“Cat!” “Bantay!” and “Makulit!” Audience members called out to a group of actors onstage. Prompted by the words hurled at them, the latter came up with creative one-liners on the spot, weaving a funny story about cats and dogs which left the crowd breathless with laughter.

That was what went down at the Commune Café in Makati when students and alumni of Third World Improv, the only school in the Philippines dedicated to teaching the art of improvisational theater, performed during the fundraising event for Hound Haven, a non-profit organization that provides retired military working dogs a home.

Improvisation, or improv, is a form of art where performers put on shows that are unrehearsed, unscripted, and created on the spot. They use suggestions from the audience, usually a word or a short phrase, to inspire them to tell unique stories. Because of its spontaneous nature, improv usually leads to hilarious skits.

A night for heroes

A canine’s average lifespan is around 10 to 13 years. Military working dogs spend much of those years protecting human lives, no questions asked. Sadly, the majority of them end up in cages for the rest of their lives after they are deemed “no longer fit to serve”.

“They usually work until they’re 8 to 15 years old. [Once they retire, they are offered for adoption to their handlers. If the handler says no, they end up in the] kennel for their remaining days,” Jerome Arcebal, Hound Haven’s co-founder told Animal Scene.

Unlike countries such as the US, the Philippines does not have laws that protect K-9s; they are not provided a retirement program after years of service. Thanks to Hound Haven, our military heroes are given the opportunity to retire in a loving home.

Several organizations have helped Hound Haven since its inception, including the young and energetic group of improv theater performers who happened to be huge animal lovers, and the people responsible for the fundraising event.

“We selected Hound Haven because they are the only organization here that looks after retired military working dogs and service dogs. We wanted to help them live blissfully after giving more than half of their lives to serve and protect the country,” said Ice Valenzuela, organizer of the event and an improv actor herself.

In fact, most of the theater performers take pride in being a dog or cat parent.

“I love dogs because they’re adoring and adorable! They’re super entertaining and reliable stress busters. They are loyal and protective. They live in the moment, and remind me that that’s the best way to be,” said improv actor Em Guevara.

“Why do I love my dogs? Because dogs are the closest thing you’d get in terms of receiving unconditional love,” Denn Viagedor, another improv actor, said.

Improv and animal companions

Valenzuela said, “We are all dog lovers and animal welfare advocates. We wanted to do something for our furry friends using improv. It’s the perfect combination.”

If you’re thinking about doing improv with your dogs for fun, here are a few tips that might help you, as picked out from Rappler’s article entitled “5 Improv principles that create great leaders”.

1. “Yes, and…”

The idea of “yes, and” is the foundation of every act. This means that you have to accept and say “yes” to any idea a co-improviser throws at you and build on that situation to create a scene.

For example, your dog crawls next to your feet. What do you do? Pet them and play with them, hooman! Don’t ignore them!

2. Make your partner look good

In improv, you cannot leave people hanging. Pre-show, it’s a popular ritual to tell each other “I got your back,” because on stage, it is each performer’s mission to keep scene partners in their best light.

This might be a little harder for your dogs. It would be ideal to teach them obedience commands before you go out with them and your friends.

3. Listen

The act will crumble if one person in the group forgets to listen, just like in any relationship. If you do not listen to your stage partner, you could in fact fail to continue the story.

In a dog-human relationship, communication is also key. Your dog would listen to you rant about what happened to your day, so hear his howls and growls in return. If he wants some treat or if he just wants to go out for a walk, pay attention to his needs.

Everything is a gift

On stage, everything said or done is a gift for improv actors. If you follow numbers 1 to 3, you can create drama, intrigue, comedy, or any act you choose. The best improv scenes come from actors accepting circumstances wholeheartedly and making the most out of them.

So, before the curtains close, spend some time with your co-impurrvisers. Say yes to all their antics every once in a while, make them look good – take lots of pictures to capture their best angles and fun memories – and always listen to their needs. Be thankful for everything and you will have the absolute best days with your animal companions, guaranteed.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s January 2020 issue.

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