the vet nor any of his employees had ever seen the dog before. Nobody had a clue to his background or from whence he strayed.

Next he was given a bath. "He never shook, just sat there and looked at me," Carla recalled. "He let me scrub him, dry him off and brush him. He had a newer look about him. Other colors that I hadn't seen before came through."

While the strange dog was adjusting to his new life, decisions that he wasn't even aware of had been made that would have a dramatic affect on his future. But his fate was sealed and he had been born, if not reborn, a star.

After Annie closes July 24, and Sandy's 15 minutes of fame is over, Carla said she will search far and wide to find Sandy the perfect home.

"My goal is to find a family that will take Sandy in, but not just any family. I will scrutinize them. I may even request visitation rights," she said.

Sandy seems quite content with his future prospects. After all, he knows what all dogs and children know: When Annie sings Tomorrow is Only a Day Away, she sings for all of God's orphans.
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Bearcreek Farms Family Resort was created and developed by Don Strong founder of the Richards Restaurants chain, and offers overnight lodging, great food, and an amazing variety of activities and entertainment.

Go to bearcreekfarms.com to discover the endless list of events and entertainment the farm offers its visitors.

Phone: 260-997-6822.