Sunday, May 29, 2011


TOBY's MOM here...

What an amazing adventure 'ANNIE' has been!

It was Toby's final performance last night - the 'Gala' performance, held at the UJ Theatre in Johannesburg.

This incredible dog was pretty tired after a very demanding week. Had there been another performance today, we would probably have pulled him. After a gruelling 15 hour technical rehearsal earlier in the week and then participating in 5 performances in 4 days, Toby was exhausted. Despite his fatigue, he pulled off this final Gala performance without a hitch.
It was a display of committed canine talent!

The highlight for both Shannon and me was his 'send-away', all by himself, onto a dimly lit stage, and an audience whose collectively held breath dissolved into a loud whisper of... "Aaaaw.". He did a twirl in the middle of the stage, almost on his hind legs, followed by a loud bark, to delighted audience applause. His little 'improv' fitted in perfectly with the alley scene.

Toby's final stage bow, once again, was a 'leaping bow'. Fantastic!

Shannon and I were also called onto stage with all the other adult teachers - to receive a beautiful bouquet of roses. Toby took another bow. Later we took him to the foyer to meet his 'fans' and for the children to 'shake his paw'. Meeting people always invigorates him - he simply LOVES people!

What a star this beautiful dog of mine is! I am astounded at what this
(only TEN-MONTH-old) Golden pup, has been been able to accomplish in his short life.

Sadly"Annie" is now over - and will have to put in our 'memory' box.
It's Toby's time now, to simply be a dog. 
Time to romp and play with his special 'Aunt Tam' - his 11yr old matriach

Theirs was a joyful and welcome reunion late last night.


Congratulations to the beautiful cast of young people who responded to Toby so affectionately and so respectfully. A special thank you to TINA KRUGER, (our amazing and mindful Director) :  Congratulations on an awesome production!  
Thank you to all the teachers of Hoerskool Randburg involved in this production, for allowing us to be part of your adventure and for your hospitality. 
Thank you to the talented young cast members, who took the time to get to know Toby.  Thank you, too, to the backstage and theatre helpers.  (Especially the young girls who guarded Toby's tail in the wings, and who diligently broke up his treats into tiny portions.  These little gestures were so important - thank you!).  Thank you to SANTI VAN DEN BERG (Our producer) for the hours of painstaking organising and for keeping such a level head under immense pressure.  To the backdrop designers and prop makers and everyone involved in this production...
...a special "Woof" of thanks, from Toby!!!
We are going to miss your companionship immensely.

Finally, and probably most importantly,
Our knowledgable, patient, professional and talented canine instructor from
for giving Toby and me the opportunity of being part of this adventure, and for sticking with us during your difficult moments.  You are amazing and we so appreciate you!

But for now....
we are going to be taking our well-earned rest.

With lotsaluv and lotsalicks


Friday, May 27, 2011


MAXMOM here...
Hello there to all our friends around the world!

Firstly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for all the messages of support and encouragement which arrive in our in-box and on facebook every day. Your wishes have been really welcome during this busy time. I am acutely aware that my blogging activities are one-sided at the moment.  Please accept my apologies. I am simply posting up our news - as time allows.

 As many of you know (but for the sake of new readers), we are in the midst of the production week for Toby's stage debute, in the musical
Five performances are currently being staged at the UJ Theatre in Johannesburg. If you have missed my blogposts in the past week, please scroll down to previous posts to see some stunning pictures and read their stories.

It's a really special time for me - months of hard work finally paying off - and I am so wanting my friends in cyberspace to share this experience with me.
Please bear with me.  I will try to catch up on your blogs when this is all over.

(Above: Toby in his dressing room back stage, between scenes)
Toby appears in four scenes in this production. 
The first scene is the most difficult of them all.  In this scene - the "Tomorrow" scene, Toby is on stage for approximately 4 minutes.
As with all live performances, every night is different. For a dog, this means that things are constantly changing and he is having to adapt and rely heavily on his security factors - namely Shannon and me in the wings. Actors vary their positions each time they go on stage, using different hand gestures too.  Moods/Ambience is changing constantly.  The audience's responses vary and their participation and contribution to a dog's paradigm may create immense stress for  the dog.
Toby, however, absolutely LOVES the stage!
Maybe he loves it too much?
At this point - past the half-way mark for production week - he has realised that his trainers will never be accompanying him onstage. In his mind, this is starting to indicate 'freedom', so now he relies heavily on the actor's ownership of him and the muted efforts from his handlers in the wings.
Basically, he is...
on his own!
I would imagine that many dogs would react differently to this knowledge.
Toby, however, is thriving in the limelight.  He is so comfortable and happy on stage.  He has taken to breaking his down-stays, but only at the places that he doesn't have Annie's focussed attention. He's obviously decided to exercise his own flair in his ad-libbed walkabouts.
Thankfully, it looks innocent and part of the scene...usually!
Last night too, he became accutely aware of his food bowl which is being handled by the stage hands in the wings.  His food bowl is enticingly adorned with peanut butter - to be used during the scene which follows the 'tomorrow' scene. i.e. The next scene.
"Do I check out where my bowl is, or don't I?", he might ask.
Well, to a dog, the answer lies in the reward which is offered for his choice.
After a few inappropriate barks, he finally decided to leave the stage in my direction and not his food bowl's.
From an audience perspective, the scene went well.  From a training perspective, we would have scored it at 50%.
His second scene - his 'FOOD' scene - obviously went marvellously...90%
(Well done, Toby!)
His third scene - the 'Send-away' - by himself, on stage?....95%
(Well done, Toby!)
The fourth and final scene - in the hectic finale was his absolute best and had me laughing in relief...
Well over 100%!
(Excellent work, Toby!)
Toby produced the most stunning stage bow imaginable!
With Annie in command, he trotted down the isle of singing and dancing cast members.  His tail was wagging, his head held high and then, after a brief pause, he rose up slightly on his hind legs and took a
onto the floor.
It was highly amusing - to say the least - and, most certainly, eliminated our temptations to strangle him after the first scene, earlier in the performance. 
(Only kidding!)
Only two performances remain - tonight and Saturday evening's Gala performance. 
What an amazing experience this has been!
I've put together a short video of Toby in one of the rehearsals for the 'Tomorrow' scene...

If, for some reason, you cannot view this video, please click:

Sending lotsaluv from me and lotsalicks from Toby,

Thursday, May 26, 2011


MAXMOM here...

Whew, what a day! What a week!

After a full technical rehearsal on Monday -(getting home after 11pm, and getting very little sleep), as well as two full performances yesterday (one a matinee, the other the official opening night), the long hours at the theatre and the many weeks of practice runs are finally taking their toll.
Both Toby and I are utterly exhausted. 

All this work for only 4 scenes, a total time amounting to approximately 5 minutes max.

There are still three performances to go. 
(Tonight, Tomorrow night and the gala performance on Saturday night)

Thankfully, today we would have had at least 19 hours of rest before the show tonight.
My motto is still: "Seize every moment, because this is an incredible privilege!"
I am beginning to understand the paradigm of a dog - in terms of being tethered to a leash...

I have been attached to Toby's leash, with him in the driving seat, for three full days.
It's not easy.
Yesterday's morning matinee, to a packed theatre-audience, went flawlessly!
(Both Shannon and I had a silent weep of pride in the wings).
What a star he is!

So here's the story about the official 'Opening Performance' last night:
A lot of empty spaces in the audience, which comprised mostly of students from Hoerskool Randburg. The combination of Toby's excellent comfort levels of 'being on stage', combined with his 'lack of rest' was not a good one...

Now that Toby realises that his handlers won't actually be joining him physically on stage,  and that this is a setting with endless supplies of treats and rewards, he seems to think...
 "It's probably time to experiment a bit with my new turf...
How about we try some walkabout?"

...particularly last night's performance
(much to the audience's delight, of course..!)
Yes, his performance last night was...
mmm, shall we say.
...not his best
He decided to explore the stage during the scene and then in the next scene required extreme encouragement for him to leave the stage...
Sweet hooligan!
But did the audience notice the deviation from script?
The comment I received from someone:
"It was innocently apt"
Admittedly he is EXHAUSTED. 

With two performances in one day - one absolutely flawless and the other; 'a pass', the demands have taken their toll on my young 10mth old pup. Hopefully, our rest during today will ready him for his next attempt tonight.
 Whatever he produces, the fact remains - we have done everything possible to prepare him for his stage debut, and we have to remember...He is still a dog...and a young one at that!

Come on Toby, you can do it!

Sending lotsaluv to you all,


Sunday, May 22, 2011


MAXMOM here...

(Shannon - McKaynine Training, Annie, myself and Toby. Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

The moment has finally arrived -
23-25th May 2011
(Outside the University of Johannesburg Theatre)

If I were to look back over the past four months of Toby's training for this production of 'ANNIE', I can truthfully say that there is nothing more that I could have done to prepare him. 

At this stage he is exactly where we need him to be (in terms of his training), for tomorrow morning. What follows, during this week, is still not guaranteed. There are still at least four variables remaining:

*  How will Toby be feeling on the day of each production?

*  How will Toby react to the lights?

*  How is he going to react to the orchestra pit and the band?  The sound?

and most importantly...
How is Toby going to react to the audience?
(Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

Either way, I have done everything possible to maximise Toby's chances of getting things right when his little moments arrive.  But we have had enormous fun in this process - despite the time constraints in teaching a young dog, and the inevitable pressure at times.
(News clipping: Die Beeld newspaper - Afrikaans narrative.  For my readers who don't understand Afrikaans, the newsclipping - further below, in English, basically says the same as this article...besides the 'brak' part, LOL!  'Brak' is a slang word for an alley dog  - but then again, I suppose this is what 'Sandy' is)

Yesterday was our final rehearsal at the high school:
It was a long day for the cast - starting early morning and finishing mid-afternoon. The tension in the cast is mounting as we approach this week.  The acting is being tweaked, the timing of the scenes is being refined, the dancing perfected, the props are being organised (and added), and last minute changes are being implemented.
The tension is palpable.

As organised, Toby, Lorraine (my dear friend and willing helper) arrived slightly later than the cast.  The scene that met us was one of hyped tension - an extremely distracting environment for a dog: a teacher fell off his chair (much to the delight of the young cast members), children were snacking from interesting lunch boxes on the sidelines, voices were raised amongst those directing the rehearsal and heavy props were being shuffled around noisily.  Unexpectedly too, Toby had to go straight into his scene, without much time to settle in.  I knew it was going to be difficult.

Toby's first scene started. Annie called him onto stage and put him in his position.  Whilst in his 'down-stay' command, some stage hands decided to fill Toby's specific food bowl, rather noisily, in preparation for the following scene (where Toby is 'fed' on stage).  The main problem - their activities were being conducted in the corner, in front of him - in his direct line of his sight!  Toby took one look at them and decided that his food bowl was a far better option.  He broke his down stay and scooted off stage in anticipated delight. 

There were a number of similar distractions during the course of the next hour - more foodbowl efforts, paper packets being crumpled, etc, etc. We ploughed through the scene and I finally took Toby, for a very welcome reprieve, into the garden.  

At 11.30, the whole rehearsal started again, from the start.  This time, everybody was primed and the various scenes went off without a flaw. 
(Newsclipping: Randburg Sun)

Sometimes we all have to be reminded that working with a dog, in this kind of setting, requires sensitive work, respect and consideration for the animal. (Yes, I voiced my concerns, rather loudly.  Afterall, this is my dog we are talking about. ) With understanding finally in place and a consequent happy and enthusiastic pooch, we commenced the rehearsal. 

I can happily say that the rest of the day - another four hours - went off without a hitch and we all left happy, enlightened and prepared for this next hectic week. 
(Newsclipping: Randburg Sun)

As with all live performances, there are always last minute, unexpected happenings and changes. 
My approach:
Take a deep breath! Consentrate on Toby! Ease through the unexpected! Stay calm! and most importantly...
This is, afterall, an incredible privilege to be part of this production.
(Orphans getting their make-up.  Photograph: Rian Geldenhuys)

Here are some more pictures...
(Toby making friends with little 'Marissa' - the director's daughter)
(Annie's understudy comes to join the gathering)
(Happiness is...)
("Pres. Rooseveld" in full dress)

It's highly likely that this is going too be an intensely emotional week for me:
Besides the Annie production, Tuesday will be the one-year anniversary of the death of my dear 'Maxdog'.  Over the past 10mths of Toby's life, he has filled all those sore places that Max's passing left behind.  Not only that, but he has grown into a beautiful and incredible dog of his own.
What better way to celebrated this in conjunction with my birthday?

Sending lotsaluv to you, our friends, across the world.

Friday, May 20, 2011

ANNIE REHEARSALS...nearly crunch time.

MAXMOM here...
(Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

It was the second last rehearsal last night, before we finally move to UJ theatre. 
Toby is simply...
(Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

The production and the entire cast are finally coming together. 
The music is beautiful, the dancing delightful, the acting awesome
and Toby ....
too sweet for words!

 He is a true doggie star and the kids are so proud to have him part of their show.
(The finale: Toby doing a bow for Annie)

His actual scenes, during the show however, are very short indeed. 
Although this is potentially a little disappointing for audiences, this is entirely purposeful, so as not to put him under any pressure whatsoever. 
We have to remember that he is still young and impressionable and it would be unwise (and unfair) to keep him onstage during the hectic dancing routines.
(Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

Last night, Annie really took command of him. 
(Annie interacting with Toby before taking him 'on stage')

He adores her and respects her direction. 
(The 'feeding' scene...Toby's best! :))

I was so pleased and silently proud of this talented young woman. 
She is such a tiny little thing, but she is so inspiring and perfect for the role.
('Annie' in full costure.  Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

Toby and Elna (Annie) have a unique bond and he is willing to do almost anything for her.

('Did they hurt you?'... Annie and Toby during the first scene where she 'finds him in an alley')

The actors really got into their roles last night.  'Mr Warbucks' too..
('Mr Warbucks' in full dress)

The scene, immediately preceding the scene where Toby comes onto stage by himself, requires Mr Warbucks to carry Annie offstage in his arms. 
Warbucks and Annie were really acting their parts last night, and when Toby saw Annie's demeanour, whilst she was in Mr Warbucks's arms, his face just dropped. 
He was so concerned about her and desperately wanted to go and ensure that she was okay.
Unfortunately, it was the exact time for him to go onto stage, on his own, out to his appointed mark in the middle of the stage.

Despite his concern about Annie, the scene was done perfectly.
Afterwards, we took him to Annie to show him that
'She really is okay, Toby!' 

It was tail wags all around. 
He is so, so cute!
(Me and Toby waiting to send him onto stage, on his own, to his demarkated spot)

(Shannon calls him away from his 'demarkated spot' to the opposite end of the stage)
("I did it, Maxmom!")

This morning, we are off to the UJ theatre for some more stage familiarisation. 

We have a long rehearsal on Saturday  and a well-earned break on Sunday. 

On Monday, it's crunch time!

 It will be the technical rehearsal were the producer/directors/teachers/theatre team painstakingly go through all the technicalities of the production - lights, sound, music, etc, etc.  
For them, it's a whole day affair - 12 plus hours!!!
Toby, Shannon and I, however, only have to be there at 3pm for his own technical run. 
Then at 7pm it is time for the full dress rehearsal.
(The Orphans.  Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

(President Rooseveldt and co.  Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

(Annie chorus line: Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

How is Toby doing? 
Answer: Simply wonderfully! 
(Photographer: Rian Geldenhuys)

He is so excited to take part in the various scenes and again, I must say, that I feel enormously privileged to be a part of all this. 
Thank you, once again to the cast of Annie, the backstage crew, the teachers and everyone involved at
Hoerskool Randburg.
A special thank you to Tina, our amazing director,
(Toby's main trainer from McKaynine Training Centre)

Last, but not least, to...
this amazing dog of mine, who brings me such joy.
Thank you, my boy!
All that remains now is.....

Bathtime on Sunday!

Many of my readers have been asking about videos/DVD's of the production. 
I will do my best to try and make these available through the efforts of some of my friends, as well as the organisers of the production.  I am however totally reliant on others for this, as I will be handling Toby throughout the various shows.  Hopefully this will all work out and the footage will be available for our friends and readers after the shows. Unfortunately I can't promise anything.

Sending lots of love to all my friends and readers across the world.  Once again, I apologise for not visiting your blogs - it's simply too hectic at the moment.

Till next time, with love...