Long Wharf Theatre announces the final addition to the cast of Curse of the Starving Class – a three-week-old lamb named Edie.
The lamb, trained by famed theatrical animal trainer William Berloni, arrived at Long Wharf Theatre on Friday to start working into rehearsal. Curse of the Starving Class marks Berloni’s return to Long Wharf Theatre having trained a small dog for Paper Doll during the 2002-03 season.
He got into to this unique theatrical tidewater as a 20-year-old intern at Goodspeed Opera House. The theatre was about to mount the world premiere of the musical Annie and had not found a suitable hound for the show. Berloni, then an aspiring actor, was promised his Equity card if he could find and train a dog. With show biz fortitude, he found a dog that would go on to play Sandy in the production and a whole new career in the bargain. He has been training show animals since the 1970s, working on Broadway and at regional theatres throughout the country.
Berloni quite literally had an audition for the job of appearing in Curse of the Starving Class. Two lambs, born on a local farm and both under a month old, were up for the job of playing the family mascot, so to speak, in Sam Shepard’s classic about the rupturing of the American Dream. After spending a weekend with them both, he decided to give Edie the chance to be a star. “The basic thing we do is get them acclimated to people,” said Berloni, who, in addition to his work training, is the director of animal behavior of the Humane Society of New York.
Long Wharf Theatre’s unique thrust stage is the only challenge Berloni is likely to face in training the lamb. When working on a proscenium stage – think of a picture frame – Berloni found that a lamb can’t generally see past the footlights, so the presence of the audience doesn’t have an impact. With audience members on three sides at Long Wharf and lighting less of an obstruction, the lamb will be more aware of the presence of many human beings. “This baby will look around and see a lot of people and start talking to the audience,” he said.
The main component of getting a lamb ready for the stage is getting it comfortable with the flock of human beings that will surround it nightly. “Lambs are social, but not in a human way,” Berloni said. “They are flight animals. They live in herds for protection. They like having other creatures around them. If you are not one of their creatures it terrifies them – they think that because we are not sheep we must be wolves.”
This particular lamb won’t have that problem. From the moment Edie was born, she was bottle fed by Schuyler Beeman, who will be working with the lamb throughout the run of the play. The lamb is diapered, lives indoors with Beeman, and is hand fed four times a day. The care the lamb receives isn’t substantially different than the care a human baby would get. “I have a strong background in the humane treatment of animals. All precautions will be taken to make sure that she will not be harmed,” Berloni said.
For each performance, Beeman will bring the lamb to the theatre a half-hour before curtain – the same call time as the Equity actors. He will take her through the dressing room to familiarize her with the other performers onstage. Peter Albrink, the actor who handles the lamb during the performance, will hold her for a bit before the show to say hello, so to speak.
The lamb will spend her time during the show in a small pen on stage, filled with Beeman’s t-shirts, a smell she would find soothing and comforting. As soon as the play is over, she will be whisked back to Beeman’s home.
And when Edie’s turn on stage is done, she will retire to a local farm where she will live out the remainder of her days in comfort, only being shorn for wool when necessary.
For more information about Berloni’s work, visit www.theatricalanimals.com. For more information about Curse of the Starving Class, or to purchase tickets, call 203-787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.