Last year, veteran storyteller Kim Kilpatrick and her very smart guide dog Tulia joined forces with accomplished painter Karen Bailey (who did the official portrait of the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean) and Ottawa-renowned director Bronwyn Steinberg to present Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia at the GCTC Studio. The show was so popular, you soon couldn’t get tickets for love or money.
Stanley is a 4-year-old platinum blonde Labrador retriever that Karen Bailey raised as a puppy for guide dog school. Tulia is a 9-year-old black Labrador retriever who is the fourth of Kilpatrick’s guide dogs. Bailey’s paintings of Stanley, Tulia and other guide dogs supplement Kilpatrick’s stories of the dogs in her life. Recorded commentary by Steinberg and Bailey accompanies projections of the paintings so the audience has time to appreciate the painted subjects, while keeping Kilpatrick in sync with the projections.
Kilpatrick peppers her intimately personal stories with humour and pathos that draws the audience into her world and the diverse personalities of her dogs. While her facial expressions are usually warm and personable, she often delivers her humourous lines with a poker-face that gives no warning. For instance she told the audience that “Dogs cannot read.” She followed with a stone-faced delivery, “… contrary to popular belief.” The audience, disarmed by her timing and delivery, laughed whole-heartedly while she listed things that dogs cannot read, including street signs, bus numbers and restaurant menus.
While her facial expressions are usually warm and personable, she often delivers her humourous lines with a poker-face that gives no warning.
Guide dogs, like people, sometimes get sick, retire and eventually die. Kilpatrick’s vignettes of these events evoked profound sighs from the audience.
Bailey’s artwork brings visual expression to the dogs in the stories. One poignant image still sticks in my mind. Kilpatrick tells about receiving her first guide dog from the family that raised the dog. Just before leaving to start her career, the dog looked over her shoulder at the people who had raised her. Bailey has a painting of Stanley looking over his shoulder before he is lead away. You could hear a pin drop.
Kilpatrick and Bailey capture the emotional bonds between guide dogs, the people who raise them and the people who the dogs guide. But the bond is not just emotional. Dogs evolved from wolves about 15,000 years ago. Unlike wolves, dogs read human expressions with uncanny accuracy. In some ways her dogs have understood Kilpatrick better that the humans around her. For instance, her family’s dog, Shayna, was rambunctious with Kilpatrick’s brother, but gentle with her. Kilpatrick’s mother was afraid to let Shayna outside for walks alone with her daughter. Shayna adjusted her behaviour to Kilpatrick so the two of them proved that they could go for walks safely and unattended.
Kilpatrick gives multiple instances where her highly intelligent dogs have saved her life, and have solved problems for her that she couldn’t accomplish on her own: getting her through crowds, finding tables in crowded coffee shops, and finding alternative shop entrances that Kilpatrick didn’t know existed.
Kudos to director Steinberg for seamlessly marrying Kilpatrick’s veteran storytelling with Bailey’s revealing artwork.
On opening night, the 75-minute show flew by. The audience was moved to hearty laughter and heart-felt sighs. Kudos to director Steinberg for seamlessly marrying Kilpatrick’s veteran storytelling with Bailey’s revealing artwork. Many of us couldn’t get tickets for the previous run at GCTC. Now we have a second chance. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia by the Raising Stanley/Life with Tulia Collective is playing at Arts Court Theatre as part of the undercurrents festival until February 16. Check the website for the schedule. Single tickets are $20 and full festival passes are $100. The show runs 75 minutes with no intermission.