Patrons of Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) know Hamlet well– not the play but the pig. For seven years, Hamlet has been entertaining LBSC’s guests before shows and during intermissions.
Hamlet even makes an appearance in LBSC’s current streaming production of “As You Like It,” circling and kneeling in exchange for treats during the intermission.
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Wearing his Elizabethan white ruffled collar, this small “teacup” pig has reveled in engaging young and old alike with his porcine cuteness and squeals in the lobby of LBSC’s home, the Helen Borgers Theatre at 4250 Atlantic Ave.
Hamlet’s caretaker, Dana Leach, who is also LBSC’s producer, told the Signal Tribune that the very intelligent pig loves being adored by audiences and has missed them since the pandemic caused the theatre’s closure in March.
“He definitely misses the treats and the photo ops,” Leach said. “He misses the actors. Theatre is family. Hamlet gets to be part of this extended family. He misses that contact with the people who love him.”
Hamlet had to celebrate his seventh birthday at the end of August at home this year rather than at the theatre. His domestic companions include a dog, a cat, an iguana, a tortoise and a new puppy arriving this week.
But out of that menagerie, Hamlet is the only one who goes to the theatre for rehearsals and performances.
“When we have a show, and he sees his little ruff come out, he knows it’s time to get ready,” Leach said, noting that pigs have excellent internal clocks.
Hamlet had come to the Leach household as a four-month-old rescue, having been bred to be the companion of a girl who had seizures because of a brain injury.
“Pigs can sense the seizures before they come and then they train the pigs to squeal,” Leach said. “Hamlet would sleep with her and he would scream to alert her parents.”
Unfortunately, the little girl couldn’t bond with the little pig because of her brain injury.
“It wasn’t going to work out,” Leach said.
Hamlet was placed in two successive homes but had separation anxiety and constantly squealed as he had been taught as a baby.
The Leach family– which includes LBSC set designer Tim Leach– took Hamlet in knowing he had a problem so he wouldn’t have to be put down.
“It’s a very long commitment,” Dana Leach said about pig-caretaking. “They’re very needy.”
She started taking Hamlet to rehearsals where he would sit on the lap of the late Helen Borgers – LBSC’s founder and former artistic director– as she talked and sang to him.
“He was very soothed by her voice,” Leach said. “Coming into the family, and then being part of Shakespeare– going in and interacting– kind of helped us train him not to squeal as much.”
Borgers had been a disc jockey with Cal State Long Beach’s jazz-radio station KKJZ for 38 years before she passed away of an illness in 2017.
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Even now, Hamlet doesn’t like rock-and-roll or other music with vocals but instead instrumentals such as classical music or soft jazz, Leach says.
Hamlet also likes vegetables and is a strict vegetarian, even though pigs are omnivorous.
“He treats oranges like a toy and rolls them with his snout before breaking the skin to eat the inside,” Leach describes.
Hamlet also eats strawberry tops and watermelon rinds in summer.
“We’ll cut those up and throw those in his pool and he’ll dive for them and blow bubbles,” Leach says.
Hamlet is hanging out in his kiddy pool a lot these days, with the theatre still closed and no cast parties at the house where he hangs out with the actors.
Besides the pool, Hamlet also has a little house in the yard with a solar-powered fan and misting system to keep cool. And Leach recently took him out for a spa day to get his tusks and hooves trimmed.
“He is very spoiled,” she acknowledges.
Hamlet will continue to be leisurely for a while longer as theatres have been told that they shouldn’t realistically schedule live events until July 2021, Leach said.
“For theatres, that’s a long time to be without patrons,” she said, noting that in the meantime, LBSC is building an educational library for teachers looking for programming.
Once the theatre reopens– whenever that may be– Hamlet will once again adapt his routine to make appearances at LBSC shows, enjoying hugs from patrons and actors, something Leach says is big in the theatre world.
“He loves the attention he gets,” she said. “He likes that everybody loves him.”