Beloved Dog inspires show at Silver Spur Theater

silver spur 3by Emily Toman | Lifestyles Writer
Published: August 27, 2009

Tony Blackman, left, Tom Rolls and Kelly Van Cleave perform as the ringmaster, “Soapy Stillwater” and the clown host in “Gone to the Dogs,” which opens Friday at the Salado Silver Spur Theater. (Clint Bittenbinder/Telegram)
SALADO – Grainger Esch has always loved dogs – so much that he wanted to put his own Fox Terrier-Chihuahua mix, Sanchez, in a canine variety show at the Salado Silver Spur Theater. But just a couple of months ago, Sanchez died after being hit by a car, and Esch lost his star performer. 

“He would have stolen the show,” said Esch, the theater’s executive director. “I’m convinced of that.”

The Salado Silver Spur Theater will carry on with its new variety show “Gone to the Dogs” at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, beginning this weekend through Sept. 26. Proceeds benefit area animal shelters. Before each show, the Salado Humane Society, Forgotten Friends Rescue of Leander and the Bell Area Animal Shelter will have dogs and cats available for adoption.

The theater continues its tradition of vaudeville-style shows that combine different sketches, slapstick comedy and performances, usually including a comical crisis where everyone scrambles to keep the show going.

“It’s kind of like the Muppet Show, although we’re not puppets,” Esch said.

The five-week show won’t feature actual dog performers, unless you count the “invisible dog.”

“He’s real, he’s just invisible,” performer Tom Rolls said. “I’ve seen him.”

Rolls will introduce a new character Soapy Stillwater, an old janitor who worked at the 1950s Guest and Sanford Ganary before it became the Silver Spur Theater.

“Thirty years later, they find him sleeping in the back,” Rolls said. “It’s always fun to have a janitor-type character in the show.”

Different guests will perform each night, and this weekend features singer-songwriter Richard Paul Thomas. On screen, the show features vintage cartoons and Charlie Chaplin’s silent film “A Dog’s Life” with live piano accompaniment and sound effects.

Tony Blackman, technical director and performer, said that although the theater is known for its old-fashioned variety acts, it has ventured into something new with “Gone to the Dogs.”

“We’ve never done anything quite like this,” he said.

Each weekend, performers will dedicate the show to a different animal shelter and bring homeless dogs on stage, introducing them to the audience for adoption.

“Hopefully, we can find a home for the fellas,” Esch said.

He said the show offers lighted-hearted themes for all ages. Children love the slapstick, and adults enjoy the jokes.

“It’s harkening back to a simpler time,” he said. “There’s not a heavy message to these shows other than to have fun and laugh a lot.”

To make reservations for “Gone to the Dogs,” call 254-947-3456. For more information, go to


AUG. 28-29: Singer-songwriter Richard Paul Thomas

Sept. 4-5: Cowgirl rope spinner and comedian Karen Quest

Sept. 11-12: Band Lou Wow and the Poi Boys performing on stilts

Sept. 18-19: Juggler and comedian Jim Maltman

Sept. 25-26: Comedian Kevin Carr