William “Bill” Berloni will be the 2023 recipient of the Connecticut Critics Circle’s annual Tom Killen Award. This special award recognizes Berloni’s long service and achievement to theater in the state and on Broadway.
The award will be presented on Monday, June 26 at the 31st Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Ceremony at Theaterworks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in Hartford. The annual event celebrates and honors the state’s outstanding professional theater. The event is scheduled for 7:30-9:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Berloni’s career began as a 20-year-old apprentice at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. Producer Martin Charnin offered him his big break: a chance to act professionally and gain his Equity Card. In return, all Berloni had to do was find and train a dog to play Sandy in the original production of “Annie.”
Berloni soon learned that this would prove to be a challenge. Animal performances in movies or television can be stitched together using different takes, different camera angles, even different animals. To perform in a featured role, an animal actor would have to be trained to ignore the distraction of the audience and respond to the same cues the same way night-after-night, just like his or her human counterparts. It had never been done before.
Berloni found his first dog at a local animal shelter – beginning his career-long commitment to using rescued animals. Through a combination of persistence, patience and trial-and-error, he developed his revolutionary humane training techniques – learning how to teach the actor and animal alike to create a successful performance.
“Annie” became a huge hit and Sandy became “the longest running dog on Broadway,” never missing a performance in more than seven years.
Since then, Berloni and his handlers have provided animals of all species and sizes, found in shelters, humane societies or rescue leagues, for Broadway, Off-Broadway, national tours, regional theaters, special events, the New York City Ballet, motion pictures, television and commercials. When their careers are over, the animals return to Berloni’s Connecticut farm.
Berloni is widely recognized as an expert in animal behavior, as well as for his dedication to rescue work. In addition to his work as a trainer, he is currently behavior consultant to the Humane Society of New York.
Berloni works with theaters during the pre-production process, rehearsal, and during the run of the show. He is the only animal trainer to have been honored with a Tony, and was presented with the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre during the 65th Tony Awards.
The trainer has strong relationships with the Humane Society and a variety of veterinary experts, and has more than 30 years of experience in obtaining local permits and certification. He also has found loving homes for thousands of dogs over the years.
Berloni graduated from Berlin high school in Connecticut desiring to be an actor. While a theater major at Central Connecticut State University, where he earned his BFA in theater, he apprenticed at The Goodspeed.
Credits include hundreds of Off-Broadway and regional theater productions and the current tour of “Finding Neverland.” Berloni starred in the Discovery Family Network Reality Show “From Wags to Riches with Bill Berloni” and is a published author known for his book “Broadway Tail.”
Previous Killen winners include Mark Lamos, Lloyd Richards, Michael Price, Michael Wilson, Lucille Lortel, Anne Keefe and Carmen de Lavallade, Paulette Haupt, and Michael O’Flaherty, longtime music director of Goodspeed Musicals.