The Spinning Dot Theatre presents The Cat Who Ran this Friday in Ypsilanti

[The following post was written by Linette Lao, who, after a dozen years of watching Mark blog alone, has finally decided to experience the joy of blogging for herself.]

As a parent, I’ve been to quite a few children’s theater productions, and what I love most is watching kids watch. Their delight is so direct, vivid and palpable. I’m always glad to attend a show for kids — and that says it all — mostly I am attending for my kids. I’m fine with that: I don’t assume our interests will overlap. I’m grateful arts experiences for kids exist at all…

But last September, I saw Spinning Dot Theatre’s performance of The Cat Who Ran at EMU. I found myself transfixed. I was absorbed, hoping Arlo would be able to hold himself together (in a 2 year old way) long enough for us to make it until the end. He could. There was lots for him, and there was lots for me. I was taken aback by my love of it. I was so glad it existed.

I’m telling you all of this because Spinning Dot Theatre will bring Cat Who Ran to the FLY Creativity Lab this Friday, February 6, at 6:00 PM, and I think you should come. Bring a kid you know, or don’t. I think you will enjoy the experience.

I asked Jenny Anne Koppera, the founder of Spinning Dot, and winner of the 2014 Ann Shaw award, a few questions over email.

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LINETTE: Jenny, I’m wondering how you came across The Cat Who Ran in the first place. I think that you said it had only been performed in the US one time before. How did you know it would be the right play to be Spinning Dot Theatre’s first production?

JENNY: In 2011, I was one of 6 global interns at the ASSITEJ World Congress (A large Children’s Theatre Conference) in Copenhagen, Denmark. I started my work their as an assistant to Kim Peter Kovac from the Kennedy Center who works extensively with international playwrights. It was through Kim Peter Kovac that I was introduced to the piece and then included an excerpt of the play in the first annual Global Play Project at EMU that I worked to create upon returning from the World Congress. Spinning Dot is actually the first professional company to perform The Cat Who Ran in the US. I loved the movement of the piece and the epic nature of their friendship. Few plays move me emotionally like this piece. I also love the arc of how this piece works for US audiences and their expectations for children’s theatre. It feels familiar at the opening and then moves us into more uncharted territory.

LINETTE: The staging (am I using the right word?) is pretty magical, and I love that it relies on ordinary elements like light and water and air. It seems so modern and minimal — and yet really evocative, really rich and juicy. What were your ideas behind the material language of the play?

JENNY: I had the amazing gift of working over 9 months with some amazing theatre collaborators on the piece – Kelly, Big Fire and Darius. Our explorations really cultivated the look and feel of the play together. We wanted to rely heavily on the imagination of our audience as well as incorporate elements of child’s play into the piece. As we experimented with paper, water and light, we knew we were onto something that felt right for this production. Our vision then became governed by these experiments and grew into the piece we have today. As director, I merely decided which of the explorations to weave into a world that would seem cohesive and evocative.

LINETTE: The play is joyful and a real pleasure; it is also rich and emotionally complex. Without giving anything away, as you know, I wept through an entire act of the play. And it wasn’t just me, my friend did too. And our kids did not. I found it so interesting how the story connected with me in ways that flow under or over the radar of kids in the audience. That might make it sound manipulative and I want to be clear it isn’t: it is about resonance I think. Ordinary adult life experiences provide this lens for adults to see the play through that is different than what a kid might understand. But there is real balance there. I’ve been thinking about this play all fall and wondering, How did that happen? I didn’t know that could happen. So that is my question to you, how does this happen?

JENNY: I think it stems from really well crafted plays created for family audiences and then is grown by directors, actors, etc. who believe in creating rich, deep and perhaps challenging work for young/family audiences. Good art speaks on many levels and holds many strands of meaning. This is why we return to our favorite books or films throughout our lives – because they continue to speak to where we are. I feel like there are beautiful pieces – maybe like Pixar movies – like Nemo, or maybe elements of Winnie the Pooh – who hold these same strands of meaning. Rich work that really speaks to family or multigenerational audiences is elusive in the US in theatre. For some reason theatre for young audiences in the US can be quite flat artistically when really family audiences are the most imaginative and potentially dynamic audiences out there! So it’s about finding plays and artists who believe that wide, creative work for these audiences matter – which is why I created Spinning Dot. Because I want to do this type of work! Does that answer your question?

LINETTE: Will you tell us about the kids you are working with? As I understand it, they’ll also be presenting something of their own on Friday, right?

JENNY: Yes, they’ll be performing their Junkanoo! The Junkanoo is our first Spinning Dot Theatre Youth Company performance. It’s a piece that was inspired by global festivals, folktales, puppets and guest artists that has been woven together by the youth company themselves! They’ve collaborated to mix the folktales into new meaning, written the script and the music, created the puppets, etc. The Junkanoo combines music, theatre and puppetry to bring these global tales to life! And we’ll close the piece with a talkback with the youth themselves so they can share with you their thoughts on what they’ve created and what it means to be a part of the Spinning Dot Youth Company!

[The Cat Who Ran, as well as a special preview of The Spinning Dot Theatre’s Junkanoo, will begin at 6:00 PM tomorrow evening (Friday, February 6) at 40 North Huron Street in Ypsilanti. Tickets are “Pay What You Can.” Other details can be found on the event poster.]

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