Excerpts From Another Cat's Diary : Chapter Seven : From Griz To Gus
If you care to read or listen from the beginning click here.
This chapter includes adult language.
That Monday chapter was long, so I split off the rest of the week’s excerpts to their own chapter. This one. Chapter seven. Still in the third week. Still in the studio.
Here we go…
Cats : Day SIXTEEN of Rehearsal
Wednesday, June 15th, 2016
46 DAYS TO OPENING
I Love Them
10:00 am - 1:30 pm, Studio 7A, FULL CAST (sans Gurr & Lewis), Jellicle Ball
MICRO-EXCERPT : My People
It’s official. After Griz, I have the best princess track in this show. Gus, Franz, Dillamond… These are my people.
2:30 pm - 6:00 pm, FULL CAST, Jellicle Ball
EXCERPT : Shade Tree Mechanics
I get in early for my call, actually well before the lunch break so I can do my conference call with Tony Howell right at the top of lunch. It’s the last fifteen minutes of the morning session when I arrive.
The troops are working on the ball. From the doorway into 7A I witness a wonderful conversation between Paz and Em about a beautiful two-part lift towards the end of the number where they mirror each other. Paz is partnered by Daniel, Em by Jeremy, and one is helping the other figure out exactly… what?
How to hold herself in the lift?
Where to put her weight?
Where to be rigid and where to be soft?
All of the above?
It’s a thing particular to dancers, this kind of process conversation. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen two singers have this sort of exchange during a rehearsal, or two actors. Sure, two actors might, over drinks at the bar, after rehearsal, mull over a beat or a tricky bit of text—particularly one older and one younger actor, the former mentoring the latter, whether he wants it or not (see Jon Jory’s forward to his book, Tips: Ideas For Actors), but usually this does not happen in rehearsal. It is verboten for an actor to give another actor a note and it’s frowned upon for an actor to even kibitz. And while this is not really a dancer giving another dancer a note, dancers do seem more free with sticking in their oar in this kind of situation.
I so wish I had the vocabulary, the dance literacy, to truly describe what is going on in this room. I think it’s remarkable. I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the audience whether they’re dance savvy or not. But I really don’t have the wherewithal to properly analyze and subsequently articulate the work itself. I so wish I did.
Going back to the two pairs of dancers working out these lifts:
They’re joined by Kim and Ellenor. I scan the room and there—across the studio—I see Chrissie carefully watching as well.
What this reminds me of—weirdly—is something that’s a common sight in the South, where I grew up. It is a bunch of shade-tree mechanics on a hot day (a hot studio?) all standing around the open hood of a car being worked on.
Looking at inner workings from different angles.
Tapping this part then that part with a screwdriver.
Lobbing out ideas.
One person manning the key and ignition. Others nodding from a distance.
It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
I love these dancer/mechanics.
Every one of them.
PRESENT DAY POSTSCRIPT :
Kim is Kim Craven, who’s title is Resident Choreographer, which—it turns out—is like a combo resident director & ur-dance captain. She’s the one, along with Ira, who has kept her loving eyes on us throughout the run. She’s also the one, along with our cast member dance captains, who teach all the new cats their tracks. This has been a Sisyphean task. One she bears with grace.
Ellenor is Ellenor Scott. Her title is Assistant Choreographer. She was Andy’s right hand all during rehearsals. His amanuensis. His familiar.
BUT, the truth of who they are is this:
They are magical fucking unicorns. Both of them.
I’ve got huge talent crushes on them and have had since the second day of rehearsals. More on them, anon.
END PRESENT DAY POSTSCRIPT
END OF DAY FOURTEEN
Cats : Day Seventeen of Rehearsal
Thursday, June 16th, 2016
45 DAYS TO OPENING
Pride And Prejudice
2:30 pm - 6:30 pm, Studio A, FULL CAST, Dance & Staging cont.
EXCERPT : Go, Blue!
Another morning off for me. When I join the company post-lunch They’re still working on Gumbie Cat from the morning session. Now I’m sitting in the hallway outside of A (my little hiding place has usurped by some foam core something or other). Even as I’m writing this, Andy Jones is singing the opening bars.
“I have a Gumbie Cat in mind…”
I can’t imagine that anyone has ever sung the Munkustrap material better than Andy does. It’s just gorgeous. A beautiful sound, yes, but what I dig is his clarity of intention. It’s a gorgeous instrument in the service of the text backed up by an intellectual rigor I’m a little surprised to find…
In so young an artist?
In a man playing a cat.
But, Munk has the majority of the water to carry, in terms of tying this stack of poems into a dramatic series of events. In Andy, I think we’ve just the guy.
Plus, I like him.
He’s a Michigan grad and I’ve a soft spot for those.
EXCERPT : Remark The Cat
We’re now staging Griz’s first walk through the tribe and Chrissie has everyone vocalize their disdain, their loathing, and their fear of her.
It’s the first time I’ve heard Leona sing. Ever. It’s good.
Here’s the thing: I’m of a certain age, I don’t listen to radio, I don’t really listen to any current pop music and—I’ll cop to it—I’m pretty prejudiced against anyone who comes out of the TV-competition-show-machine. Not proud of that, but it’s true.
So… I didn’t know who Leona was until she was added to our cast list. I’m still not entirely sure who she is to the rest of the world because I didn’t Google her. I wanted to just meet her, on her own terms, as just another actor in the company. Better that way, I think.
That initial pass of Griz was super-informed by all that vocalized vitriol. Now another pass without using language to communicate the same tension.
This first sung material of Griz is fascinating to me. It’s so smart, programmatically speaking. Dramaturgically it’s sound, too, of course. We meet our town whore, our outsider, our—in the end—redeemer. And musically it gives the audience just a taste of what the performer playing the role can do and what Grizabella can or could be.
PRESENT DAY POSTSCRIPT :
Here’s how out of the pop-culture loop I was, even three weeks into rehearsal:
Guess who else came out of the “TV-competition-show-machine”? My dear, sweet amazing Ricky Ubeda.
Not a clue.
I actually think we were in tech and press had started to roll out in earnest before I found out. I thought he just—I don’t know—came from the planet Dance, like so many of the wonders in the room.
And this—boys and girls—is how we whittle away at our prejudices. We meet, we work with, and we come to love those whom we previously had reduced to symbols of our despair at the present state of television, culture, and the world at large.
Yes, we do.
It’s a process.
Cats : Day eighteen of Rehearsal
Friday, June 17th, 2016
44 DAYS TO OPENING
Ford & Gurr, Together Again For The First Time
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm, Studio B, Ford and Gurr, Gus The Theatre Cat
EXCERPT : Once Your Lose Your Heart
Delayed call today. Noon for a staging and music rehearsal for Ford and me.
Jelly and Gus.
At last! I get Chrissie time!
We talk for forty-five minutes before a note is sung. At first, just Chrissie speaks.
Background, the understanding of the story thus far and where Gus and Jelly fit in, the relationship between G & J.
Here’s the received wisdom:
After the ball, Grizabella comes back through the tribe, one time too many. The tribe spurns her in no uncertain terms. And, since Griz is in the space and shows no signs of moving on, they do. They move on. All of them. They clear out from the junkyard leaving Griz alone.
But she’s not alone. Old Deuteronomy stays. And, though she doesn’t see him, he sees her. Deeply. He sees her at her most vulnerable and true. Once she slinks away Old D sits and meditates on what he has seen. All through the intermission he sits and thinks on Grizabella’s plight and the tribe’s utter lack of compassion.
When the cats sheepishly return to the junkyard at the top of Act II, Deuteronomy sings “Moments of Happiness.” A sermon, in a way. The sermon is followed by a hymn, first as a solo, then with the congregation joining in, it is the second iteration of “Memory.” At the hymn’s conclusion Gus is invited to share his story, as a positive example for the kittens.
This is all implied. There is neither music nor text that lays out this information. It will (I assume) be told in action. We’ll leave it to Andy and Chrissie to make that happen.
Here’s an important thing about “Gus The Theatre Cat”: Gus does not start. Jellylorum does.
She holds my heart. Instantly
I just teared up typing that sentence and I’ve only known her for three weeks and we’ve sung the song once. I think it’s going to be ok.
Cats : Day nineteen of Rehearsal
Saturday, June 18th, 2016
43 DAYS TO OPENING
Best Possible Efforts
EXCERPT : “Christopher Gurr is not called today”
I was delighted when I read the emailed call last night. And, also, a little disappointed.
End of the third week. We’ve only one week and three and a half days left in the studio.
Brunch and suit shopping tomorrow, Sunday, with Andy Jones and his wife, Audrey, and my former student and current friend Ben Mason, who just happens to be fairly far up the ladder at Suit Supply.
At some point near the end of the first week, beginning of the second, Ira caught me in the hallway and said,
“So, for a dressing roommate—“
Awwwwww, damn it.
“—There’s Andy (meaning Andy Jones), Tyler, and Ricky. If you have a preference. Take your time. Get to know everyone.”
“Best possible efforts.”
Well, at least he asked. Age does have it’s privileges, even if they are limited.
I know right when he asks that Andy seems the best fit. And, man, I hope that’s ok with Andy.
I feel bad for the lads. Thats how I think of Andy, Tyler, and Rickey. They are all young men and I am, by a long shot, the oldest member of the cast and one of them, now, will be stuck with me. I was so hoping my seniority would earn me solo digs, but Ira has only so many dressing rooms to work with at the Neil Simon. I know. I’ve played it before.
And how’d I choose among the three?
Guess you’ll have to read the book.
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