Mojave, the 11-year-old Chihuahua, makes acting debut in Theatre Calgary production

Mojave, the 11-year-old Chihuahua, is making his acting debut as Pepi in Theatre Calgary's latest production: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.

The show, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 2

Shakura Dickson (as Billie Holiday) and Mojave (as Pepi) in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. (Trudie Lee)

They say in show business, never work with children or pets. 

It's an old adage that Alex Currie, director of artistic operations at Theatre Calgary, has heard before. But he says in his experience, both have always been great.

Look no further than Mojave, the 11-year-old Chihuahua, making his acting debut as Pepi in the theatre's latest production, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.

"It's quite interesting. We've started to notice he's developed a sense for when his cue is to be picked up," he said. 

In the play, lead actress Shakura Dickson will retrieve Mojave from offstage on a leash and tiny harness. 

"He'll kind of walk around her and sniff around, but then he comes around to the front of her and actually sits and looks up at her just before she's supposed to pick him up," Currie said.

"He's like a professional actor, and he's only been in the business for like two weeks, so it's quite cute to see."

The production, running from Sept. 16 to Oct. 2, is based in Philadelphia in 1959, portraying one of the last performances given by jazz singer Billie Holiday. 

'Really well behaved and really calm'

Holiday was always known as an animal lover, Currie says, and there's a scene with a Chihuahua written into the show.

"Billy does a bit of a monologue and also sings a bit of a song with the dog," he said. "And so obviously we needed a dog for the show."

Mojave and his owner, Arlyss Southin, were on the Calgary Eyeopener for a segment about the 11-year-old Chihuahua's acting debut. (Dominika Lirette/CBC)

The crew put out a casting call for a small dog, no larger than Toto from The Wizard of Oz

Arlyss Southin, Mojave's owner, saw the post and thought it would be a fun experience. She and Mojave were one of four dog-and-owner duos invited for a "dog-dition."

"I thought he actually bombed," she said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"We entered on the wrong side of the theatre, and so we were walking up a longer way than we thought.… He's pretty athletic, but he got a little bit of a cough in his throat. So we walk into the dog-dition and he meets the cast and crew, and he starts honking like a goose."

But according to Currie, they were charmed. 

"He was actually really well behaved and really calm and chill in the room," he said.

Southin says Mojave is always excited to get to the theatre and get on stage. (Dominika Lirette/CBC)

Rehearsals were a little rocky as Mojave adjusted to his newfound role, Southin said. On the night of the dress rehearsal, he was a little nervous to walk down the stairs to the stage. 

"I was mainly nervous he was going to have a bowel movement on stage, to be completely honest. That's my worst nightmare," she said.

"So I've pretty much got him down to a routine.… I am the ultimate stage mom now."

And Mojave is getting the celebrity treatment. Each night when he arrives at the theatre, he has his own dressing room, bowl of treats and jewel-encrusted collar (his costume). His scene is about five-minutes long, so a stage manager will come by to guide Southin and Mojave to the stage, where he does his thing, then is delivered back.

  • LISTEN | Meet Mojave, the 11-year-old theatre Chihuahua
A Calgary doggo is now a local theatre star. We meet Mojave.

Since opening night, he's been an absolute star, Southin says. 

"He has the exact same performance almost every single show, which is unprompted," she said.

"I don't have children, but I know that this would be what it would feel like watching your child be on stage and performing in Calgary theatre. So it's been pretty fun."

As for whether they've found a career for Mojave, Southin is open to it.

"It's bringing people a lot of joy."

With files from Mack Meyer, Loren McGinnis


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