What’s it like to be a celebrity/show biz/magic dog in Austin at Esther’s Follies? If you’ve seen the show in the last decade, you’ve witnessed the captivating magic of Ray Anderson and his canine assistants Matilda, Gilbert, and Leroy. I sat down with Ray to talk about the star of the show these days, a six-year-old Maltese named Leroy.
Laura: How did you find Leroy?
Ray: There was a guy that posted that he had a white Maltese dog, which I’ve always been partial to or a mix thereof, and he had two left that he hadn’t been able to get rid of from the group of dogs.
I came to look at Leroy but it was Bosco that first came up. We didn’t even see Leroy so we thought he’d already been adopted, but then all of sudden this little runt dog, who was much smaller than Bosco, peeked around the chair and there he was. He was very shy. He was definitely the runt of the litter and part of the reason he wasn’t adopted right away.
Bosco was very gregarious and fun, so we figured he would be the one to do the magic, but we didn’t want to split them up because it’d been 5 or 6 months that they had been together so I took them both. I thought, “Well Leroy will just hang out and Bosco will do the shows,” but it turned out to be exactly the opposite.
Laura: Is it hard to train a dog for a magic show?
Ray: If you notice in the show I never make them stand up on their hind legs, or do tricks, basically all the dogs do, it’s not really any different than taking them and putting them in a kennel for about a minute and then taking them out. I leave them their dignity! (we laugh)
But dogs really love having a job. Leroy has been in the show for almost 5 years, and he took Gilbert’s place who was in the show for many years.
I never force them if they’re not interested. The way I’d train them is that I’d have a large cardboard box and I’d be sitting on the bed, and I’d take them and put them in the box for a second like a game, and I close the box for just for a second or two and then I open it up and, you know, “Oh, there you are!” That teaches them about being in a box for a second that’s dark and then out.
Laura: Sounds easy so far!
Ray: But with Bosco, Bosco was just one of those dogs that has a look of concern, which is not very conducive to show biz, and so every time I’d open the box Bosco would look very concerned, and I thought, “Well this just isn’t going to work, is it? This is not his thing.”
I took Bosco out of the box and set him down, and Leroy had been watching the whole time, and Leroy immediately went and jumped into the box himself, and then I closed the lid and opened it back up and there he was smiling from ear to ear, and he was just a natural.
Leroy does the cannon trick, where he gets put in the canon and fake-shot out of the cannon, then he also does the boat. He has a little boat called the S.S. Puppy Chow that goes by in the Cry Me A River routine at the end of the show and gets eaten by a giant fish. If you ever watch him, that’s his real chance to shine, so he’s always smiling and grinning ear to ear. He was a natural.
Laura: How long does it take to be show ready?
Ray: The thing is, it’s really all about whether the dog enjoys being around people, and enjoys attention, and is okay with the audience, the noises.
I don’t even have them sit, I don’t give them commands or anything like that. Other than that, the dogs don’t really do anything other than stand there! (we laugh)
Laura: What do the dogs do backstage?
Ray: I have a bed in my dressing room which is where the dogs all hang out; it’s not like they’re in crates or something awful thing like that!
Laura: When you walk around with the dogs do people recognize them from the show?
Ray: Oh yeah! Leroy is just a magnet for attention, people recognize Leroy, and since his name is mentioned in the show, he’s “Leroy the Canine Cannonball”, so he definitely gets recognized.
Laura: What does Leroy do when he’s not working?
Ray: He loves fetch, but Bosco likes to hang out in the guest bedroom where he thinks he’s king. Leroy likes to tear toys up too, not just play with them but make sure they’re killed. (laughs)
Laura: Would you ever consider using different types of animals in the show?
Ray: No, for me personally I’d never use an exotic animal. The thing about a dog being a domesticated animal is that many of them enjoy the idea of doing a job, but I couldn’t feel the same way about an exotic animal.
The difference with a dog is that he’s my companion, they go everywhere with me, so why wouldn’t they go with me to work? There’s something very special about your bond with a dog that way too, you’re just always together, it’s very few places I go that Leroy or Bosco or Matilda weren’t with me. And even though Bosco doesn’t do the show, he comes to the show all the time. He’s okay hanging out in the dressing room, he likes that, he feels like he’s doing a show!
Laura: Any stories of magic tricks gone wrong with Leroy?
Ray: One time, they accidently got the wrong dog, because they look similar. They actually got Bosco out of my dressing room and put him in the boat outside of the window, and that look of concern going across got an actual reaction from the audience, it was like, “They got the wrong dog!!” By the time I got offstage he was just mortified. I knew for sure right away Bosco was not made for show business.
About the Author:
Laura Mathis is a past Esther’s Follies performer who graced the stage from 2003- 2006 with her Canadian charms and willingness to wear any type of costume to get a laugh. Laura enjoyed levitating with Ray Anderson, belting out tunes with Shannon Sedwick, and having a bull whip snapped in her face by Rob Williams (not so enjoyable but she lived to tell the tale). Laura has studied and performed at the famed Second City in Chicago and lives in Austin with her husband and 4 -year-old twins. Follow Laura on Twitter @thelauramathis