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Canine actor Scooter Moose de Chumber charms his Shakespeare Festival audience

By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com

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Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman

Published: 07/03/11

Some actors have “it;” some don’t. “It” is that magical chemical bond one can create with an audience and fellow actors. It’s also the ability to get the laugh.

The moment Scooter Moose de Chumber walks onstage in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” his “it” factor kicks in. The audience sighs with delight and watches with giddy excitement. When Chumber turns it on, one well-timed gaze, and they’re in his paws.

This is no average dog. His dead-on deadpan makes his acting partner — the festival’s broad-ranging and gregarious David Anthony Smith — into a straight man.

That’s no mean feat.

David Anthony Smith* and Scooter Moose

In “Two Gents,” the 3-year-old French bulldog plays Crab, one of the only dogs of name in a Shakespearean play, and the only actual canine character The Bard wrote. Crab is companion to Launce, played by Smith, who is the manservant to Proteus— one of the two gents.

“He’s a ham,” Smith says. “He’s a show dog, and he loves getting the attention and reward of the treat. People love him. On preview night, when I said ‘Yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear,’ he (Chumber) slowly turned and looked at the audience. His timing is impeccable.”

That’s in Launce’s first monologue, which recounts his hysterical farewell to his family because he must follow Proteus to Milan. In his second big moment, Chumber finished with best trick: a high-five.

The great W.C. Fields once said, “Never act with animals or small children.”

“I disagree,” Smith says. “With the right animal, it’s a joy. Chumber brings so much to the role. I love working with him. He’s my bud!” Smith finds Chumber’s happy spot and gives it a scratch, as the dog wags in ecstasy.

Shakespeare wrote Launce for Will Kempe, one of the original members of Shakespeare’s acting company, the Chamberlain’s Men.

Kempe had a dog that knew a lot of bits.

In “Shakespeare in Love,” Geoffrey Rush’s character Philip Henslowe says, “You see — comedy, Will. Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want.”

Smith really is a dog person. He works (and plays) with Chumber.

“I stay with him all the time backstage. It would be a whole different thing if I just got him for our scenes,” Smith says. “I take him out; I play with him; we do our treats backstage; we rehearse. Then, me walking out with him onstage becomes an extension of our bond.”

Since Smith learned of Chumber’s love of lamb, he cooks up a batch of treats for every show. “He’s really all about the treats,” he says.

DOG CASTING

When ISF produced “Two Gents” in 2004, Crab was played by a dog statue — which now is known as Chumber’s stand-in. This time, assistant director Sara M. Bruner insisted on casting a real dog. It can be tricky to have a dog onstage, especially outdoors, where the audience and lights are just the tip of the distractions. There’s food, birds — including a peacock — cats that live under the stage and the occasional skunk.

Bruner held dog auditions in Boise and Cleveland, home of ISF’s sister company, the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

“I knew it would be a huge missed opportunity if we didn’t, especially in Boise. It’s kind of a dog city,” Bruner says.

In Cleveland, a 150-pound Newfoundland named Mojo played Crab. That was a very different portrayal.

“If he didn’t want to go on cue, it was difficult,” Smith says. “It’s a huge advantage that I can carry Chumber.”

Scooter Moose de Chumber belongs to Erin Gorringe, a vet-tech at Habitat Veterinary Health Center in Bown Crossing. She found him through a French bulldog rescue network. Chumber was supposed to be a breeding stud but had some undesirable traits, such as possession aggression.

“He just wasn’t acclimated to people. So, he had to learn that people aren’t just a source of food, but of affection, too,” she says. “We learned that, and we worked on his ability to share things, and he’s just a different dog.”

Chumber is now a neutered stud. He’s affectionate, playful and full of personality.

“He’s our baby, big time,” she says.

When Gorringe learned about the dog audition on the ISF Facebook page, she had a hunch that Chumber would be just right.

“He kind of looks like a gargoyle,” she wrote in an email to Bruner. The moment Gorringe and Chumber showed up at the site, Bruner knew she’d found her Boise Crab.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Not much, according to Gorringe. His A.K.C. name is Rocky’s Bullwinkle, and he was dubbed Moose when she got him.

“Then all these nicknames came up: Scooter, Schoochie, Schoochie McNugget, Chumby, Bumper, Chuch, Chechie … Dan, Dan-Dan — not sure where that came from,” she says. “He doesn’t really respond to any of them. You could call him Pot Pie. It’s all the same to him.”

Chumber landed in a good situation all the way around. Gorringe and her boyfriend, Sam Tibbs, give him tons of attention, which is something this breed requires — he often gets to go to work with Gorringe. She figured out some of his quirks and allergies that were making him miserable.

Now, he’s a happy dog, she says. Being in the play has given him a new purpose, Gorringe says.

“I think he really loves it. He likes the attention and that he has a purpose to come here. He knows the routine: going out onstage and doing his role. He might not do it the same every time. but he knows that’s what’s going on.”

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read at Idaho Statesman

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