Author Topic: Working with animals?  (Read 5918 times)

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deserted

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Working with animals?
« on: Mar 11, 2009, 06:07 pm »
No, I don't mean high school students ;) Our high school's putting on "Inherit the Wind" soon, and there's a monkey in the script. I simply assumed that we would use a puppet or something, but I was told today that we would be using a live monkey.

Cue major freak out.

I've never had to work with animals before, and it's quite honestly a bit frightening. Are there any tips for working with animals in the play?

CTsometimeSM

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #1 on: Mar 11, 2009, 06:14 pm »
Never had a monkey, but I seem to have some kind of attraction to dogs in shows (ok, mostly because I keep finding myself doing Wizard of Oz).

With any luck whoever owns/trains the monkey will be part of the production team (I can't imagine doing it otherwise, particularily with something as unusual as a monkey), and can give you some good idea on what the critter will require.  They should be managing it whenever it is off stage, and manage getting it ready and in the right place-at which point you can almost deal with the handler like any other performer as far as reminders, cues, warnings, etc.

Plan for more messes than typical backstage, and consider that it could break things both on and offstage.

Last, I would want to think about what happens if it gets loose/goes off script-onstage or off.

BeckyGG

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #2 on: Mar 12, 2009, 09:24 am »
I would second everything said by CTsometimeSM.

I've never had a monkey but I've had a fair share of cats, dogs and a live piglet onstage.  The big thing is to make sure that the animal has a handler who knows about the animal, and that's primary responsibility is caring for the animal when it's not onstage.

Always expect the unexpected when a live animal is involved, both onstage and off.  And when people other then the animal are working with the animal they should remain calm and collected.  If you are using a live monkey it's probably wise for everyone to meet and get comfortable with it prior to actually trying to rehearse with it.

Good luck!  I look forward to hearing more about this!
CHAOS: Where Brilliant Dreams Are Born
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Before a brilliant person begins something great, they must look foolish to the crowd.

planetmike

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #3 on: Mar 12, 2009, 11:19 am »
Make sure the animal handler knows what to expect as well. A few years ago I saw a production of the Wizard of Oz where the handler was under the impression that Toto should be given a hot dog to eat in the fireside scene with Dr. Marvel. Unfortunately, on stage opening night is not a good time to discover that the hot dog did not agree with the animal.

PSMAK

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #4 on: Mar 12, 2009, 01:19 pm »
I did "Inherit" in college and we use a puppet that the organ grinder controlled.

Capuchins are probably the easiest monkeys to work with and train. But, they can still can inflict a nasty bite, especially if they are scared and/or frustrated. And they have a mind of their own. If they really wanted to and are desperate enough, they could kill someone. They should not be underestimated. I would definately sit down with the handler and come up with an emergency plan if the animal were to escape in the theatre. And yes, make sure you try and "monkey proof" things. Remember that these are very intelligent (and often mischievious) animals and they are stronger then you think. They can also be very vocal when they want to be.

I hope things go well and you all don't go "Bananas"!

deserted

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #5 on: Mar 14, 2009, 06:17 pm »
Thanks everyone for their advices! I talked to the director, and told him flat out that I will not let a monkey onstage without a handler backstage, and he assured me that a handler will be backstage and will be with the monkey whenever the monkey's not onstage. Whew.

Now all I have to do is tell the actors NOT to play/feed/touch/annoy the monkey. Hopefully they'll be able to control themselves. And have a chat with a handler about what to do in serious situations, i.e. the monkey starts freaking out onstage.

Oh the woes of being an SM. But that's why I love it :)

I'll keep you guys updated! Show's in two weeks!

deserted

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #6 on: Mar 16, 2009, 04:14 am »
So it turns out the handler CAN'T be backstage during the play. In fact, he can't be there at all! He can only drop the monkey off and pick it up each night.

The director still wants to have a live monkey in the show. Guess we'll just have to work with it.

Wish me luck you guys :/

NomieRae

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #7 on: Mar 16, 2009, 09:12 am »
I'm not sure how much leverage you feel you have, but if there is not going to be a trainer I would put my foot down and say there is not going to be any live animal. It's just not safe. Period.
--Naomi
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planetmike

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #8 on: Mar 16, 2009, 09:20 am »
It seems strange to me that someone would drop off their monkey to be used like that. Aren't monkeys expensive? That is a lot of trust on their end.

You might ask the director (or producer) if the theater group's (or the venue's) insurance will cover any problems that arise from the monkey. Or ask the director to be the handler during the show. Also whoever will be with the monkey on stage (the organ grinder?) needs to be very comfortable working with the monkey.

KMC

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #9 on: Mar 16, 2009, 10:05 am »
Part of your job as a Stage Manager is to do some basic Risk Management (evaluate risk for situations), and if you're going to take on a risk, figuring out ways to mitigate that risk to have the least possible impact on safety and cost.

In my book a monkey/chimp/advanced primate without a trained handler is very high on the risk scale (see chimp goes crazy article) for what is, by comparison, a relatively low reward.  Chimp - handler + many performers + bright stage lights + hundreds in the audience = bad, in my opinion.

The decision likely will be way above the SM's head in any situation, but it is your responsibility to at least raise the concern to management (or school administration, in this case) about the potential ramifications.

Get action. Do things; be sane; don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

stagegal1

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #10 on: Mar 16, 2009, 07:24 pm »
Check local laws.  I did a production of Inherit the Wind where the director wanted a monkey.  There were laws in place (what kind of handler, etc) that made it economically impossible for us.  We ended up using a dog.  It worked pretty well.  We had a fake ape in a store window...

Allison

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #11 on: Mar 17, 2009, 09:20 am »
Also, has your director/drama teacher cleared this with the school's principal and/or the school board?  The school/school district may have rules in place regarding animals in the school.  You may also need parent release forms for all of the students involved in the show.  I would broach the subject with the director.  If the answer is no, he/she hasn't spoken with the school's administration, they have got to be made aware of the situation.  Ideally the director should go do it, but if he/she doesn't understand what the big deal is, you should talk to them.  If you don't feel comfortable talking to the principal, consider speaking with another trusted teacher, your guidance counselor or a vice principal.  Best of luck as you navigate your way through this situation.

loebtmc

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #12 on: Mar 18, 2009, 12:50 am »
I agree - to put it in terms the director can understand, if anyone got bit, the legal ramifications and lawsuits would break the school. And who protects the animal from possible abuse? What everyone else has said is right. No handler, no animal on stage. Safety first - for both the humans and for the monkey!

centaura

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #13 on: Mar 24, 2009, 12:38 pm »
I've worked with dogs, rats and pigeons onstage, and you definitely need to have a "meet the animal" meeting with the performers, including full instructions on how to behave around the animal, what the animal can do, how to deal with the animal if it misbehaves, and what can be done to attract the animal.  Let the animal smell the whole cast, and be slowly introduced to everyone.  If it responds to certain treats, have folks stationed on either side of the stage with said treats in case of distraction.  Pigeons will go to the brightest light when in a dark environment, so that's how we cued it to land in a specific spot.  Is there something like that that will attract the monkey if it gets off leash?

I'm hoping that the person working with the monkey will have it leashed, and you should have someone assigned backstage to be its handler - even if its not the actual handler.  I can't believe that the handler is being that non-chalant about leaving their animal with a theatrical troupe.  Has the monkey ever been onstage before?  With lights, sounds, and live audiences making noises?  I would have one, preferably two, folks who's job backstage is solely the monkey.

-Centaura

deserted

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Re: Working with animals?
« Reply #14 on: Mar 27, 2009, 01:50 pm »
Hey everyone, thanks for all the amazing advice. From what I gathered, the trainer is a friend of a student at our school, and was willing to trust us with the monkey.

So here's what happened: the guy had to suddenly leave the country due to personal issues back home. Turns out we didn't get a live monkey after all. We used a puppet instead. I'd like to believe that the theatre gods answered my prayers. :)

But thanks for all the advice! It's great knowledge to have, and the next time I'm faced with an animal problem on stage, I'll know what to do. I love this board :)

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