Drama with dogs

Sometimes real life makes for a great bit of entertaining theater. You find yourself saying, "You can't write stuff like this!" So it was with the scenario that unfolded just this past Monday.

That was the day that ArtWork Enterprises presented its eighth annual Ten-Minute Plays Festival. This year, for the first time, the event was held as a benefit for a local non-profit organization. The ArtWork Enterprises board chose Friends of the Animal Shelter as the event's benefactor.

Giving away money when arts organizations so desperately need it seems like an odd thing to do. But the logic behind the decision was irrefutable: "Use the power and the emotion of theater to promote the goals and the mission of our chosen beneficiary."

The playwrights certainly got the message. Man's best friend and all that. More than 550 scripts arrived from Pennsylvania, Washington, Connecticut, New York, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and Colorado. It was the largest number of submissions in the organization's history.

The scripts were then farmed out to about 42 volunteer readers to start making selections.

By the time Monday rolled around, the number had been winnowed to the 10 winning submissions. They were read by five actors from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and directed by an OSF actor/director.

Friends of the Animal Shelter was formed in 1990. It is a group of volunteers who help support the Jackson County Animal Care and Control Center's efforts to increase pet adoption, improve the quality of life for shelter animals and promote spay and neuter programs.

There are dogs and cats to be fed, poop to be picked up, holding areas to be cleaned out and countless other thankless tasks that have kept animals alive, attended to and adoptable.

My wife contacted the shelter not long after our wonderful basset hound, Gus, went on to that special part of heaven to run and play with the many other dogs who brought so much joy to our family over the years. Our dogs always have been rescue dogs who came to us one way or another because they needed a loving home.

Shelter workers took the information from my wife and said they would call if a dog showed up that sounded right for us.

The call came the day of the Ten-Minute Plays Festival. I found this more than a little synchronous.

The person who called was a volunteer. She is also an actor and a friend, but neither she nor my wife recognized each other's voices on the phone. The conversation wasn't about them anyway. It was about a friendly — if overweight — young black Lab mix who sounded like he belonged in our house.

My wife immediately drove to the shelter. She and our actor friend recognized each other and enjoyed a good laugh over the turn of events. My wife then met the dog, promptly fell in love with him (of course), signed the papers, and drove home with "Huggy Bear" — who quickly became Sammy and went on a diet.

When I met him later that night after the plays festival was over, I, too, fell in love with him. If he works out with the grand kids and our other dog, Duke, his shelter days are over.

The plays festival raised a decent amount of money for the Friends of the Animal Shelter. The first half of the evening featured six of the 10 plays. Each was read by actors at music stands. The director read the stage directions.

The plays ran from very funny to very poignant. There were some real gems in there. A blind recluse gets help from an unlikely source and learns to "see" the world in a new way. A playwright and his characters get into an argument over the script.

There was a break during which there was a "meet the playwrights and actors" reception. The next half of the evening showcased the final four plays, equally hilarious and moving. Tom and Jerry (the cat and mouse cartoon characters) meet over a beer at the end of the day and talk about their relationship. A cat survives an auto accident and makes a difference in its owners' lives.

Next up for ArtWork Enterprises is the Ashland New Plays Festival, Oct. 6-11, at Oregon Stage Works.

Next up for Sammy: lots of walks, hugs and love and growing into his new name and his new family.

And for the rest of us, we'll all continue to get by with a little help from our best friends.

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