THE LEADING MEN: John Bolton Receives a Major Award on Broadway in A Christmas Story, The Musical

By Michael Gioia
01 Dec 2012

John Bolton with Pete
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Tell me about working with Pete and Lily, who play The Bumpus Hounds in the show, and the training process with Bill Berloni.
JB: I'm falling in love more and more every day with Pete and Lily… I've learned a lot about animal training, that's for sure. I have two dogs of my own, both of whom are very jealous when I come home. [Laughs.] I trained both my dogs, and I love dogs, so I felt like I had a good start. And, I've known Bill for 20 years. We've done several productions of Annie together, and I knew that he trusted me with these animals. [Pete and Lily] have different needs. Pete is affection-reward based, and Lily is food-reward based, and Pete is much shyer than Lily. With training them, you can't just get them on stage and give them a treat and shoo them away. I have to find a way to be terrified of the dogs and be angry at the dogs while giving them both what they need. I need to somehow translate frustration into affection for Pete and somehow slip Lily all the food she wants to keep her on stage, so that's been an interesting [task]. When I see them, instead of saying, "Who's a good boy?," our thing is, "Get outta here… Go on, get outta here" because that's what The Old Man shouts [in the show]. We had to make "Get outta here" affectionate, so now when I see them, I say, "Get outta here" so that it doesn't have a negative connotation. Bill is so patient and so good at his job, and it's truly and honestly an honor to get to work with him and fall in love with these animals.

You also teach at Pace University?
JB: I am an adjunct professor. I teach Acting at Pace University. I am not teaching now. Donna Drake is teaching my stuff right now, but I think next semester I'm going to have a couple classes if I'm not doing a show. Pace has been very patient with me. They know that I am a working actor. Teaching is something that has always really interested me, and the people who run the department sought me out and said, "Is there something you like to do? We have an opening here and we know that you do…" I do those Broadway classroom [workshops], and I often lead college workshops, and I always enjoy it. So I thought, "I'll dive in." Academia is a whole different world, but I love it. I learned as much as the kids did so far, and I'm looking forward to doing more.

What kind of advice do you give to aspiring actors?
JB: Hit your mark and tell the truth. I also say, "Do your homework." The toughest part of this business is getting the job, but I think if you do everything you can to make your best appearance and do your best — prepare… If you get an audition to work on, cancel your plans; work on your audition. If you're auditioning for someone's assistant, write their name down. That assistant is going to be a casting director someday. Keep track of what you're doing, and show up, and do your best. Because then, when you don't get the part, you know you did your best. It's not, "Oh, I blew it," and that's what can eat you alive. You're probably not going to get the job — that's how it is — but they'll remember you and bring you in for something else. And then you'll get the job.

( staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)

Bolton trains with A Christmas Story's hounds, Pete and Lily: