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BWW Backstage Pets: MAEGAN MCNERNEY AZAR & THOMAS AZAR and Benjamin Welcome to BACKSTAGE PETS, where upstate SC theatre artists share photos of their most loyal fans - their pets.

Theatre Artists: Maegan McNerney Azar & Thomas Azar

Featured Roles: Freelance Actor & Director and Chair of Theatre Arts at Furman University (Maegan); Freelance Actor, Director, & Fight Choreographer and Web Designer & Developer (Thomas)

Primary Venues: The Warehouse Theatre, Lean Ensemble Theater, Centre Stage SC, Furman University Theatre

Tell us about your pet.

Benjamin Cesar Azar is a 9-year-old Maltese Poodle who we rescued from a shelter in Anderson, SC on December 23, 2010. His birthday is September 4, 2010 (he likes all-natural soft treats and small fuzzy squeaker toys...if you want to help us spoil him). Every year we celebrate his Adopt-a-versary by telling him the story of the day he was rescued. It involves a shy little fluff ball who we couldn't help but bring home because love was instantaneous, and then who was so scared that Thomas slept with him in the bathroom for 2 nights before we realized we could just put his crate on a chair in our bedroom and Thomas could sleep with his hand in the crate.BWW Backstage Pets: MAEGAN MCNERNEY AZAR & THOMAS AZAR and Benjamin

Thomas: Benjamin was the first addition to our family. When we adopted him, we were told he probably wouldn't ever be a very social dog. After staying up with him through the first night at his new home, he was like a completely different pup the following morning. He was cuddly, spunky, and attached to us at the hip (quite literally, if he got tired on a walk). We named our house after him: Benjamin's Landing, named for the spot on the stairs that he claimed for himself. He's my best friend on four legs.

Maegan: Benja is a true theatre pup! His first week with us he went to tech at Centre Stage in the middle of a blizzard because we were too scared to leave him alone in a new place. He spent basically all of THREEPENNY rehearsals at Furman being petted by our stage manager. He's attended many a production meeting at The Warehouse Theatre. He likes to explore all the dark corners of a set, and will lick you to death if you're willing to let him sit on your lap during a music rehearsal.

What are you doing to stay sane and engaged and creative during quarantine?

Maegan: Honestly, I'm enjoying the downtime. So much of my time every day during the school year is highly scheduled, and theatre folks work weekends - we work when everyone else is off. So, in order to reduce my screentime, since that is my only way to work and teach now, I'm working a 5-day week only 8-hours a day. I never get to do that! I tell my students all the time how important downtime is, that artists need space to create, that we have to have brain space to unplug and imagine, but we rarely get a chance to do it. So, while the world is being forced to stay at home, why not find a glimmer of light in the darkness? Hug my kid, color in a coloring book, read all the plays I never have time to, listen to the birds chirping, do a puzzle, and get my hands in the dirt again. Enjoy not having to hustle. Weekends are real!

Thomas: Physical activity has gone a long way to keeping me happy. The yard hasn't looked this good in a while, and I've gotten more steps than I have in months. My days are filled with keeping the kiddo and the pup entertained and engaged. I've been doing some reading as well, though not yet as much as I would maybe like. I'm also taking advantage of several streaming performances of theatre from across the country and the world. It's provided an opportunity to see shows that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to see.

How is Benjamin helping you cope?

BWW Backstage Pets: MAEGAN MCNERNEY AZAR & THOMAS AZAR and Benjamin Maegan: A day is never dull with our two boys around (one canine, one human)! Benjamin keeps us alerted to any strange car, person, or cat that dares encroach on our street. And, god help the dog that comes walking by - Benjamin is friend to only people. He still has "Benja Fits" where he likes to run at full speed around the house daring us to catch him. Speaking of Catch, he's terrible at it. He likes to play Keep Away, so instead of bringing the ball back, he makes us chase him. He likes to pick fights with our human son. No kidding, they both irritate the crap out of one another, and that's how they show affection. It's an entertaining household with two theatre artists, a princely pup, and a three-year-old!

Also, Thomas has been incredible since this whole thing started. I've been working at home, so during the week, he's full-time child care provider and "homeschool daddy." This whole thing has really put a focus on the support that is necessary to maintain a job, and I've been so lucky that Thomas can do it and that we're in a position to split responsibilities like that. A lot of people aren't, and I can imagine the stress of balancing work with homeschool is extremely taxing for some households right now. Let's be kind to one another, folks.

What shows are you hoping to see produced post-quarantine?

Thomas: I know this much: I want to laugh, like a lot. To that end, I'm scheduled to appear in RIPCORD by David Lindsay-Abaire at Lean Ensemble Theater in Hilton Head. I know The Warehouse Theatre has a whole season programmed for laughs, which I am very much looking forward to. I would like to see productions that lift up the human spirit. It doesn't have to be a comedy, and it could even make me cry, but if it leaves me feeling a little more hopeful than when I entered the theatre, then it will have been an evening well spent.

What have been the challenges of teaching theatre remotely?

Maegan: I have to say, I thought it would be a lot harder than it has been. Theatre is an art that requires performers to breathe the same air together and to share that air with an audience. I'm teaching a Movement for the Actor class and a Directing class. And, while teaching Movement using Zoom sounded ridiculous to me, it's been working. And, while my Directing students have had to rethink their entire final projects, they're doing it. My university has been insanely supportive in helping us rethink how to engage our students using digital tools available to us. And the students, who are the reason I love teaching in the first place, have been so eager to give anything a try. The creativity they are finding, while doing mask exercises in their bedrooms and directing each other in radio plays, has really amplified my belief in the resiliency of the human spirit.

What tips do you have for theatre artists to build their skills during quarantine?

Thomas: Read! Plays, books on acting, the complete works of Shakespeare, stuff not remotely about theatre, how to do close-up magic, whatever. And also, maybe don't do anything. Take time for yourself. Curl up with your dog. Write down your thoughts, even if they don't make a lot of sense right now. Anything and everything goes into feeding the artist inside. It all adds up.

Maegan: Dust off your sketchbook, pull out that sewing machine, crack open that


journal. Observe your pets and kids - they are so free even in this time when we feel trapped. Find time to unplug and look at the beauty of the outdoors that surrounds us. That has been inspiring incredible art for generations. Dream about what's next. This is a time to reinvent yourself and our industry.

Where do you suggest people make contributions?

Any local theatre or small business - they all need our help right now. We're trying to do take out once a week from some of our favorite restaurants. Are shelters still allowing people to foster pets? If you're reading this and enjoy pet pics, but don't have one of your own, maybe now is the time for a furry companion! Purchase from organizations you want to see survive the end of the pandemic. Where we put our money now will foreshadow the world we're left with.

Photo credits:

Benjamin at rehearsal with Mommy (Thomas probably took it).

Benjamin on black background - Furman Photographer Jeremy Fleming took that shot at one of our majors' headshot days at school!

Thomas, Maegan, and Benjamin in blue - Wofford Jones Photography (2014!)

Just Benjamin being cute (Thomas took that one).

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