Today in Theatre History: WHY ACTING WITH ANIMALS IS A BAD IDEA–December 22, 1907

Version 4

A stuffed wolf or just a “method” actor who made a poor choice? In either case, probably not the one that attacked fellow actors on stage in 1907. (Although it was killed about that same time…)

On this day in theatre history, during a performance of the melodramatic spectacle, Daniel Boone, in the opera house in Rome, Georgia, two actors were injured when attacked by a real wolf that was on stage playing the part of a real wolf. According to the Virginia Daily Press, dated 24 December 1907, Teona Leslie was performing a scene during the show “where Daniel Boone [Oscar O’Shea] rescues his sweetheart [Leslie] from the den of wolves into which the Indian, ‘Black Fish,’ had thrown her. When Miss Leslie was thrown into the den the great wolf attacked… O’Shea leaped into the den and tore the girl from the wolf. The animal then turned on O’Shea and tore his leg. Bob Harris, a real Catawba Indian, who was standing near, rushed to their assistance and drove the animal back into his den. The audience witnessed the scene, and was stampeded when it realized that the attack of the wolf was a real one. The wolf had never been violent before.”  It was not entirely clear why Mr. Harris was standing nearby, though he may have been a casual acquaintance of the wolf.

Stanislavski pondering his "magic if" and the possibility of negative effects on performing wolves.

Stanislavski pondering his “magic if” and the possibility of negative effects on performing wolves.

While both actors recovered from their injuries and continued to perform, neither worked with a real wolf again for obvious reasons.  The disposition of the wolf is not known, though it is presumed his performance days were over and his contract with the company terminated since there is no evidence that real wolves were ever used again on stage for any performance of Daniel Boone.  For actors just starting out in the business–this is precisely why performing with live animals on stage is discouraged.  Clearly this particular wolf got a bit carried away with his role and didn’t know when to pull back or how to underplay the moment for dramatic effect.  Nonetheless, it is important to note that this example of realistic exuberance did occur just one year after Constantin Stanislavski began articulating his grammar for acting which would eventually result in his famous acting system, popularly known as “the method.”  What influence Stanislavsky’s “magic if” may have had on the actions of the wolf is purely speculative, although it is widely known that wolves were commonly found in Russia at the time.  The Meisner technique was soon developed to allow performers to be completely in the moment without resorting to biting each other.

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