A successful night for Comedy Pet Theatre is when the talented dogs and cats inspire at least one audience member to adopt a pet from a local shelter.
That’s according to Gregory Popovich, a fourth-generation circus performer who rescued 30 dogs and cats from shelters for his show.
“Our main goal is to show our audience that even our friends from shelters can be talented and very smart,” Mr. Popovich, the Comedy Pet Theatre director, told the News-Press Thursday in advance of Saturday’s show in Santa Barbara.
Mr. Popovich, who was born in Ukraine, and his four-legged performers will perform at 4 p.m. Saturday at The Marjorie Luke Theatre at Santa Barbara Junior High School, 721 E. Cota St.
Comedy Pet Theatre has been in residency since 2006 at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, where Mr. Popovich believes in having the dogs and cats do more than simple pet tricks.
These animals are actors, and they’re telling a story.
“Instead of presenting simple tricks such as pets walking on back legs or doing somersaults, I think it’s more interesting if we try to open up the personalities of the pets,” he said.
For example, the Marjorie Luke Theatre audience will watch canines sit behind desks, portraying students in a skit called “Dog Classroom.” Mr. Popovich will play a teacher, asking the dogs math and geography questions.
“They answer me by barking,” Mr. Popovich, 55, said.
The canine students do well, except for the dog playing the lazy student, and Mr. Popovich said that animal will make the audience laugh.
“That’s why I call it pet theater,” Mr. Popovich said. “It’s personalities.”
In the “House Cats” act, felines will do tricks such as jumping through hoops, climbing a pole and riding piggyback-style on a dog. A cat also will push a dog in a cart.
As he discussed the animals, Mr. Popovich told the News-Press about a misunderstanding when an agent contacted him to provide cats 30 years ago for the Shrine Circus in Los Angeles.
The agent thought Mr. Popovich’s cats would be tigers and lions because, well, after all, this was a circus.
The circus producer was surprised when Mr. Popovich drove up with normal house cats of the not-so-dangerous variety.
“There was not time to hire another act with big cats,” Mr. Popovich said.
At the circus, the audience was expecting lions and tigers, and Mr. Popovich used that to his advantage.
“I created a small introduction,” he said. “I said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you will see cats without safety nets. Please don’t move. Don’t walk out. It’s very dangerous.’ ”
When the house cats walked out into the circus, the audience howled with laughter.
“After the show, the producer gave me a full check,” Mr. Popovich said. “She said, ‘Gregory, I’m surprised by how the audience reacted.’”
She didn’t realize house cats could be such a hit.
In addition to the talented dogs and cats, Saturday’s show will feature human acrobats, mimes and contortionists.
And Mr. Popovich will perform juggling feats. “I bring the spirit of physical comedy.
“There’s human talent and the pets’ talent,” Mr. Popovich said. “The audience has to decide by applause how’s more talented.
“Always, the pets have much more applause than the humans.”