Courtesy of Samantha Sasaki

December 1, 2022

Happily Ever After: A Spotlight on Cog Dog Theatre Troupe

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Just before Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to go and watch another great performance put on by Cornell’s Cog Dog Theatre Troupe. Opening night was a pleasantly brisk Friday Nov. 18, and the famous Risley Theatre was packed with friends and family of the cast and crew that debuted their rendition of Mary Zimmerman’s The Secret in the Wings, a series of dark fairytale retellings.

This show had an interesting start. It was first selected for performance by Cog Dog back in early 2020. I don’t need to elaborate on why that show never came to fruition. So after a two and a half year gap, the show was re-approved for production with almost an entirely different cast and crew. Samantha Sasaki ’23, who first pitched the show as a freshman, got to spend her senior fall working on her directorial debut alongside her co-director, Bianca Santos-Declet ’23. When asked about their experience directing as a duo, both of them cited the other as a major source of aid and inspiration in their efforts for this production. Oftentimes having two people involved can lead to a certain amount of butting heads, however both Sasaki and Santos-Declet were highly complementary and appreciative of their fellow co-director. What stood out the most to both of them was the environment that the two were able to foster while working together. “One memory that really stands out to me is that after we finished striking the set, cast and crew members stayed behind for another thirty or so minutes to sign playbills for everyone and say goodbye,” said Sasaki. “We all said goodbye so many times and kept hanging out in the theatre because we didn’t want the experience to fully end.”

This memory really stands out to me because it makes sense. Nobody is forcing anyone to perform in these shows. The cast and crew sign up for productions because they love it and because they care. That love and care was evident in the way that everyone carried themselves on stage, with a certain joy that is sometimes hard to find in the faces of veteran actors. Along with the joy came the stresses that every production must face. Something I learned from Santos-Declet was that they did not have access to Risley Theatre until the day of the show due to how high the demand is for the space. If she hadn’t told me that, I would never have known that the show that I saw was essentially their first and last dress rehearsal in that space. 

As this show was delayed for over two years, very few people remember what it was like the first time the production was attempted. Now a senior, Melanie Goricanec ’23 has been a part of the show since the beginning. She was originally cast as one of the ensemble characters, but this time around, she was given a starring role as Heidi, the little girl who is listening to the stories that are acted out over the course of the play. In addition to playing Heidi, Goricanec had to also memorize lines for other characters within the play; such was the nature of the story within a story plot that this production followed. She cited line memorization as something that she struggles with, “Honestly, I am terrible at learning lines, but I love this show so much and remembered quite a bit of it from before, which really helped in the end.”

The one constant theme that I noticed in everyone’s responses to my questions is a feeling of closure. Sasaki, Santos-Declet and Gorianec were both in their second semester at Cornell when they first tried to put this play on. Going from being so new to the school to looking down the barrel of graduation was quite the transition for them as actors. Goricanec went so far as to say, “COVID displaced everyone’s lives. It was nice to finally put on this show, and it sort of makes it feel like COVID no longer has an influence on my life.” 

Although I haven’t had the chance to highlight everyone who was part of or contributed to the show here, I do want to take a moment to congratulate everyone involved. You all did a great job and should be proud of yourselves. Cog Dog always puts on my favorite shows here at Cornell, and this one was no different. Although this chapter may be closed, you better believe that I’ll be in line on opening night with tickets in hand to see the next one. 

Tom Sandford is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].