Inside D.C. entertainment

Arena Stage 'Oklahoma' casting changes: Pig, goat, chicken cut

November 4, 2010 - 12:31 PM
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You won't be seeing this adorable pig in Arena Stage's 'Oklahoma.' (Photo: Courtesy Serenity Farm)

It was no ordinary casting call that appeared in the City Paper and online: When Arena Stage announced the audition opportunity for a "stage pig," they didn't mean an actor who could ham it up. For an opening scene in Oklahoma, properties director Chuck Fox was seeking a docile, housebroken pig, as well as other barnyard animals, to appear briefly in the show.

That pig - a 20-pound piglet named Amelia - as well as a goat and two chickens, had their moment in the spotlight for Arena's preview performances. But after previews, they were sent back to the farm: Artistic director Molly Smith decided that the run time of the show was too long. The overture, for which cast members carried the animals across the stage, was cut to slim down the production.

Amelia the pig had a good coach for her brief moment of stardom. She's owned by Frank Robinson, whose family owns Serenity Farm in Charles County, Md. When Robinson isn't working on the farm, he's an actor. He has an Equity card, and has even appeared in Arena Stage productions in one of their previous theaters, The Old Vat Room. You may have seen him more recently in the Kennedy Center's Page to Stage festival reading for "Still Beating Hearts."

Robinson auditioned his animals after seeing the casting call on Arena's Facebook page.

"I said, 'If you're not kidding, I have a pig that's stage ready,' and [Fox] said, 'You wouldn't happen to have a goat, too, would you?'" says Robinson. The goat's name is Lola.

Robinson's animals were indeed stage-ready - prepped for the role by their time spent in a petting zoo at the farm.

"Frank's sister, Theresa, started preparing the piglet practically from birth," says Fox in an e-mail. "At the first audition, they had brought a different, older pig but she was deemed too old. Frank had to break it to her that her ingenue days were over." Showbiz can be cruel.

So Amelia, Lola and the two chickens showed up dutifully for their walk-on parts, in which they were led across the stage by the actors, and "were doing quite well in their roles," says Fox. "Generally speaking, the key to controlling the pig and goat was bribery with food. The chickens were in a cage so they were easy."

"People were surprised and delighted to see the animals in the production," says Robinson. "Unfortunately, I couldn't be in it, but I could get my animals in. But that is the world of theater."

While Robinson enjoyed his brief turn as a stage dad, he admits that it may have been for the best.

"I thought, 'This may be the wrong thing to do,' because whoever reviews the play could say, 'Amelia wasn't the only ham on stage,' or 'This production really laid an egg,'" he says.

But he's open to them appearing in other productions, or even commercials or movies, if called upon. That's after little Amelia gets over the disappointment of being cut from the show.

"She had her eye on stardom," says Robinson.

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