Excerpt From Another Cat's Diary : Chapter Two : Chronologically Challenged
If you care to read or listen from the beginning click here.
I’m just on the second posting of this experiment and already my chronology is not exactly… chronological. But, that was the nature of the journal I kept during rehearsals. Sometimes I’d get down full accounts on the day itself, often I’d make bullet point notes and come back to flesh those out later, and sometimes—as in tonight’s section—I’d find myself telling the same rehearsal story over and over to friends and realizing I hadn’t written in down when it happened. So, though today is November the 2nd, 2017 and we’re 58 days from closing and I should, by my own formula, be posting an entry from June 2nd, 2016 being 58 days from opening, what I’m posting, while written on June 2nd is about something that took place on day one, May 31st. 2016.
Are you keeping up?
It’s going to be a lot easier when it’s in book form. I promise.
But for now, here’s the next entry.
Here we go.
Cats : Day Three of Rehearsal
Thursday, June 2, 2016
58 Days To Opening
This Diary Is Already Behind
Bullet Points :
- Equity business meeting with the company and our man, Keith Sklar
- Ira using me as an example of a union member “nearer retirement.” Yup.
- music in the morning, opening, Jellicles (dear little cats)
- still flinching when I hear the word “swing” said out loud (see Tuck Everlasting entries)
- inputting rehearsal calendar on my computer and seeing all those understudy rehearsals and feeling such relief
Longish Excerpt : One Table, Two Chairs — or — Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Cats
I needed to go back to write this down after I told it a number of times to a number of people. It’s what happened after my brief solo encounter with Gillian Lynne as we headed into our first work session on that first day, two days ago.
As I said, after the meet and greet in the large studio—Studio 7A—the performing company, a stage manager or two, and a select few of our creative team reconvened in the slightly smaller (but not the smallest) of the 7th floor studios, Studio 7B.
It’s worth noting the Studio 7A is officially named The Jerome Robbins Studio. Studio 7B is named The Mike Ockrent Studio. There are signs outside each space that let you know that. I read those signs every single day and marvel at where I am.
Anyway, stage management had arranged a large circle of chairs in Studio B. The section of the circle nearest the mirrored wall—the part of the rehearsal hall where creative heads usually sit—this side of the circle was interrupted by a small table. The two chairs on either side of that table were, it was clear, special.
By my count and in no particular order we’ve got Trevor, Gillian, Andy, Chrissie, and Kristen who could be meant to sit there.
That’s five people.
And two chairs.
“Who’s going to sit there?” I wondered.
The cast poured in, dropping off scripts and water bottles and hoodies, claiming chairs (not the two special chairs of course) and continuing the chatty mix-and-mingle of the first day of school. It was in the midst of this that I had had my (previously described) tete-a-tete with Gillian.
As the 10-minute break wound down and Gillian made off towards the center of the room, folks started to sit in the circled chairs, but—after Ira called us back officially—Trevor piped up from somewhere near the doorway:
“Everyone! Before you all sit, Gilly would like a moment. So, would you all gather around her there in the center of the circle? She doesn’t want to have to shout.”
Gilly would like a moment?
My little brain was practically smoking with the effort to decode all the information that I was taking in. And all the information that was missing.
Look, on the calmest of days my mind—well, it’s like it’s constantly running a hundred different tests calculating a thousand different outcomes. Searching for clues. Analyzing inputs… It’s exhausting. I’m in therapy. It’s helping. A lot. All that is to say, I am prone to over-analyzing life as it’s happening and often before it happens. Crank that up to the power of 10 when it’s the first day of a high-profile gig. Add another power or two when I don’t really know anyone in the room… You get the idea. I was on high-alert. So when I’m thrown a informational crumb like, “Gilly would like a moment,” it’s not just a crumb. It’s a huge, bloody, sloshing bucket of chum tossed to the great white sharks that are constantly swimming the periphery of my brain.
I’m just gonna let you sit with that for second. And I’m gonna sit with it. And I’m going to make a note to pass that metaphor by Ingrid at our next session.
OK, we’re back.
When Sir Trevor Nunn tells you to gather around Dame Gillian Lynne one can not move fast enough. Nor get close enough, it seems. We certainly couldn’t. Gillian is a small woman. We are a large group. Twenty-five or more. We completely surround her, not in a neat circle but in a spontaneous scrum. An electrified, eager, slightly worried, almost worshipful scrum. The front ranks, those closest to her, are not more than two feet from her face. Not an exaggeration. The rest press in on the people in front of them, practically belly to back, shoulders overlapping shoulders. Some in front drop down a bit as everyone angles for a visual lock on the woman at the center of it all. Those in the back must be on tiptoe to see her. I wouldn’t know. I was in the second ranks, maybe two-and-a-half feet from her.
Looking back I’m not sure why I didn’t do my usual thing and hang back. Hanging back you get a better position to see the entire event—better to assess, better to analyze. And you’ve got a better shot at the exit—better to bolt should the need arise. But I didn’t do my usual thing. I waded right in. This woman is history. Theatre history. I wanted to be near that. I was so close I could have reached out and touched the hem of her gown, were she wearing one.
She was not.
She was wearing… elegantly simple street clothes, I think. Not rehearsal clothes but, as I remember it, something chic, fitted, and flexible. She could move. As we were about to see.
But, first, she spoke.
Now here’s a jumble of memories:
There’s what she said,
how she was saying it,
how I was interpreting the how over the what for the first bit,
how I settled in to the substance once I was sure I’d decoded what the hell it was I was witnessing,
and then what she did.
She starting to speak and I wasn’t sure what this was going to be. She had already spoken in the Giant Meet & Greet Circle and said the usual salutary sorts of things a director or choreographer might say in that circle. Now the manner of her talking seemed to me to be more instructive, but we were not in rehearsal mode, really. No one had told us to change into rehearsal clothes, so…? There also seemed to be a hurry to it, a rush, and an ever-so-slight sense of disorganization. That seemed odd. What’s the rush? And, hadn’t she started the rehearsal process for Cats so many times that she could have easily done the first ten days of rehearsal in her sle—
Wait. She’s not starting the rehearsal process, at least not as she’s used to starting it. This is going to be different and maybe—
I come out of my analytical mode and I’m suddenly aware that she’s speaking aloud some of the totemic words that I’d previously heard from dancers who’d done Cats before:
Sensuality versus Sexuality
She’s illustrating these with her hands, or back, or front, or neck. And—she’s moving though these concepts at a fair clip.
She’s not going to be with us. Not much, at least. And she’s limited in her time and she’s trying to inoculate us with the lore, the essence of Cats as she means it to be.
And—she’s doing it.
We’re soaking it up. I can feel the the eyes and the ears and the pores of all the dancers around me opening wide and drinking her in. I think they’ve all figured out what’s happening. Or maybe they all knew and I’m the one who’s late to the party.
She’s now on the topic of that quality of cats which is best represented by the imperative sentence, “Look at me.”
“Now,” she says warming to her topic and slowing down, finally, to a pace I feel is actually hers, “Now—I don’t want to disparage American performers…”
(Which means, of course, that she’s about to disparage American performers…)
“But…” she says, looking around at the crush of very American singers and dancers sucking up all her oxygen, “…Americans on the stage are usually saying ‘LOOK AT ME!!!’” And her body, somehow, does an odd little ghost of a George-M.-Cohan-meets-Al-Jolson-meets-Liza-Minnelli-meets-Liberace gesture. We completely get what she’s saying. And it’s a pretty damning thing. And not only is it damning and (generally) true, but she has laid her hand on the very heart of my fears and shame about being a performer in the first place.
Luckily I’m not given much time to stare into that dark abyss for long as she continues:
Her eyes light up and narrow at the same time,
And, in a flash, she ascends, one foot off the ground, and spins every line of her body up-up-up! in a plume of arms and hands and eyes and—
“‘Look at me!’”
It was a one-second move. It said everything you’d ever need to know about Cats. The animals and the musical. Trevor Nunn and T.S. Elliott might have said otherwise. So might ALW. But, at least where Gillian was concerned, this was what you needed to know. What we needed to know. It was one of the best pieces of direction I’ve ever witnessed. The very best if you judge it by the ratio of impact to the amount of time taken. I thought to myself, “that’s like seeing a Hirschfeld drawing just occur in front of your eyes.”
After that it's a bit of a blur that only comes into focus with the help of other cast members' memories. We actually ended up on the floor, I'm reminded. We found ourselves there, in spite of not being properly dressed for it, with her in the middle, commingling in ways that foreshadowed the famous (the infamous?) "sensual clump" in the middle of the ball. What some coarse souls might call "the orgy."
And Gillian's summation? Her parting words?
"The goal," she said, "is that the audience go home, rip off their clothes, and fuck."
That was the end of Gillian’s short lecture/demo. What else could you call it?
What it really was was a reverse exorcism. She was trying to drive a sprit into us, not out of us. Whatever it was I remember that it kind of petered out soon after that astounding proclamation and Trevor swept in and gently swept Gilly... out.
And as suddenly as she had etched the air with her startling felinity...
"—Look at me!"
She was gone.
We had seven minutes with Gillian Lynne.
Present Day Post Script :
From the perspective of today, November 2nd, 2017, with 58 days to go until we close the show I can tell you that we haven’t seen Gillian since that first day. BUT—and this is very, very important—we did have Gillian’s spirit and mind in the body of the amazing Chrissie Cartwright, without whom Cats—this Cats—would not be Cats at all.
More on her to come.
Also, that one-second “look at me” move that Gillian did? Turns out that was the essence of the move we now call Songs that is still in the show in several places. It’s also a move that we get noted on every single time Andy, or Chrissie, or Kim have a work session with us. And though watching any of those bodies demonstrate anything is thrilling…?
Nobody does is like Gilly.
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