Interview by Carla Sanchez Taylor (RiPpLe PuDdle)
I am not a theatre aficionado, nor, might I add, a lover of cats. But upon research for this interview, I found many impassioned friends who had seen Cats The Musical, some numerous times. It seems to leave an impact on people, and it would make sense seeing as it was the longest-running musical production in Broadway history – Andrew Lloyd Webber is no slouch in that department.
There are times in a person’s life when they find an experience catches them off-guard. Actually surprises them to the point of compelling provocation. It can happen in an audience simultaneously as it happens to the actor – because art is a constantly living and breathing thing that if done correctly affects generations.
I got a chance to sit down with actress Keri René Fuller to find out what makes for impactful theatre.
Carla: I am embarrassed to say that I have never seen Cats. What I have heard is that it’s a surprisingly touching production. How would you explain the experience of Cats to a non-theater goer or someone that’s never seen it before?
Keri: Cats does tend to be the butt of musical theater jokes just because it’s a musical about cats and the plot is not so obvious. You have to work a little bit, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing. You have to really follow along and really work hard at what these characters are saying and what these interactions say to you as an audience member, and its part of the fun of live theater.
I always say that without reserve as Grizabella, the story is just kind of a competition of who’s going to go to the heavy side layer, which is the afterlife. So it’s just a series of introductions and interruptions of the various cats within the tribe and Grizabella enters and is ostracized for the choices she has made in her past. But the universal themes seem to be centered around compassion and redemption.
Carla: But what do you feel connects the audiences to these characters? What do you think makes us want to work past the suspension of disbelief that’s built in and how is it pulled off in such a large forum?
Keri: We come into the audience, so we are literally performing all around you. So there’s a little audience participation. I think that kind of focusing in is extremely important. I think it’s special because you don’t find that in every theatrical experience. Most theatre productions have very clear cut storyline.
Keri: I really think it’s a little bit of both. This show break the fourth wall 90% of the time. We are essentially explaining, and welcoming the humans that have, for the purpose of the play, intruded on our evening. We’re taking you along on this journey.
Carla: As an actress you obviously have to find your work relatable, perhaps by drawing in personal aspects of your life. But you’re human. There are days when you’re tired. Days when you haven’t slept enough or have a relationship issue throw your concentratio off.. It’s an emotional job. How and where do you create that demarcation?
Keri: For me, the thing that I connect on with my character Grizabella is the feeling of wanting to belong and wanting to be accepted, which I think are two very different things. Being accepted is where you change yourself in order for people to embrace you. Belonging is based in who you are. For me it is much more of an emotional ride. This is my first tour and I’m away from my home, away from my family, from my boyfriend, and all of the people that keep me rooted in who I am. This character has helped me find myself – who I am in this world, in this industry, and really grounding myself in that. I’ve met people backstage that are truly transformed by the show. Parents bring their children because it was their first Broadway show. Just seeing the generational ties to this production is absolutely beautiful. So, if I’m having a particularly bad day, I think about all of those people that are seeing the show and the fact that they are hopefully going to be inspired
Carla: I imagine that being on tour, you get used to being in a bubble of the experience with your cast. It’s part of the discipline, it seems.
Keri: You’re around the same group of people for the length of your contract. You travel with them and you uproot yourself with them. You hang out in all of your spare time. So it’s extremely important to have a strong bond because it strengthens the story onstage.
But it can also be exhausting. You have to know when to take care of yourself. You have to know yourself enough well enough to know what boundaries to set. All things considered, it’s a tremendous experience and you’re learning constantly. You’re learning from the experience of the production. What you’re going through is it’s own synergy.
We as performers have to truly believe and give every ounce to the production. What happens then is total connection between cast, story and audience. It’s really an incredible thing to witness.
*** No Cats were harmed in the making of this review.