Bill Berloni: The Trainer with All the Tricks
We could not be more excited about the casting of Macy, a darling rescue dog who will play Sandy. After reading her story (more here on our blog), we spoke with her owner and expert animal trainer, William Berloni, about his background and amazing work with rescue animals!
How many Sandys have you trained over the years?
It’s hard to say, somewhere probably around 30.
What has been your favorite performance or show to work on?
Well obviously, you always love your first. Annie was such a wonderful experience to begin my career. Ultimately, the last show that we just did, the musical Because of Winn Dixie is now my new favorite. Sandy had, I think, 11 cues, and our dog in Because of Winn Dixie had over 120. So it’s taken me all those years to figure out how to do it but it’s very exciting.
Can you tell us about the process of pairing an Annie and Sandy? What do you think about Josie Todd and Macy?
In this particular case, I was able to recommend a casting decision. I find dogs who work with people and enjoy working on shows. It’s up to the directors and producers to find an actor who can do well with that. Because if they do hire someone with no animal skills, I can’t provide an animal performance. How can you say to a dog, this person doesn’t like you but you still have to listen to them? So when that happens and I show up, they go ‘what are you going to do about that?’ I say ‘I guess we’re going to cut the dog a lot.’ I just hope we get a good kid and in this case, I knew we did.
You have one of the best Sandys (Macy) in the country. She’s like the grande dame of Sandys.
Are all of your animals rescues? What’s the importance of adopting/casting rescues?
Yes. It all goes back to Annie. When I first went looking for the original Sandy, I had never been to an animal shelter. I was 19 and had dogs all my life, and I was profoundly saddened by the conditions under which I saw these poor dogs living in. I literally made a promise to myself that when I grew up, if I ever got another dog, I would rescue it. And I started getting these other opportunities and was able to keep that promise. Ultimately, why would you take someone’s pet who has a happy home and rip them away from that situation to put them in show business, when you could save lives and give dogs purpose and a home that doesn’t have any. It just seems like the best thing to do.
You’ve worked with the Ogunquit Playhouse before. How has that relationship been?
I always say to young people coming into the theater business: Broadway is not the be-all and end-all of good theater. And I’ve had the good fortune over these last 40 years to have worked with stock, regional, Off-Broadway, and international theater companies that do tremendous work and that don’t make a million dollars but we’re still doing good theater. And Ogunquit has been one of those playhouses that have survived through the decades, and being able to come back to an institution that serves the community and does good work is the best thing you can ask for. I’m always happy to come back to institutions who appreciate the work I do so we can continue to do it. I just think of Ogunquit and I get a smile on my face, because it’s as important to the people in your area as Broadway is to Times Square and that’s what theater is all about.
Are you excited about this production of Annie?
So many great Annie connections! I’m so happy to be working once again with James Rocco. We worked together 25 years ago on a production of The Wizard of Oz and became fast friends. I’m looking forward to working with Sally Struthers, who is a good friend and an avid animal lover. It just makes it that much more pleasant to be able to come and do these.
Here’s another unusual thing: Brian Michael Hoffman has been a trainer handler of mine for close to 20 years. And this is the first time he’s working on Annie where he’s not taking care of the dog. But interestingly enough, in the 20th-anniversary revival of Annie the musical, Brian was in it and the understudy of Annie was a little girl named Melissa Rocco, who went to school to be an actress, graduated, and worked for a while, but decided it wasn’t her thing. And when someone said, “Well Mel, what do you like doing?” She said “I had a really good time working with those dogs,” so she called Brian who then called me. So now within that company, I have 2 generations of actors trainers who have been brought into our company by Annie. It’s a very small world.