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Theatrical Cat Pets Leader Dog

May 18, 2016


Theatrical Cat Pets Leader Dog


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



At our beloved Jacksonville Grade School (Blanford, Indiana), in 1957, when my sister was in Mrs. Tonner’s fourth-grade class, this outstanding teacher decided to take her third- and fourth-grade classes to the Children’s Theatre, on the campus of Indiana State University (then, Indiana State Teachers College), in Terre Haute, about a half hour away.  This theatrical field trip was quite a treat for the rural students who attended Jacksonville Grade School:  actually, this field trip to a theatre was, to my knowledge, the one and only of its kind for the Jacksonville Grade School students.  Since my mother was one of the chaperones for my sister’s class, I, despite being just a first-grader, was allowed to go to the Children’s Theatre also.  What excitement!


Although the theatre and the building (Dreiser Hall) were much the same when I attended Indiana State University (ISU) about eleven years later, I can so clearly picture in my mind that first theatre where I experienced a live production.  Unfortunately, as soon as Rumpelstiltskin hobbled onto the stage and gruffly recited his lines, I was frightened.  Despite my fear of the title character, I was determined to stay and witness this magical, live show on the stage before us.  Somehow, I kept my apprehension in tow and became an avid fan of live theatrical productions–especially musicals.  Eventually, each of my three guide dogs accompanied me to a variety of theatres for live performances.


Having an older sister did have its advantages.  When Mary was attending ISU and I was still in Clinton High School, she went to the ISU Summer Theatre; and I, on at least some occasions, was able to go along with her to the theatre-in-the-round.  I tremendously enjoyed these summer theatre productions.  If I remember correctly, the first production which I saw was the witty and delightful The Importance of Being Earnest.  Many years later, when I was teaching English at Milwaukee Area Technical College, I relished teaching Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  My students, from a wide variety of backgrounds and literary experiences, did enjoy the study of this play.


My parents, my sister, and I took advantage of attending theatrical productions in Indianapolis, especially Beef ‘n Boards Dinner Theatre.  Through many years of going to this venue, I had the opportunity to see many of the most famous “Broadway” musicals (such as Fiddler on the Roof, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, They’re Playing Our Song, and My Fair Lady).


In the summer of 1969, along with visiting relatives in New Jersey, we took the train from Philadelphia to New York City.  During our memorable excursion to The Big Apple, our primary destination was Broadway.  Yes, just once, I had the opportunity to enter a real Broadway theatre and see a Broadway show–Zorba the Greek.  I still have the program from this production and from most others which I have attended.


In contrast to New York City’s Broadway, a farming area of our neighboring state of Illinois afforded us a most unexpected theatre experience in the rural town of Sullivan.  Many times, we drove to the Little Theatre-on-the-Square where we enjoyed this summer theatre’s productions of such musicals as Oklahoma (with John Wesley Shipp), Shenandoah (with John Saxon), and Annie.  Having this professional theatre in such a rural area is a much-appreciated marvel.


During the fall/winter season, while attending Indiana State University, I recall that my favorite musical in Tilson Music Hall was the Broadway touring company of Camelot, with John Raitt.  A friend and I saw this elaborate production in 1974.


When I moved to Ohio for a teaching position, we found another dinner theatre to our liking–La Comedia Dinner Theatre, in Dayton.  At times, we saw a musical we had never before enjoyed; at other times, we enjoyed a new production of a musical we had seen previously.


When, in the 1980s, ISU had Broadway touring companies perform in “The Wedge” of Hulman Civic Center, my parents and I had the opportunity to hear the dramatic Broadway musical Evita.  I can still picture in my mind the actress who portrayed Evita Peron’s singing from a balcony on stage the stirring “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”


As most of my Wordwalk readers know, on March 21, 1990, I received my first Leader Dog; then, we went to Western Michigan University (WMU) where I earned a second master’s degree, with Leader Dog Keller at my side.  On the campus of WMU, a friend, Keller, and I went to the lovely music hall to attend Mark Twain, Tonight.  This performance was the first live production which I attended with my Leader Dog.  The one-man show starred Hal Holbrook.  He, spotlighted on center stage, seemed to fascinate my golden retriever who stayed in a “sit” position and stared at the Mark Twain character during most of the first act.  Then, during the remainder of the show, Keller slept quietly beside my feet.  Throughout her years as my loyal and devoted guide, she led me to many theatrical productions in Milwaukee.  Taking my parents to see Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly is one of my best “Broadway” memories.  If ever an actor could hug the audience with each word she spoke, that actor was Ms. Channing, who announced her love for Milwaukee audiences.  (I am sure she earnestly said the same to all of her audiences.)  While Keller was at my side for this memorable Dolly performance at the now Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, how I most distinctly remember Keller at this theatre is during the intermission of Cats.  While my sister, Keller, and I were standing in the hallway, outside the theatre, some of the performers walked by to go to an area where one could have a photo taken with one of the Broadway Cats.  When one of the Cats was returning to the back of the stage, she stopped beside my golden retriever and me.  “May I pet your guide dog?  I have a golden, but I have not been home to see her for quite a while.”  Although I very rarely have allowed someone to pet one of my guide dogs (while in harness), this time was one of the exceptions.  The actress, in full Cat costume, petted my Leader Dog, who just sat and calmly enjoyed the attention of being petted by a famous Cat.


During the ten years that Heather was at my lead, she and I attended many theatrical events.  For me, the most exciting was Wicked which we magically experienced at a beautiful theatre in Chicago, in 2004.  The only challenge with this trip was finding a place near the theatre to “park” my yellow lab.  Having no luck with finding a patch of grass, bark, nor rocks in that area of downtown Chicago, Heather was a good girl and relieved herself on command in an alley.


My third Leader Dog Zoe, like her two predecessors, was always extremely well-behaved as an audience member in a theatre.  With each of my guide dogs, I could relax and enjoy the show because I trusted the good behavior of each of my working dogs.  At times, only my Leader Dog and I went to a nearby theatre because each of my Leader Dogs learned the way to the theatre, the entry and exit doors, and the routine inside the theatre.  For many years, at the Marcus Center, I not only received the print Playbill, but also gratefully accepted a brailled program (expertly brailled by Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement–ABLE).  While I read the braille program, Keller, Heather, or Zoe lay quietly and unobtrusively at my feet.  Although we customarily waited to enter the theatre near the curtain time, if, after we were settled, someone needed to go through the row to his or her seat, each Leader Dog and I went into the aisle, waited for the passerby, and then returned to my seat.  Each Leader Dog received much appropriate praise for all the good behavior at and around the theatre.


The final performance which Zoe and I attended together was appropriately Mary Poppins.  By a cardboard statue of Mary Poppins at The Fireside (the dinner theatre  in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin), my sister took a photo of Zoe and me.  I say this was appropriate because like Mary Poppins, “practically perfect” is how I have often described my remarkable and cherished Leader Dog Zoe.


I imagine that my soon-to-be fourth Leader Dog and I will happily attend more theatrical productions together.  Like outstanding actors deserve applause and even echoes of “Bravo,” my Leader Dogs deserved their praise.  For all three who have spotlighted my life, I enthusiastically say “Brava!  Brava!  Brava!”


Warm “Broadway” regards,



May 18, 2016, Wednesday



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  1. Fran Rayce permalink

    Hi Alice, Once again you have taken me back to some familiar places with your excellent recall and recounting of places and events. ISU theater was indeed a treat for this bumpkin from neighboring Universal. Your mention of the many shows brought back great memories of the joy music brings to our lives.

    Ironically, and happily, this weekend we will be enjoying The Sound of Music with Natalie, Adam, and their parents at the beautiful Fisher Theater in Detroit. Natalie is an avid viewer of this show in the movie version so we are excited to see this live performance.

    Looking forward to your time in southeast Michigan. Let me know if and when there is a good time to arrange a visit.
    Fondly, Fran

    • Hi, Fran–What a coincidence! Enjoy THE SOUND OF MUSIC with your family!

      Thanks for commenting–Alice

  2. Alice, what a wonderful story. I’m glad you had a chance to see the Broadway version of Cats and that you let the cat pet the dog.

  3. I am happy to have enjoyed many performances with you and your special Leader Dogs, Alice! Although the actors were always quite talented, I must admit that not one made the same lasting impression on me as did “Rumpelstiltskin” in that Indiana State Children’s Theater production. I wonder if that actor went on to bigger and better roles.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–I do not remember receiving a program at the performance of RUMPELSTILTSKIN. Do you? Thanks for your comment.

      Have a good day–Alice

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