‘Cats’ youth production opens at Tryon Fine Arts Center

Published 12:22 pm Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Madison Walter (Bombalurina) and Megan Fields (Demeter) &bsp;I stopped by rehearsals at the Tryon Fine Arts Center last week to try to sit down and visit with some of the teens turned feline in the summer youth production of &dquo;Cats.&dquo;

When I arrived they were already prowling about the stage working on the opening number. It was quite impressive to see that many teens focused and moving fluidly about the stage.

However, when you see the show you may notice one cat is a bit smaller than the others. As they were let out into the lobby to take a break I found this young fellow among the teens and asked if I could get him to answer a few questions.

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Jack Tinkler, how did you get your dad (director Chris Tinkler) to let you do this show?

I just asked him.

Now, while you haven&squo;t been on stage I&squo;ve seen you around the theater with your dad. How many shows have you worked on now?

Two ‐ &dquo;Beauty & the Beast&dquo; and &dquo;Anything Goes.&dquo;

Didn&squo;t I see you helping move set pieces for &dquo;All in the Timing,&dquo; too?

Yeah, so three.

Is your dad harder on you than the other kids?


What do you like about being in this show?

That you get to do fun dances.

What&squo;s your character&squo;s name?

Tumblebrutus. A gray body and gray spotted face. He&squo;s sort of a mean cat.

Do you have a solo?

No, but I sing.

What&squo;s the hardest thing?

Trying to move around.

Do you think you&squo;ll do more shows with your dad?

Probably, yes.

Are you the youngest?

Yes, by seven years.

As the lobby settled down again, I had the time to visit individually with a few more of the cats about their experience.

I had met Jay Brown when I was teaching at Landrum and was impressed with his performance last year as Lumiere in &dquo;Beauty and the Beast.&dquo;

Nicole Hall is new to TLT, but landed the role of Grizabella, who sings the hit song from the show, &dquo;Memory.&dquo;

Jamie Ferguson has returned to TLT for what may be her last community theater summer show before heading off to college to study theater.

Madison Walter has been delighting audiences in both the summer shows as well as making appearances working on and offstage for the regular TLT adult season.

I picked a few questions to pose to each of these very different &dquo;cats.&dquo;

How many shows have you done with Tryon Little Theater?

Jay Brown: &dquo;Pajama Game,&dquo; &dquo;Anything Goes,&dquo; Sherlock Holmes festival &dquo;Murder at the Banquet,&dquo; &dquo;Annie,&dquo; &dquo;Aladdin,&dquo; &dquo;Beauty and the Beast.&dquo;

Jamie: Oh goodness, first was &dquo;Joseph,&dquo; then &dquo;Oliver,&dquo; &dquo;Annie,&dquo; &dquo;Peter Pan&dquo;&ellip; like eight or ten.

Madison: Um, probably 11 or 12&ellip; I&squo;m not going to count. Favorite was &dquo;Annie&dquo; because that was my one big lead.

Nicole, I hear this is your first show with TLT. How did you get involved?

Nicole Halla: I played Cinderella in &dquo;Into the Woods&dquo; at Oakbrook Prep directed by Mr. Tinkler. Prior to working with him we&squo;d done &dquo;Bye Bye Birdie,&dquo; &dquo;Music Man,&dquo; &dquo;Wizard of Oz,&dquo; and &dquo;Romeo & Juliet.&dquo;

How is &dquo;Cats&dquo; different from other shows you&squo;ve done?

Jay Brown: I would say that it&squo;s different because it&squo;s all singing and dancing, there&squo;s no speaking. So for me, it&squo;s easier because I can memorize songs easier than lines. The style of dance is also different.

Nicole: There&squo;s a lot more dancing, even though I&squo;m a character that doesn&squo;t dance and not only do you have to be a character, but an animal. That&squo;s been challenging but I think that&squo;s important for an actor to grow in their ability.

Jamie: Well let&squo;s see, for one, there&squo;s no speaking. Second, it&squo;s probably my last show here, my last in community theater, at least for a while.

Madison: Well it&squo;s all singing and dancing and the level has increased along with the expectations. The whole show is singing ‐ we&squo;ve never done one like that before and I think this is the strongest chorus we&squo;ve had.

What&squo;s been the hardest thing for you this summer?

Jay Brown: It&squo;s been equally hard ‐ the music and dancing.

Nicole: Having to be old and keep my hands to myself. I&squo;m used to the loud, ditzy characters, so it&squo;s different being quieter and more reserved.

Jamie: I think the hardest thing is that we don&squo;t have a broad enough range of voices so even though I&squo;m a mezzo soprano I end up singing soprano and alto, and for Jennyanydots I even sing lower than my normal range.

Madison: Probably the singing. I haven&squo;t had a demanding singing role since probably two years ago and getting back into the vocal range has been tough. I play Bombalurina who sings McCavity.

How is the dancing different?

Jay Brown: From the shows that I&squo;ve done it&squo;s more mystical and you have to be more cat-like slinking around the stage.

Nicole: Mainly the dance moves are &dquo;cat like&dquo; and you have to keep that appearance rather than just being a young teenage girl. So keeping that whole cat attitude is more challenging. It&squo;s more mental and you have to remember the dance but it&squo;s not jerky, you have to keep it fluid.

Jamie: I think that at the moment it&squo;s a bit rough. Because everything in the show is dancing and we only have one choreographer and none of us are professional dancers. The parts we don&squo;t remember, we&squo;ll make up something and it will work.

Madison: I think it&squo;s more inclusive of everyone. Everyone is always on stage and dancing and you have to be in that cat-like pose.

What have you worked on the most?

Jay Brown: Dancing, most definitely.

Nicole: Mr. Tinkler told me that I don&squo;t need to push with the song (I&squo;m singing &dquo;Memory&dquo;) and it&squo;s a struggle for me not to just be loud and to focus on the words. I try to find in my personal life how I would react to the song and then watching the movie and YouTube videos to see how different actors have interpreted it. Then I take what I&squo;ve learned and try to project that through my character as I&squo;m playing it.

Jamie: I spent the most time working on the singing, because I&squo;m basically the only one singing harmony. So I need to make sure it&squo;s clear.

Madison: The vocals. I&squo;ve had Susie Kocher come in and work with me. I&squo;ve come early a few times and she&squo;s taught me breathing techniques. Like lying on the floor with an encyclopedia on your stomach and you make it rise as you breathe in and then control your breath out. If you can do that then you add another one. I do that for ten minutes every day.

What do you like about this show?

Jay Brown: I like the idea of the costumes and pretending to be a cat. I think that&squo;s grand.

Nicole: I like just how different it is and how all the songs run together and you get to broaden your ability and try to be a cat. I like the set and how it&squo;s a junkyard with everything oversized. But just acting as an animal is fun. And&ellip; the makeup is pretty cool.

Jamie: The people. The people are a lot of fun. I&squo;m having a great time. And it&squo;s different than the shows I&squo;ve been doing at the South Carolina Governor&squo;s School for the Arts. It&squo;s not soul searching, it&squo;s about cats.

Madison: I love the dancing! The dancing is great. I&squo;ve enjoyed pushing myself with this show to get flexible and limber and in shape. With Kathleen if something&squo;s easy, she&squo;ll make it harder and really push you to your limit. I took ballet for five or six years and some tap and learned jazz through the shows.

What do you hope that people will get from this show?

Jay Brown: A sense of wonder and that musicals don&squo;t just fall into one category. This isn&squo;t your typical show, it&squo;s something different. There&squo;s a sense of mystery.

Nicole: I want them to be able to feel like they&squo;re watching actual cats and I want them to&ellip; that&squo;s a hard one. It&squo;s a show that you&squo;ll never see any other one like it, and they will hopefully remember it for that. I hope they enjoy the individuality and rareness of it. Instead of the audience feeling like they&squo;re watching a show I want them to feel like they&squo;re watching a life story.

Jamie: I hope they just have fun, because we&squo;re having fun. There&squo;s a little bit of political commentary, but it&squo;s old.

Madison: I hope they&squo;ll see the hard work that&squo;s gone into it, and the hours we&squo;ve spent preparing. I also hope they see how talented the youth of this community are. We really have a lot of talent.

What do you think will be important later about having done this show?

Jay Brown: I think just the experience of doing this show. It was the first of its kind.

Nicole: I guess I&squo;ll set higher goals for myself knowing what I can do and have the ability to do. I&squo;ll be more rounded as an actress and be able to look at more varieties of characters instead of getting stuck playing certain types.

Jamie: I guess just the memories of doing what might be my last summer community show.

Madison: Just the friendships I&squo;ve gained. I became really good friends with Megan Fields from Oakbrook and we wouldn&squo;t have met if we weren&squo;t doing this show. Mostly the memories because I&squo;ve done these shows every year since I was eight and they just keep building and getting better.

What are your goals after this show?

Jay Brown: Right now I&squo;m really considering pursuing theater because I feel that your career should be something you enjoy and not something you are obligated to.

Nicole: I would love to be able to do this for life, but I think it will just be a passion that I keep up with until I can&squo;t do it any more physically.

Jamie: Well, I&squo;m going to Otterbein College in Ohio in the fall to major in theater and hopefully from there I&squo;ll get paid to act or at least get paid to be around a theater.

Madison: To expand my range vocally and continue doing more theater!

Is everybody a theater major?

Jamie: Megan is a theater major at Catawba, and I&squo;m going to be, but lots of the rest probably won&squo;t. But that&squo;s what community theater is about.

There are four chances to catch these teens singing and dancing their way through Andrew Lloyd Webber&squo;s &dquo;Cats&dquo; this weekend at the Tryon Fine Arts Center. Opening night is tomorrow at 8 p.m. with additional evening performances on Friday and Saturday plus a matinee at 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 3. Tickets are available at the Tryon Fine Arts Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or call 859-8322 ext. 214.