As Josh Kachnycz rehearses in the curtained off, central-staged set on the Tomlinson Theater stage, for his lead role in “The Liar,” his most trusted companion sits in the empty front-of-house – waiting.
Lavender, a Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, spends her days as Kachnycz’s service dog and can be seen with her owner at almost any given point in the day. Whether it’s in the Annenberg atrium where Kachnycz spends a lot of his time or just walking around Main Campus, Lavender is there.
It is not uncommon to see Lavender greeted by multiple people at once, with petting all around.
“I would be overwhelmed with that attention,” Kachnycz, a senior theater major, said. “She kind of just lets people come to her [as if she’s saying] ‘I am a princess and I deserve this attention.’”
At 2 years old, Kachnycz was diagnosed with central sleep apnea, a condition that causes him to sometimes stop breathing during sleep, due to the brain not sending signals to muscles that control breathing. When these lulls in breathing occur Lavender fulfills her duty and wakes Kachnycz.
“The events are so infrequent it doesn’t make sense for me to sleep with a [continuous positive airway pressure machine] because I wouldn’t be able to get normal sleep with that so instead I use a monitor that tracks my respiration and my heart rate,” Kachnycz said. “If I either stop [breathing] or drop below a certain number of breaths per minute it will [sound] an alarm.”
When the alarm sounds, it’s Lavender’s duty to wake Kachnycz so he can breathe normally again.
Lavender will wake Kachnycz, first by nudging him, and then putting her weight on him if he is in a deep slumber.
For Kachnycz, receiving Lavender in his junior year of college, after being on a four-year waiting list he signed up for during his junior year of high school, meant a lot more than a life-saving companion. It also meant independence.
“I need Lavender and the monitor to sleep,” Kachnycz said. “So before I had her I commuted from [my parents’] home. Now that I’ve got her, I’ve got tons more freedom. More than I can describe. It’s a lot easier and convenient, and I get to have more fun.”
Kachnycz added that while his nightlife is now more possible, Lavender is not able to join for all of his plans, despite her being certified for public access.
“I went out for someone’s birthday at a bar a couple of weeks ago and the scene was a little more than Lavender could handle in terms of [volume] and rowdiness,” Kachnycz said.
Since Kachnycz’s condition is only present when sleeping it hasn’t affected his aspirations in theater.
“I was kind of bit by the theater bug in high school,” Kachnycz said. “Some friends of mine noticed how expressive I was. My freshman year I tried out for ‘The Music Man,’ wound up getting the lead, and ever since then acting has been something I love, and storytelling is my passion.”
Originally admitted to Temple as part of the musical theater concentration, Kachnycz said he switched into the acting concentration so he could have the option to take a variety of theater classes like directing and stage combat.
Currently cast in “The Liar,” Kachnycz is able to hone his skills in wordplay given the show’s script is performed in iambic pentameter.
Director of “The Liar” and chair of the theater department Doug Wager said Kachnycz shows professional-grade command of the play’s text.
“I think [Kachnycz] has a natural affinity for the relationship between language and behavior,” Wager said. “He is one of those actors, who in terms of his voice work, is skilled enough to be able to manipulate language in a way that’s organic to character choices he’s making. So there’s no disconnect between the words and his actions. That’s a combination between training and talent.”
During rehearsals for “The Liarm” Kachnycz would bring Lavender along.
“Usually an assistant stage manager will sit with her and keep track of her,” Kachnycz said. “[She’ll usually] sit on my coat and if she gets antsy they’ll just give her a treat.”
Bonnie Baldini, a sophomore theater major and an assistant stage manager on “The Liar,” was one of the people that would sit with Lavender during the rehearsal process.
“She was pretty adaptable, [it took] maybe a day or two [for her to get comfortable,]” Baldini said. “She was tentative at first but she was still very sweet and professional as a dog.”
Wager added at one point in his professional career he would also bring his dog to work without any issue.
“When she’s in the room suddenly everyone’s relaxed,” Kachnycz said. “They’re all smiles and more at ease. [Wager] doesn’t seem phased there’s a four-legged furry creature.”
Baldini also noted the positive aspects of having a pet present during the rehearsal process.
“The idea that dogs relieve stress and tension is very true,” Baldini said. “We’ve had a good rehearsal process for many reasons but its always nice because she’s like our cheerleader.”
Now that the show has gone into full dress rehearsals in preparation for the Feb. 15 opening, Lavender will be held in the men’s dressing roombecause of the cast and crew’s increasing responsibilities.
Upon graduation, Kachnycz plans to stay in Philadelphia to pursue work in what he considers his forte, classical theater.
“I love Philadelphia,” Kachnycz said. “This is where I grew up and where I have connections.”
Kachnycz can be seen as Dorante in “The Liar,” running from Feb. 15 through Feb. 24 in Tomlinson Theater.
Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TheLuisFernando.