Meeting Skippy for the first time, one might not suspect that the adorable, friendly pup is a star of the theatrical stage, with his own company bio and headshot.
Yet Milwaukee’s Broadway Theatre Center is where you are likely to find Skippy — a playful mix of miniature schnauzer, rat terrier and Pomeranian — these days, as he performs in the Skylight Music Theatre’s production of the musical “Annie,” running through Dec. 27.
Skippy, whose home is in Rochester, shares the role of Annie’s dog, Sandy, with another canine actor — a beagle mix named Shiloh. They alternate performance dates, along with other members of two separate casts. And on a recent afternoon, while he relaxed on the family couch with his owners Dennis and Lynn Beauchesne, Skippy seemed to take his celebrity status in stride.
This isn’t, after all, Skippy’s first rodeo. The now-5-year-old dog made his theatrical debut in 2015, playing Toto in the Fireside Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” in Fort Atkinson. He starred in all 55 shows in the eight-week run.
He also performed the role of Toto earlier this year, when the Mukwonago Village Players presented “The Wizard of Oz.” And, being what some might call a “Renaissance dog,” Skippy is also involved in performance sports — a variety of competitive sporting events for canines.
He and his three dog “brothers” — Houdini (first name Hairy), Ziggy and Rollie Fingers (named for his mustache’s resemblance to that of the former Milwaukee Brewer) — train and compete regularly in sporting events such as agility, flyball and disc dog. All are very active dogs — two Jack Russell terriers and a border collie — and Skippy’s favorite sporting event, Dennis said, is lure coursing, a fast-paced chase sport in which dogs chase an artificial lure across a field.
It was through a friend in the performance sports world, in fact, that the Beauchesnes first learned about acting opportunities for Skippy.
“She told us that the Fireside was looking for a Toto, and she thought Skippy would be good for the role,” Lynn said.
While it took Skippy a little while to get used to the noise and movements on that first stage, Dennis said their dog is a fast learner and was soon feeling pretty relaxed in his role. Today, as he works with the Skylight cast and crew, Skippy seems right at home, with a keen sense for where he should be on stage at any given time, Dennis said. And, according to his company bio, he can relate to the role of Sandy — Annie’s adopted stray — because he was a rescue dog, having been found on the streets of Chicago with his mother, when he was just 3 weeks old.
Me time, for Skippy
The Beauchesnes, who adopted him at 9 weeks old, said Skippy gets excited every time they tell him it’s time to go to the theater.
“He likes the one-on-one attention he gets at the theater,” Dennis said, adding that Skippy — as one of four dogs at home — also seems to like having him and Lynn to himself during the car rides back-and-forth to Milwaukee.
The Beauchesnes are also enjoying their experience with with the Skylight Music Theatre. They served as Skippy’s handlers during rehearsals and they attend every show he performs, sitting near the back so their dog won’t see them. While neither has any theater background, both said they have found it really interesting and rewarding to work with the actors and directors.
“It was just awesome to be able to see behind-the-scenes of this show,” said Lynn, who works as an administrative assistant for the Racine County Economic Development Corp.
“It has given us a better understanding for what actors do and how they do it,” said Dennis, general manager at ECM USA in Pleasant Prairie. “They really are amazing performers and it humbles us to have been able to work with them.”
And they haven’t tired of watching the show, which opened in mid November.
“There’s always something different to see,” Lynn said.
Sharing the rewards
While Skippy does get paid for his time on stage, the Beauchesnes said they didn’t get him involved in theater for the money.
“We try to give whatever he earns back to the dogs,” Dennis said, explaining that Skippy’s earnings helped purchase new, wooden crates and a walk-through dog bathtub for all four canines.
“He’s been really nice to his brothers,” Dennis said, smiling.