Eli Browning's sister played an unwitting role in naming the Auxiliary Dog Theatre. Actually, her English bulldog did.
"When I was growing up I had a black cocker spaniel," Browning says. "Teasing my younger sister, I insisted my dog was the primary dog and hers was merely a backup, secondary, auxiliary dog."
When it came time for Browning and a few of his college buddies to name their nonprofit performing arts space, the code phrase for his sister's English bulldog was mentioned. "I don't know whose idea it was to make it the name of the theater," he says. However it came up, the moniker stuck. The bulldog's face along with the name, Aux Dog, were painted on a wooden sign and hung outside the Nob Hill building, marking the theater's opening.
Nearly a year later, the sign and the theater space it clings to still hang tight, despite some foundation shaking. Browning, the artistic director of Aux Dog, has worked to pull together the first show of Aux Dog's second season: The Curious Savage by John Patrick, which opens on Valentine's Day. Browning directed the show. And produced it. And managed the box office. And played handyman around the set. Short of getting on stage himself (at least for this show), Browning is essentially running Aux Dog alone, a reality not in tune with the original business plan.
After securing a theater degree from a small school in Texas, Browning, a graduate of La Cueva High School, moved back to Albuquerque to gear up for his next career move. It wasn't long before he and four college friends had the idea to start a theater of their own. The plan, Browning says, was to get together, open a performance venue and produce a few shows within two years—the deadline set by two of Browning's colleagues before they'd move on to other endeavors.
A few years later, they had established Aux Dog as a nonprofit organization and secured a rented venue space in Nob Hill, an accomplishment requiring much more time than Browning and the others had anticipated. But deadlines are deadlines, and the original five were down to three before lights ever illuminated the stage.
The Aux Dog crew pressed on, working to open its first production: an evening at the theater including the one-act This is a Play, live music, artwork in the lobby and a comedic-improv after-show. Halfway into planning the second show, Browning's remaining partners moved back to Texas for personal reasons, leaving Browning in charge of the foundling venue.
Browning says he wanted to open a theater for the love of the art, not to become a businessman. But things are as they are and Browning isn't looking for pity—just people who enjoy performance art and want to get involved. With the help of community volunteers, Aux Dog has successfully produced four shows. John Patrick's dark comedy will be the fifth.
"People have been really, really generous and nice," Browning says. Donations of theater seats, couches, tools and costumes—plus the occasional thrift store run or dumpster dive—have all aided Aux Dog in getting to performance No. 5. "It's a lot of fun to have just a shoestring and a prayer and see what happens," he says.
Browning's already planning a busy summer schedule. The goal, he says, is to pack Aux Dog with shows to keep the stage lit as many nights as possible, and that means talent and lots of it. The Aux Dog is a great place for people interested in any aspect of the performing arts—from lighting design to acting—to get their feet wet, he says, as long as they know it's as much work as it is fun. "There is so much good theater going on all over Albuquerque," he says. "We just want to be a part of that. The more theater there is, the better it is for the whole community."
While the dynamics of the people running Aux Dog have changed over the past year, the wooden sign with the puppy dog face has met only minor modifications. "We added 'Theatre' to the sign," Browning says, as some passerbys mistook Aux Dog for a groomer. Now they know it’s a performance space, he says, and the more people who know, the more live theater they'll come to see.