Why Do We Call Them Dog And Pony Shows?Posted: June 29, 2011
The other day, I crossed paths with a co-worker who was leaving our headquarters building. He looked completely underwhelmed to be there, so much so that I had to ask if he was alright. He replied that he was fine, he was just trying to recover from the “dog and pony show” for the boss’ latest brainstorm.
As soon as he mentioned a dog and pony show, I knew just what he had attended: a meeting where a dose of policy wonder and delight from the executive level was sold to middle management, who would in turn be required to pass it on with enthusiasm to those they manage. The best dog and pony shows incorporate bad jokes and over the top excitement in presenting the new policy. Sometimes they are capped off by an “inspirational” appearance by the person at the top of the organization.
I think every organization puts on dog and pony shows for their people. I’ve never heard of one of these gatherings that was well received. As I walked away, feeling badly for my friend and what he had to endure, I wondered why these events are named after two animals who seem to have nothing to do with business. I looked into the matter and found a shocking answer.
The term Dog and Pony show originated with Shakespeare.
Yes, That Shakespeare.
It seems that when William Shakespeare started gaining a bit of fame for his work as a playwright he began to feel that he was not being compensated properly for the revenue his plays brought in to the theater. He approached the management of the Globe Theater to suggest that they might like to add a little bit of extra money onto his next pay check..
The management of the Globe disagreed. They did recognize that they had something special in this particular writer. But they also knew that they had him under contract for five plays and as of the meeting he had only produced four. The meeting ended with the theater’s management letting Shakespeare know that they were very willing to work with him on changing his compensation, but not until he had fulfilled his contract. Shakespeare flew into a rage and stormed from the theater.
Hours later he was seen staggering away from a pub. Legend has it that as he got up to leave he roared drunkenly “thou dost want my contractual obligation filled? What is asked for ought be chosen with care”.
An Alcohol And Rage Fueled Binge
Shakespeare worked through the night, staving off exhaustion with a potent mix of fury and wine. He wrote, snickering and muttering to himself, stopping only to relieve himself of what he’d consumed and to refill his glass.
No one knows exactly what time William Shakespeare finished writing that morning. All that has been passed down to us is that he was found, barely conscious, in front of the front door of the theater, clutching the hand written script of the final play required by his contract.
It was crap, and he knew it. So did the managers of The Globe. They considered not producing the play, until someone said “none shall stomach this crap upon seeing it, but the patrons love Bill and will pay simply based on his name. He bringest the butts to the seats.”
Dogg And Poneigh
The show Shakespeare wrote to fulfill his contract was called The Show Of Mr. Dogg and Mr. Poneigh. Little is known of The Show Of Mr. Dogg And Mr. Poneigh beyond a review published the next day and a rumored scrap of the original script.
According to legend passed from generation to generation in British theatrical circles, the characters Dogg and Poneigh came on stage dressed as seamen. They leaned on mops, told awful jokes and mixed in a few songs. Shakespeare wrote that the play was to be done “in the style of vaudeville” but since there was no such thing as vaudeville at that point no one understood how the roles were supposed to be played. It is said that Shakespeare admitted he made the word up but did not bother trying to define its meaning for the play’s director.
The legend tells us that the reviews were terrible. History left us nothing to back the legend on that point until the recent discovery of Shakespeare’s scrapbooks. In those scrapbooks, the great writer preserved sections of original scripts, notes on his sonnets and reviews of his work. One scrapbook contains the only known evidence of a review of “Dogg and Poneigh“:
Upon leaving the Globe Theater, where I attended a performance of the latest play by Wm. Shakespeare, I detected a shameful odor. Though I scraped my foot upon the curbstone, even now the odor abides. The Show Of Mr. Dogg And Mr. Poneigh is the most foul and detestable bit of theatrical art since, well, ever.
The play was put on one time. It was so poorly received that the management could not find two actors to replace those who quit after opening (and closing) night.
The Globe had learned its lesson and summoned Shakespeare to negotiate a new contract. Shakespeare had retained counsel by this point. The first clause of his new contract specified that all copies of the script of “Dogg and Poneigh” be burned. Shakespeare was so concerned that his name might be associated with the worst play he ever wrote that the contract actually refers to the play not by name, but as “the 5th play of the contract previous to this contract”.
Some Things Never Change
Modern Dog and Pony shows are no better received than “the 5th play…”. Sadly, upper management types forget what miserable experiences they are for those who endure them and those who must put them on.
If only managers respected their workers enough to know crap smells the same now as it did in Shakespeare’s time.
If only we could wipe our feet and make Dog and Pony shows go away.