The Directing of Cats

During the pandemic, I was looking for new writing projects, and I decided to write a volume of poems about us crazy theatre people, modeled on T.S. Eliot's amazing Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which served as the source for the musical Cats. Eliot's poems were all as much about humans as they were about cats, and mine were too, but in my case, more specifically theatre people, and let's be honest, even more specifically musical theatre people.

I called it Theatre Cats: The Old Producer's Book of Dramatical Cats, and Zak Farmer did illustrations for me. Some of the poems were very silly, but some were fairly serious.

As I get ready to direct Nine, I was thinking about my books opening and closing poems. The opening poem, "The Casting of Cats" is a bit more ironic, while the closing poem, "The Directing of Cats" is a serious "think piece" about the delicate art of directing. As with all the other poems in the book, my hope was that these would pull the curtain back a bit on how theatre really works, and explain just how complex and fragile an operation it can be.

The more I thought about these, the more I wanted to share this last one, "The Directing of Cats." It's about the most important lesson I ever learned as a director -- that each actor has their own process and each actor needs something different from me as director. I hope you enjoy it and find some truth in it.

You’ve learned here of the Actor Cat,
This Catechism clear, so that
You now need no vast Cat archives
To understand what drives their lives.

Yes, now you’ve seen enough to see
Cat Actors aren’t like you and me;
Some Cats are nicer, some are worse—
And now we’ve caught them all in verse!
They can be sane, they can be mad,
And when they’re good, they’re also bad;
They’re very fragile, quick to rage,
Yet bare their souls on sill and stage!
Each Actor Cat has different needs,
And finds their way at different speeds;
Directors need to know all that,
In order to direct a Cat.

The First Rule (which their Union loves):
An Actor Cat requires kid gloves.

No matter how well trained and agile,
Actor Cats can feel quite fragile;
Insecure, they fret and fuss
To stir emotions up for us;
And though the sturm und drang aren’t real,
It still feels real, the whole ordeal!
It’s not just playing Let’s Pretend;
It’s life itself that they expend.

Though all of it’s just Copy-Cat,
Their mind and body don’t know that!
So why, then, excavate the soul,
When that extracts so great a toll?
Well, one sound theory goes as such:
Some Actor Cats just feel too much;
And from that deep repository
They can draw, to tell a story.

The Second Rule, to stave off wrath:
Each Actor Cat has their own path.

So learn this now, and please recall:
With acting, one size won’t fit all!
There’s Cats who must experiment
Full free from all impediment;
And though they stumble, run aground,
They find their way—and they astound!
Some Actor Cats need just, instead,
Which road to take and where to head;
They’ll end up making thoughtful art,
But need a catalyst to start.
And some Cat Actors flail and claw,
And just need you to hold their paw.

The Third Rule is the Rule Supreme:
This sport, The Stage, demands a team.

One can’t forget this fundament:
A show must be a group event.
In contrast to strict hierarchy;
Collaboration is the key!
When all the Cats’ ideas converge,
The richer choices will emerge!
And then you’re on a mystic trip,
Where every Cat has ownership!
Director Cats need never say:
Oh no! That’s wrong! Do it my way!
It’s not so much which Cat’s the Boss—
It’s all the flavors in the sauce!
Sure, it might seem expedient
To use just one ingredient—
To stretch this metaphor, it’s just
That no Cat wants plain pizza crust!
So there you have it, laid out flat.


That's how you direct a Cat.

And now off to a new adventure with Nine!

Long Live the Musical!

P.S. To check out my newest musical theatre books, including my latest, Go Greased Lighting!click here.