Talk about getting into character. After landing a spot in the cast for the 2010-2011 tour of CATS, Ashley Travis — a musical theatre graduate from Western Michigan University — spent a month in New York learning how to channel her inner feline.
In an exercise called fluidity, Travis and her fellow cast members spent rehearsal time honing in on their inner cat doing neck stretches, crawling around on their hands and knees and sniffing the air.
“We explored the room and each other,” Travis said. “Basically it was acting exercises as a cat. We built from the ground up. Throughout that it built into our show, so now it’s a well-oiled machine of fluidity.”
After graduating from Western last May, Travis auditioned to be a part of the CATS national tour, which hits the Wharton Center in East Lansing, June 10-11, and landed a role.
“It’s been amazing,” Travis said. “I’ve always wanted to travel, and I’m finally getting to do it. And I’m getting paid to do it.”
For Travis, there’s no way to compare her time in CATS to any other show — this marks the longest show she’s ever done.
“I’ve done this show inside out, forward and backward,” she said. “I know every single movement.”
And she would have to. Travis plays the role called the swing, covering not one, but six parts simultaneously.
“If any one of my six girls gets injured or sick, I have to go on,” she said. “It could be in the middle of the show.”
In what ordinarily takes about a half hour, she has to get into full makeup and costume in just eight minutes if she’s needed. So far Travis said she has gone on as each one of the roles at some point.
“We have a very small window of time to get back on stage and replace that cat so there aren’t any holes. It’s challenging, but it’s completely worth it.”
What Travis loves about the show CATS is how much it is an ensemble. Every person has their own moment or solo. Not just one person is the star.
“You wouldn’t have the same show without every single one of the characters,” she said. “It really helps us be a tribe, and I think that’s really quite special. That doesn’t happen in a lot of shows.”
Travis knows that for some people CATS is difficult to get behind. The show is easily dismissed by a lot of the public, she said, simply because it is a show about dancing cats.
“It’s because the plot isn’t obvious. It’s so much more than just a bunch of dancing cats, and everything has some sort of significance.”
She said it’s not meant to make a person feel a certain way. Instead, the show is meant to be a representation of life as cats and people can take that as they wish.
Although there is “life outside of CATS,” said Travis, theater has been an important part of her world since she was young. She said she loves the ability to affect change within a person through performance.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to give to someone. It is enlightenment and helping people look at an experience from a new perspective.”
As for the upcoming show at the Wharton Center, Travis cannot wait. She went to see shows at the Wharton Center in high school but has not had a chance to go back.
“It’s such an exciting theater,” she said. “My family and friends are going to be there, and it will be the closest I get to home. Performing in a space that I grew up watching shows in, it’s definitely going to be like a homecoming for me.”