Practical Cats, Dramatical Cats

June’s been attending musical drama camp at the community center for the past four summers.  She’s been Marta in selected scenes from The Sound of Music when she was five, Kate in scenes from Annie when she was six, and last year Dodger Girl (based on the Artful Dodger) in Oliver!. It’s always her favorite camp and the only one we take into account when scheduling our vacation weeks. (For Noah that camp is University of Maryland band camp, which he’ll be attending week after next.)

Part of the way Gretchen, the camp director, pulls the performance out of the campers in just a week is to send them the lyrics and music to the songs they will perform ahead of time.  They are expected to learn the songs and to be ready to audition for parts on the first day. That’s why June was practicing songs from Cats at the beach. June has sometimes gotten the part she wanted and sometimes not and she’s always a good sport about it, but she did have a preference this year and it was for Jemima, youngest kitten in the tribe and the one who sings both the first line of the first song, “Are you blind when you’re born?” and the first stanza of “Memory.”

When we arrived at camp on the first morning, Gretchen greeted June and asked if she had a part in mind.  When June told her, Gretchen nodded and said she thought she’d make a good Jemima, or possibly Mr. Mistoffelees, though she remembered from last year that June didn’t like to play male roles (a drawback in a camp that’s either all girls or almost all girls every year). June affirmed this was still her preference.

I introduced Gretchen to Noah, who was with us, and let her know he’d be doing some of the drop-offs and pickups. Two weeks earlier both kids had attended a tinkering camp at their old preschool (June as a camper and Noah for volunteer credit he needs for school) and he walked her there and back almost every day.  It worked out so well, I decided to have him help me out this week, too. Sometimes he walked her and sometimes they took the bus.  He didn’t complain about this duty, even when I accidentally sent him an hour early on Monday afternoon (the dismissal time was an hour later than last year). On Thursday he even picked her up at camp and delivered her to a friend’s house, giving me a nice long block of time to work.

Monday June came home with the happy news that she had been cast as Jemima and that she was the only Jemima. Sometimes roles get split.  This year for instance there were two Grizabellas and last year June was one of three kids reciting or singing lines that once belonged to the Artful Dodger.

Even though I wasn’t actually at the camp as often as in previous years because Noah was there instead, I still got to see bits and pieces of the show coming together; I arrived ten to fifteen minutes early the two days I picked June up and both times, I was just in time to see her practice her solo from “Memory.”

Turn your face to the moonlight
Let your memory lead you
Open up enter in
If you find there
The meaning of what happiness is
Then a new life will begin

I thought she sounded good, but that she wasn’t projecting enough.

In addition to learning their songs and choreography, the kids made their costumes, by sewing fur to leotards and leggings brought from home and they made ears and tails out of felt. June’s leotard got lost the very first day so Gretchen replaced it with a shimmery silver long-sleeved one that her daughters had outgrown. June was going to pair it with a pair of orange leggings because the actors had been instructed to bring clothes in colors cats can naturally be, but they were encouraged to mix and match. Kids’ families also brought in props such as cardboard boxes for the set, which is a junkyard. Our contribution was a wooden stool my stepfather made years ago. (Appropriately enough, he made it for an elderly cat who needed help climbing onto the bed.)

Meanwhile, at home, June practiced her songs. It was occasionally disconcerting to hear my fresh-faced eight year old sing lines like, “I can smile at the old days/I was beautiful then.” In the evenings, the Noah and June read T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats aloud for inspiration, a few poems each night before bed (sometimes with a good deal of spirited negotiation about what would be recited and what sung and by whom). We finished on Saturday night, the day after the performance.

Noah and I arrived at the auditorium at 2:25 on Friday, five minutes before show time. He was carrying his camera and tripod and I had June’s violin, for her lesson right after the show.  We met Beth in the lobby and took our seats when the doors opened.  We could see June huddled with some other cats right in front of the stage.  She didn’t seem to be wearing her leggings and I hoped they weren’t lost because they were a good pair and not nearly outgrown like the leotard.  (I was fretting about this on and off throughout the show, but later she I found out she had just forgotten to put them on and we retrieved them from the props room.)  It was one of two wardrobe malfunctions, because in her hurry to get dressed she put her leotard on backwards and it was tight in the seat as a result.  Also the oval of fur for her stomach was on her back. But there was no time to change and the show must go on!  (At least her shoe didn’t fly off her foot like it did in dress rehearsal, she told me later.)

There were six numbers, some of them songs and some of them chants: “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” “The Naming of Cats,” “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser,” “The Song of the Jellicles,” “Mr. Mistoffelees,” and “Memory.”

In the first song the singers were a little quiet in their solo lines and it was hard to hear some of them, as you’ll notice if you watch the longer video.  But it got better in the later songs and overall, the show was very nicely done and everyone seemed to be having a good time.  June made an adorable silver cat, even with her backwards costume, and her solo in “Memory” was just splendid.  It really improved over the course of the week, from what I saw in rehearsal. It was fun watching June and all the kids. Two girls attended June’s preschool (but not in her year); one has played soccer and basketball with June, and others I recognized from previous years at camp. A lot of kids, including Gretchen’s two talented daughters, come back year after year, like June.

Here are two videos you can watch of the show.

A short one (less than a minute) of June’s solo from “Memory”:

And a long one (twenty-three minutes) of the whole show, which Beth is calling “the grandmother version”:

After the show, Beth and Noah went home while June and I made a rushed trip to the library next door to the community center and then walked to her violin lesson. As a result, she arrived at the lesson in full cat costume, including face paint.  When her violin teacher said she’d never taught violin to a cat before, June observed she’d said the same thing a few weeks ago when June showed up at her lesson wearing a cape.  “You always keep it interesting, June,” Elizabeth said.

June wore the tail of her cat costume to bed that night and for most of the next morning, but we still have a week of drama camp left for each kid, plus band camp, so there will be no shortage of interesting around here for the rest of the summer.