Suspension of Disbelief, sort of.

28 Jan

As I write this, photos are uploading onto Flickr, which hopefully means that they will soon be on this very blog. Huzzah!

I write this on the eve of what is my second official day as a 24 year old, or, as I like to think of it, the first year I leave my late early twenties and move into my early mid twenties. And I have to say, I had one of the best birthdays I can remember. I didn’t have high hopes, as I thought that being away from friends and family and with a group of people who I am really only in the first stages of getting to know, really, would mean at best a cake and maybe an awkward congratulations or two. Well, this was not so. The cast and crew was truly generous and lovely, making sure that celebration abounded and giving me all sorts of little things that indicated they knew me far better than I would have given them credit for, and generally making me feel not as though I was away from my family and friends, but rather that I had fallen into another group of them. So, though none of them read this because I’m sort of afraid to let them know it exists, thank you guys. And, to everyone who was so lovely and emailed me, thank you too. I miss you all, so much.
I thought it was time that I mentioned again the very reason I am here, the show. Actually, this occured to me on my birthday, when I was walking in the crossover behind the show, and heard a voice calling my name. It was Nick, the lovely 18 year old who I feel a sort of special bond with because I was the one who got to call him to tell him he had pretty much gotten this job, which made him the first castmember I met and me the first show person he interacted with. Anyhoo, Nick called me over to wish me happy birthday and ask about what the plans were for later that night, but while he was doing this he was in the midst of a costume change, specifically into the Great Rumpus Cat. I should explain here – the Great Rumpus Cat is a character in the sort of show-within-a-show that takes place in the first act, when the cats all act out this sort of charade for their leader, Old Deuteronomy. It’s a strange number, very often much hated, called ‘The Pekes and the Pollicles’, and tells the story of all these dogs fighting, who are then broken up by the Great Rumpus Cat (just go with it). Anyway, when Nick called me over he was in his regular cat outfit, complete with wig, and just stepping into the black rubber unitard that he wears over his regular unitard as Rumpus. So when I started the conversation, I was looking at a boy dressed up like a cat, which is strange enough. As the conversation progressed I was looking at Nick in a black unitard over another unitard, his wig stuffed under the hood, and then I was looking into the big red mechanical eyes in the big black rubber mask, complete with teeth and big plastic hair that Nick can make go up when he pulls a cord in the gloves. And then he gave me a hug, carefully, so as to avoid the spiky nails on the gloves, and a voice from deep within the black mask wished me happy birthday, and he trotted off with the dressers to go appear from behind the giant mechanical tire, and I thought to myself, “this is a strange industry.”
And that’s the thing about doing a show – the absurd becomes absolutely mundane. It’s amazing how fast you get used to seeing someone walk down the hallway with a giant brown wig and cat makeup on, in a bathrobe, holding a cigarette in one hand and a cell phone in the other. Or, my personal favorite, standing under the ladder that leads to the rigging above the stage at the end of the show, and watching as a pair of grey heels are lowered down on a string. These are followed shortly by our Grizabella, Francesca, who has just ascended to the Heaviside Layer in the show (no, we don’t know what it is, either), but doesn’t like to wear the heels backstage, and thus sends them down first, before she comes down the ladder in her trademark pink sneakers. (She will also put these on whenever she has long stretches backstage, which prompts one of the castmembers, Ranjeet, to sing ‘Grizabella, the Crosstraining Cat’ whenever he passes her.) And there’s another thing about doing a show like this, which is even more awesome, which is when the mundane becomes amazing.
I should say that I have never liked Cats. I always thought it was a stupid show, and I never understood why it was the phenomenal success it is. Well, I have to say, after working on it, I get it now. I think it was opening night in Tainan, the first city in Taiwan, where it finally clicked for me. I had watched the show in rehearsal and been impressed with the talent of the cast, and I had seen the cast doing their ‘cat improvs’ and had to leave the room to keep from completely losing it and giggling inappropriately, but it had never gelled. But in Tainan, I think I realized the key to the entire thing – intermission. You see, at intermission, the cats come out, in character but not staged, to interact with the audience. And there is something truly amazing about it. On a purely theatrical level, it’s the best kind of audience participation – the audience doesn’t have to talk to someone they know really isn’t the person they are playing. Instead, they can interact with a piece of the show, and that mixed with the pure ‘what’s going to happen?’ thrill of improv makes it sort of truly magical. At the opening in Tainan, I watched Alinta, our Demeter, come out and playfully swat with two kids in the front row. At one point, one of the kids, who had gotten up and was walking around, turned around to find Alinta sitting right behind him, and the shriek he let out was fantastic – a mixture of surprise and joy that turned into giggles that seemed like glee purely tapped. On the other side of the stage, Nick (who has proved to be a bit of a prodigy at the audience interaction) had stolen the Mayor’s shoe, and was swatting it towards a pipe in the stage, much to the entire audience’s amusement. The cats switch it up depending on the venue – here in Taichung, Stephen, another young’un and a fantastic tumbler, likes to walk down the stairs of the auditorium on his hands, while clapping his feet together. But wherever or whatever it is, it’s the same reaction from the audience. And it’s pretty awesome to watch.

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