By Vivian Auslander
|Director Benjamin Hanna|
He directed BACT’s world premieres of Ivy + Bean, the Musical, which involved occasional worms, and Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, the Musical, which featured a wandering dog, Bingo. Now, Benjamin Hanna has taken on an entire quirky pet store with Bad Kitty On Stage! Let’s hear from him what that’s like.
You are directing this production. What does a director do?
I play a variety of roles. One of them is to find a way for everyone on the creative team—actors, designers, producers, marketers—to see the core center of the play, to guide everyone’s vision, and to shape that collaborative effort. This play is adapted from a series of books, so I have the opportunity not only to look at the play but also at the source material. I’ve had the gift of working with the author and the playwright to do this. Another role is being a detective—sleuthing moments from the books that help us find the voice of Kitty and the world of her imagination. Since the books are like comic books, I’m watching to see if we’re giving the same effect that turning a page and seeing the word, “Pow!” or “Meow!” would have. If we do, then I know we’re resonating with the spirit of the books.
What do you mean by “the core center of the play?”
It’s as if you had a wonderful chocolate with something special in the middle that you can’t see but want to know what it’s like—how it tastes, smells, feels. Our job is to find that out. It’s like making the map in a chocolate box so everyone can see what is in the middle of each character’s story.
So you are guiding both context and style?
Yes, we need to create the wacky, upside down world of Kitty, and we have to have that feeling of turning a page and discovering a new adventure. The play explores what being “bad” is like. Kitty isn’t being bad—she’s doing what kitties do naturally. And that’s what kids do—sometimes they get in trouble for exploring, and that can shut down imagination, understanding and connection. So we’re using Kitty’s world to look at exploring—and being different. Like a comic book, the play will be an explosion of “different” – all the animals will be exaggerated and unique.
What drew you to this work?
The opportunity to work with Min Kahng, the playwright. I’ve wanted to work with him ever since I saw his musical adaptation of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon—I loved that show. Also, when I read the books, I was intrigued by what a challenge they would present—and what great fun! When you step into our rehearsal room, it’s full of laughter, joy and celebration. I don’t feel like I’m working—I’m exploring with a group of highly gifted artists, who are smart, funny, and open. I’m honored to have been trusted with Min’s beautiful adaption and Nick’s amazing source material. And my team of artists has been delightful. They all understand working for children, and, in this short time, they have created their own Bad Kitty family.
|"It's like a roller coaster."|
What has been the greatest challenge?
I thought that Puppy and Kitty not having words would be the challenge, but Min has done a phenomenal job of adapting the books so that “Meow” and “Woof” have hundreds of meanings. And Sango, who plays Kitty, is a genius. When Kitty meows, I know exactly what she is saying, because Sango knows every beat. The challenge has been controlling chaos. There is so much is going on, so fast, that I have to decide whether the train is going 100 mph, 96 mph, or 80 mph! I need to control the explosiveness so the audience can follow Kitty’s journey of learning. It’s like a roller coaster. You need moments when you dip down and have some calm to absorb what Kitty has learned and anticipate the next big event. The other challenge has been thinking through every aspect of Kitty’s life. A friend of mine overheard a 10-minute phone conversation I had with our dramaturg, Julie McCormick, about what kind of cat scratcher Kitty would want in her imagination, what would make it special to her. My friend was surprised that we have dramaturgy in children’s theatre. But this is not just a play about cats. It’s about us—you and me—and how we get along.
Are you looking forward to anything in particular on opening day?
Having an audience! The humor is very sophisticated. It will be fun to see which jokes appeal to the grown-ups in the audience and what will entertain children of different ages. One of the reasons I love working with BACT is that the company embraces the challenge of having everyone in the theatre enjoy the production and walk away with something to discuss.