Joy, a 4-year-old mini pig, is a celebrity in Newton, where she is the mascot for the Capitol II Theatre. Joy greets guests and does tricks for them after shows. Kelsey Kremer/The Register
Move over, Wilbur!
Joy — the American Mini Spokes-Pig for the Capitol II Theatre in Newton — really is “some pig.”
Just ask the adjudicators at Guinness World Records.
Appearing for her close-up in the 2020 edition of the famous record book (out now), Joy has been officially named the fastest trick porker in the universe. Her feat, overseen by two judges (aka Newton’s mayor and the city’s chief of police), was successfully completing 13 tricks, each initiated by a different command, in under one minute.
After a yearslong application process and a nail-biter of a win — breaking the record on her third and final try — Joy and her family are happy as a pig in, well, you know.
“I never thought I would own a pig that broke world records, but Joy’s whole life is basically never knowing what I am getting myself into,” said Dawn Bleeker, owner of both Joy and the movie theater she represents. “To me, she’s still just my beloved pet.”
While that may be true, Joy is far from your average hog.
A ham in more ways than one, Joy is a local celebrity and performer with her own dressing room at the theater — a peek-a-boo window lets visitors steal a gander of her from the street. And Joy is always red-carpet ready, of course, complete with painted toenails and her favorite dress, a resplendent taffeta number emblazoned with cartoon popcorn buckets (her favorite food).
Today, 7-year-old Joy is a fixture as important to the theater’s daily operations as one of its projectors and the candy counter — and she’s dear enough to her family that when the stairs in their split foyer home became too much for the swine, they moved to a ranch. (Yes, they moved for their pig.)
But the relocation is just one of the many ups and downs (and costume changes) in this porcine prodigy’s romantic comedy-esque journey — and the Bleekers, themselves, have had to weather their share of setbacks before getting their Hollywood ending.
Back before their truest Joy was realized, the Bleekers had to petition Newton, Iowa, to allow pigs as pets.
In 2011, the city code declared “all swine dangerous,” and the Bleekers thought adding “with the exception of miniature pigs” would be a fairly anodyne request.
But after they were rebuffed, town gossip circled that Bleeker was jeopardizing her children’s safety with a “mean, aggressive pig,” according to previous Register reporting. A monthslong goodwill campaign helped lower neighborhood pitchforks, and the City Council swung their way in a subsequent vote.
“Pigs aren’t born social, so you have to work with them,” said Bleeker, who paid a puppy trainer for three training sessions when Joy first arrived in central Iowa.
Soon after, the family purchased the recently-shuttered local movie theater, putting in a few weeks of early mornings and late nights to refurbish and restore the picture house.
Considering Joy was just a petite piglet, the family brought her along.
When the theater opened in fall 2012, the late nights and early mornings didn’t stop, so once again, Joy regularly tagged along.
Wearing a little magenta usher’s uniform, complete with a pillbox hat, Joy used to greet patrons. Although she was almost always leashed, Joy walked all around the theater’s lobby and screening rooms, seeking out popcorn kernels wherever and whenever she could.
Her popularity, paired with strong community support, helped the small cinema bounce out of bankruptcy and into the black, the family said.
But a pig in a movie theater wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals received an anonymous complaint a few months after the Capitol opened that “a pig was running loose in a theater,” Dave Werning, then-spokesman for the department, told the Register in 2016.
The responding inspector told Bleeker to keep Joy at home until she could obtain a special dispensation from the department.
“This is, to my knowledge, the first (variance) we’ve issued for a pig in a movie theater,” Werning said.
Breaking a record
Although Joy is a “total diva,” Bleeker said, she didn’t seek out the record’s limelight.
In late 2017, a rumor circulated in miniature pig circles (yep, those) that Guinness was looking for swine with special abilities. Joy had been performing in front of the Capitol Theatre’s crowds for years, so, Bleeker figured, “Why not?”
She had to apply with what record they were trying to break — pig tricks in a minute, naturally — and Guinness had to approve specific tricks and attempt circumstances.
Once endorsed, the attempt was set for January 2018 at Newton High School. Guinness recommends two government officials — in this case, the mayor and chief of police — be on hand as objective observers, along with two timekeepers, a photographer, a videographer and a letter from Joy’s vet certifying she was good to go.
Animals can only attempt a record break three times in a 24-hour period, so it was make-it-or-bacon-it time for Joy.
“I probably goofed up the first two. I was a nervous wreck,” Bleeker said. “Seconds into the first try, I screwed it up.”
But the porker prevailed and, for more than a year, the Bleekers have kept their swine star a secret. Since her reveal in earlier October, Joy has been asked to appear on “American’s Got Talent” and to break her record live on Italian TV — the family declined international travel because transporting a pig on commercial airlines presented quite the customs issue.
Although the sheer number of tricks dogs can do in a minute makes Joy look “pokey,” Bleeker said part of the issue is that “pigs — especially older ones — do things on their own time.”
“When she was younger, she could do things faster,” she said. “Now, she’s like, ‘OK, I’ll get to it when I get to it.’”
Just like a true diva.
Courtney Crowder, the Register’s Iowa Columnist, traverses the state’s 99 counties telling Iowans’ stories. She wrote more words about Chris Soules on “The Bachelor” than anyone in journalism school prepared her for. Please read her other work before emailing that “this isn’t news.” Reach her at [email protected] or 515-284-8360. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.
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On Feb. 16, Nancy Sinatra is hosting a fundraiser for the Plaza Theatre — and the lineup is now official.
Five musical artists will perform at the event during Modernism Week, according to Palm Springs City Councilman J.R. Roberts, who co-chairs the steering committee that’s raising the money to restore the theater and re-open it for live programming.
The lineup includes actor and singer James Darren, known for his roles on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “T.J. Hooker.” Darren is the godfather of Sinatra’s daughters and also spoke at the funeral of her late father, legendary crooner Frank Sinatra.
Also scheduled to perform is Wrecking Crew member and session musician Don Randi, who played piano on Nancy’s song, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” and appears in the credits on all of her albums. He also played on The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.”
Additionally, jazz vocalist Steve Tyrell will add his musical talents to the mix. Tyrell is a friend of the Sinatra family who performed the duet “Girl Talk” with Frank Sinatra Jr., and recorded the 2005 covers album “Songs of Sinatra.” Tyrell’s breakthrough performances came on the “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride II” soundtracks.
Nancy’s daughters, A.J. Lambert and Amanda Erlinger, will also perform.
A.J. Lambert will perform songs written by Jimmy Van Heusen just like her grandfather Frank Sinatra. Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY
The February event will also feature a conversation with Sinatra, plus clips from her films and television shows. All money raised will go toward restoration of the 83-year-old theater, which officials say will require $12 million to update.
Tickets for the event go on sale Friday at the Plaza Theatre from 3 to 5 p.m.
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at [email protected] or (760) 778-4617. Previous reporting by Desert Sun reporter Melissa Daniels was used in this report.
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Here’s a guide to the many events set for this weekend in Winona and the surrounding area:
SMU Theatre: “The Knight of the Burning Pestle”
There will be three opportunities to enjoy “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” this weekend at Saint Mary’s University’s Page Theatre.
SMU’s Theatre and Dance will perform the humorous, satirical play written by Francis Beaumont. The play focuses around actors attempting to recreate “The London Merchant” with different characters and a different genre than the original, while constantly having to endure the interruptions and behaviors of their audience.
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
For more information about this weekend’s performances and to purchase tickets, visit pagetheatre.org.
The Camp Wenonah team will give visitors the chance to learn about nature and participate in a 1.5-mile hike from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The day will focus on native prairie lands, including the benefits of them and methods on how to restore them. Participants will also learn about invasive plants that have made an impact on Camp Wenonah.
During the hike, visitors will visit the Camp Wenonah prairie, which is being restored by the YMCA.
Camp Wenonah is located at 311903 Camp Drive.
Día de los Muertos Fiesta!, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday at Winona Public Library.
An Evening of Magic/Comedy — The Magic of Isaiah, 6:15 p.m. Friday at Elmaro Vineyard in Trempealeau.
Halloween Hangover with DJ Ramble, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday at No Name Bar.
November Craft and Vendor Fair, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Winona Mall, 1213 Gilmore Ave.
One World, Many Stories, noon to 1 p.m. Saturday at Winona Public Library, Bell Art Room.
Author Event: Amanda Zeiba, 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Paperbacks & Pieces.
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Phoenix has a deep, interesting history. And, that includes some more spooky stories. Ghosts, mostly nice, still roam the halls of some of our most well-known locations. And, leading up to Halloween, The Show visited three of them for the series “Haunted Phoenix.”
The Orpheum Theatre downtown originally opened in the late 1920s. A recent renovation has helped restore it to past glory and, quite possibly, brought back some of its more spirited residents.
The Orpheum has been hosting visitors this week and telling them the tales of ghosts who call it home. The Show spoke with David Cruse, theatrical venues manager for the city of Phoenix, to learn about who the spirits are and why they’ve returned or, in some cases, never left.
City of Phoenix
Mae West was among the artists who performed at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix.
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Tickets for a fundraiser hosted by Nancy Sinatra benefiting the historic Plaza Theatre in Palm Springs will go on sale starting Friday at noon.
The special event will take place on Sunday, February 16 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre located at 128 S. Palm Canyon Drive. The city announced the event will include a special screening selection of Nancy Sinatra’s work followed by a conversation with the audience. Nancy also promises to bring special celebrity guests.
The event will help raise the money needed to restore the city’s historic Plaza Theatre. The theater was built in 1936 and played host to several Hollywood film premieres, national radio broadcasts, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies in its heyday. The heater has been closed since 2014.
It is estimated the city will need $10 million to $20 million to restore the building. Thanks a $10,000 donation from Modernism Week and a $50,000 donation from the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, the total committed to the renovation project so far is $200,000.
A restoration and rehabilitation plan by consultants from Gensler, an international architectural firm, called for significant infrastructure repairs, the installation of new theatrical equipment, structural improvements to meet current fire prevention and Americans with Disabilities Act mandates, and 670 new seats.
“The Plaza Theatre is one of the most iconic buildings in Palm Springs,” Roberts said. “Restoring an important civic institution like this will require significant support from our local community. We encourage anyone interested to get involved and donate.”
“We know that when the theater is fully restored, it will once again become an economic driver,” Moon said. “The Plaza Theatre is an important part of our history and we look forward to restoring this beloved treasure so it can meet the needs of future generations.”