From Foster Dog to Star: Cinnamon Dempsey Makes Her Stage Debut

Beth Fhaner
 | Jan 22, 2018

Live Love Animal Rescue Organization

Live Love Animal Rescue is a 501(c) (3) registered nonprofit organization that rescues homeless animals by providing them the necessary medical care, allowing for physical and emotional rehabilitation, finding them their perfect forever homes, and showering them with love throughout their journey,” says Lisa Dempsey. “Live Love specializes in rescuing difficult medical and behavior cases and put a great emphasis on not only physical rehabilitation for their rescued dogs, but emotional as well. Cinnamon was rescued after she had been abandoned by her owners and dumped at a local dog grooming salon. She was in poor health and had been neglected. I am grateful she has fully recovered thanks to the detailed care Live Love provided her before she came to me. I intend to donate a portion of Cinnamon’s paycheck back to the organization as a thank you.”

The final role to be cast in Shakespeare in Love was that of “Spot,” the heart-melting canine who instantly charms audiences every time she walks onstage. We recently spoke with Lisa Dempsey, Cinnamon’s owner, on what it takes to be a stage mom to this lovable, rising star.

How did Cinnamon come to join your family? She was a foster-to-adoption success, correct?
Yes, it’s a love story, and a great story I love to tell because I wasn’t looking for a dog; she literally showed up one day at my house and climbed into my lap. She reminded me of a dog I fell in love with one summer when I lived in Malibu.

Tammy Smith-Warnock and I have been doing volunteer work together at Memorial Care Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., for years. Tammy is a photographer and takes pictures of NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) babies for our special events. What I didn’t know is that Tammy also does volunteer work with animal shelters, taking pictures of rescue dogs for I rent my studio apartment to Tammy and she had a holiday party there. The next thing I knew, all these people arrived and brought dogs from the rescue organization. When Cinnamon (formerly known as “Pebbles”) arrived, I sat down on the grass and she climbed into my lap. Tammy took a few photos of us for the adoption website.

Emily Ghosh, who is the ​founding ​partner ​and ​chief ​executive ​pawfficer, told me Pebbles was up for immediate adoption after her spay and would need a nice foster home to recover. Since Emily was the one who brought Pebbles to the party, she said, “Well, I approve your home, that’s the first step.” That’s how the foster process began.

My 12-year old daughter, Haley, met ​Pebbles for the first time at the animal hospital, and took one look at her and said, “Mom, she doesn’t look like a Pebbles, she looks like a big fat Cinnamon roll. Let’s name her Cinnamon.” So, once we renamed her, we knew she was going to be ours. We didn’t officially finish the adoption paperwork until a month later, right before Christmas. I made a Facebook announcement about the new addition to our family and, within minutes, she was discovered by my friend Lori Monnier, the ​general ​manager at SCR. Lori said they were looking for a bulldog and asked if Cinnamon wanted to be in a play. The next day, I got an email and a call from Joanne DeNaut, ​SCR's ​casting director, with details about ​Shakespeare in Love and asked if we could come in to meet the Director. So after the holidays, Haley, Cinnamon and I met Marc Masterson and some of the cast. Amy Hutto, from the costume department, measured her neck. Cinnamon nailed her audition and started rehearsals that week!

What made Cinnamon a good choice for the role of “Spot” in Shakespeare in Love?
Director Marc Masterson told me he was looking for an English Bulldog or a Basset Hound. Cinnamon is really mellow with an easygoing temperament. She is naturally sweet and well-behaved. I don’t know if she has had any formal dog training. Her special skills include napping, walking on the beach and sitting in chairs. She loves chairs. I told Marc that Cinnamon doesn’t run, jump, bark or chew on things. He replied, “Perfect!”

What does Cinnamon seem to like about being onstage?
I don’t know if she knows what’s really going on. Maybe she thinks it’s like playing with new friends ​who wear funny clothes. I think she loves the affection from the entire cast and crew. She isn’t frightened by the audience. Everyone who sees her in the green room stops to say hello, rub her head or scratch her belly. She’s like the good luck/good karma Buddha. She gets treats before Act 1, then dinner after her two scenes. She power-naps at intermission, then gets more treats before her last scene in Act 2. She enjoys duck and mackerel treats, chicken jerky, Trader Joe’s Just Chicken and cheddar cheese. I put an extra sardine in her dinner, so, she gets rewarded and is very food-motivated.

How does Cinnamon get along with her ​fellow actors?
She’s super-friendly and approachable, so it didn’t take long to warm up to everyone. Adam ​[Silver​] and James [MacEwan] have been great with her in their scenes. Elyse ​[Mirto​], the Queen, says she, “Very much likes the dog!” Nick offers to take her out for potty breaks and has her leash during the curtain call. Sam ​[Maytubby] on the Deck crew also has an English Bulldog, so I’ve enjoyed talking with him. Cinnamon can be found on the couch in the green room hanging out with the ​tech ​crew before every show. She’s really getting spoiled. She loves visiting everyone and sniffing around in their dressing rooms. We cruise around and say “hello” to our friends in the ​Box ​Office and ​Costume ​Department. She’s getting lots of love and attention from everyone, especially the prop girls and everyone in the hair/wig room. She’s pretty popular and brings a smile to everyone’s face.

Your family is in the acting business. Tell us more about your background and work.
I have been a stuntwoman for almost 28 years. I got my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card in 1990. So, although Cinnamon is not a “Hollywood” dog, she got adopted into a Hollywood family. Being the stage mom is pretty easy for me since I am familiar with the hours involved and every aspect of production. During tech week [leading up to the first preview performance], I had a stunt job on the TV show Arrested Development and could not get Cinnamon to work on time. Arrangements were made to make sure Cinnamon got a ride to work and was taken care of until I got there. I am grateful this team knows the nature of my job, and they were very accommodating.

I have had the pleasure of being the stunt double for Katie Lowes (“Quinn Perkins”) on TV’s “Scandal” for the past five seasons. Some other recent projects include "Baskets," "Better Things," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Modern Family," "American Horror Story" and "Disjointed." I have multiple film credits, too. Haley has done some commercial work in the past and has had a few background extra roles on "Modern Family." She’s taking a little break from acting and auditions due to her middle school homework load and soccer schedule. She and I are both represented by in the commercial department. But enough about us, let’s get back to the real star!

What are you enjoying most about the experience of having Cinnamon in ​this play?
I knew this would be a big time commitment, but also a super-fun way to start 2018! It’s really an amazing opportunity that again, just fell into my lap. This is an incredible show and I feel honored to be able to be at the right place at the right time. I enjoy knowing that she was the last puzzle piece to make the cast complete. I am also having fun with the extra pampering I can give her. For example, we go to our neighborhood Spoiled Paws Grooming shop for a good ear cleaning, mani/pedi, shampoo/blow-dry. Cinnamon and I have our own special wrinkle-care routine. I feel like a clean dog is a happy dog and, if you are going to be on stage, you should look your best! I hope there might be a future for her with other projects in show business. Who knows? This experience has inspired me to look into animal training and find some connections in the movie industry.

Any final reflections about Cinnamon making her stage debut?
We’re proud to be her rescue family and are so excited to see her shine in Shakespeare in Love!

I’m so grateful because it really is an incredible and fun experience for our family. The timing of Shakespeare in Love is perfect with my love story with Cinnamon! When Cinnamon and I are walking to the parking garage after a performance, people stop to say, “Bravo!” I smile the whole way home.

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