by Craig Donnelly
“Kim needs to see you right now.”
The ASM rushed me to our stage manager, who was still calling the show.
“You’re going on for Misto for Act Two. Go get ready.”
My mind stayed with her as my body rushed to the dressing room. We hadn’t been in the theater for long, so I relied on the brightly colored signs in the hallways to get me there. Including Grizabella’s moment at the end of Act One plus a standard intermission, I had about twenty minutes to put on my unitard, makeup and wig as well as practice a “press lift,” where I’m pressed up high above two people’s heads. The other swings gathered around, offering words of encouragement and trying to figure out how to help me prepare. As I sat down in my dressing room chair, my brain finally found me and I did a mental run through of Act Two. Before I knew it, I was crawling onto the stage and placing myself on that giant tire. Old Deuteronomy was about to sing “The Moment Of Happiness.”
The is the national tour of CATS and I am now playing the magical Mister Mistoffelees.
I looked out into the audience and thought to myself; “How the hell did this happen?”
The show continued, with Gus and then Skimbleshanks, and then right as the cat-built-train-car got destroyed, I made my exit to start changing for my number. In the chaos of everything, I forgot to stretch so I quickly jumped into the splits as the Rum Tum Tugger is convincing everyone that I should help steal back Old Deuteronomy. I take one more deep breath and make my entrance.
Magically, of course.
This summer, I will be presenting two new plays. The Pointe is about four young dancers in a summer intensive, who learn about this legendary ballerina through the work she is choreographing for them. It’s being presented in the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at Theatre Row in the Lion Theatre.
Doppelgänger is about a social media star that dies in a prank gone wrong, so now his "team" must convince his doppelgänger to take his place. It’s being presented in the Rave Theatre Festival at The Clemente Center in the Teatro La Tea.
I am often brought back to shows that I have performed in when I’m writing new material. While both of these plays couldn’t be further apart in context, as well as from that of the Jellicle celebration, they were built on similar principles. They are ensemble pieces, created around a group of people who are sharing a fixed space for a specific amount of time. What makes an audience truly encapsulated by works like this, is not only the fact that there are more opportunities for the audience to see themselves in a character on stage, but the show can feel more grounded in the world being presented. An audience understands the stakes better because they see how multiple people are reacting to them. Building a reality through your ensemble is a great theatrical device and one I would never have grasped, had I not performed in an ensemble first.
This is especially prevalent when it comes to festivals, where you don’t have much of a set or endless costume changes to give the audience a structure for where everything is taking place. You have to rely on your ensemble to elevate the audience’s imagination. If a festival audience can believe that the characters are fully experiencing the plot of the show, then your script has a solid foundation.
Towards the end of Misto’s big number, the choreography has him dancing half circles around the junkyard, saluting the cats that have been watching him conjure up magic. I will never forget the intense energy that every performer on that stage was sending my way. As the show came to an end, I could see the first few rows of the audience completed transfixed on the experience they just witnessed. People’s eyes kept wandering as they looked for their favorite cat(s)!
And as we start rehearsals for my shows, I’m watching the actors commit to that same level of energy. Creating harmonious environments so that every character gets their moments to bring their individuality to the forefront, while also bringing significant contributions to the collective. It is in this beautiful balance that I believe true theater can really make its intend impact. And I can’t wait for New York audiences to take in these characters and watch as their stories unfold.
Magically, of course.