Cheeky is a Pekingese in the show’s stage directions, but the casting call was open to all breeds, with the perfect dog weighing under 20 pounds, says Victor Vazquez, Arena’s casting director.
“They have to be friendly with people of all races and ages and will ideally be hypoallergenic,” he says.
A dog that retreats under the couch at the first sign of thunder would not be the best fit: “Just imagine 19 people tap dancing onstage,” Vazquez says. “That’s a lot of thunderous noise. It’s very important we have a dog who can really move through that with grace and comfort and still be themselves.”
When the dogs — a remarkable number of whom have their own Instagram accounts — enter the room with their parents, the first person they meet is Ashley Valm, shelter behavior manager for the Humane Rescue Alliance.
She walks the dogs on a leash, picks them up and then gives them a “startle test,” in which she drops a container of wipes on the floor. Most of the dogs glance at the source of the noise and get back to sniffing. Ellie, a terrier mix, walks over to the container to see if it’s edible.
Many of the pups are dressed to impress. Onyx, out of Fairfax, sports a tie, while Burger, from Barracks Row, wears an “I [heart] Capitol Hill” bandana. Olly, a “mostly dachshund” from Adams Morgan, is naked today, but has won multiple costume contests in the past — once for dressing up as a Georgetown Cupcake.
At the end of each audition, the dog gets a Sprinkles “pupcake” and heads home to wait by the phone to hear if they’ve been cast, a decision due early next week. As the last pup leaves, it becomes clear that nerves must have gotten to one of them — a little puddle of piddle on the patio shows once again that this is no normal audition.