May 27, 2006

When a company member leaves Imago, there is usually a process of phasing in and out, of the old member teaching the new member the show, piece by piece. On opening night, the new member might be in, say, one piece, and the old member would still be in about eight. By the second weekend, the old and new member might be sharing the show about eighty-twenty. By the third, fourth, or fifth week, the new member will have replaced the old member entirely, giving the old member the freedom to pursue other adventures.

This is how I thought my spring would be spent. I would be in rehearsals during the day, performances at night, slowly phasing out of the show and making peace with my new life. I bought a plane ticket to the east coast (and therefore to Roundtop, New Hampshire, Wedding Central, and Camp) for mid-June, and began rehearsal for the newbie company member.

Upon commencing rehearsal, however, I discovered that Danielle, a previous company member (and fantastic person) was going to take many of my parts, and the rest of my roles would be primarily redistributed among existing company members. I performed only one piece on Opening Night, and then said my goodbyes to the cast and to the directors the very next day.

It was a little startling. At first I was saddened that I had not been able to properly say goodbye to the show. Frogz is an incredible piece of theatre; I had performed the show many hundreds of times and had never tired of it. I had never stopped finding new ways to explore the movement, new ideas to bring to the stage, new laughs, new surprises. And then all of a sudden it was over and I had almost two months of time on my hands. I handed over my part and said goodbye to Imago.

Being a part of Imago was an invaluable experience; I learned a whole lot about physical theatre, toured the country, and met some amazing people. There was another side to Imago, however, one of long rehearsals and even longer bus rides, one of exacting note sessions, and aching muscles. Though I would not trade the experience for anything, it didn't take too long for me to realize the potential of my freedom. Not twenty-four hours after I walked out of that theatre, I was clicking my heels and grinning from ear to ear, excited to begin a new phase of my life.

I'm not so good with down-time, so I spent a couple of days planning out the seven weeks before I left Portland for the summer. It wasn't enough time to get a job, in theatre or out of it. I didn't want to travel. I wanted to do something I had never done, something that had always interested me. And so I got on the computer (bless the internet), googled all of the dog trainers in Portland, and sent out about a dozen inquiry emails about potential internships.

I have always loved dogs and have often been intrigued by the training process. I wanted to shadow a few trainers to see if this was a field I would be interested in pursing (alongside theatre, of course). Three trainers responded to my inquiry, and I was off and running, working with three wonderful women in several different areas of dog training.

With Mara Windstar of Paws to Freedom, I worked with assistance dogs of all kinds. Mara's clients included people with Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Agoraphobia, Mitochondritis, and many other metal or physical disabilities. All of these people had service dogs by their side, and were working with Mara to train the dogs to help them with the day-to-day tasks that they were not able to do for themselves.

With Casey Newton of Portland Paws, I assisted with Puppy Kindergarten and learned many of the principles behind clicker training (marker training with positive reinforcement). The puppies were frickin' adorable, and it was really neat to see training at its most basic, operant levels.

I also interned with Greta Kaplan of Fuzzy Logic Dog Training, where I learned the art of Flyball (a super fun dog sport) and assisted with her Feisty Fido class, dealing with dog aggression issues.

All three women totally rocked, and I found excellent friends in every one of them. Their teaching, along with the handful of books they happily lent to me, led me toward the decision to get certified as a dog trainer by earning my CPDT (Certified Pet Dog Trainer) license over the next few years. Hooray!

Working with dogs is really fantastic. I feel more complete with dogs in my life. Just to be able to pet or roughhouse or play fetch with a dog makes my heart happy. And training dogs to work with people puts my brain to work. It gives me worthwhile puzzles, and encourages me to study different aspects of psychology and behaviorism that, so far, I have found fascinating. Remember my quest to find some brain exercise? Well, I think I've found it.