Catch up with commentary by the stray cats and humans in Forest Moon Theater’s youth play, which opens Friday.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — There are 26 players in Forest Moon Theater Company’s newest production, Curiosity Cat.
As it is a youth play, many are children ages 6-12 trying out their first roles, several others are budding thespians in their teen years and a few are adults in good enough humor to spend their afternoons rehearsing with two dozen little’uns.
We caught up with the cast during several recent rehearsals to gain their perspectives on the nature of their characters, their aspirations and why people should come out and see the play, which premieres Friday.
Two things were noticeable right off the bat: two of the actors appear alongside their real-life mothers and fathers; others have a sibling in the play. Let them tell you what that’s like:
‘It’s fun being adopted’
Daniel Brown of Stony Hill plays Skeevelberger, the Gargamelish nemesis of the title character, Curiosity. It’s his first foray into community theater, though he’s done Christmas dramas and Bible stories at Stony Hill Baptist Church. His son, Nick, 11, a fifth-grader at Franklin Academy, is also in the play.
“It’s fun to play someone who really has no redeeming qualities. He’s really like a cartoon character, so I have a lot of fun with it,” Daniel says. “My son’s also in it, he’s a stray cat, so it’s fun we can do this together. I really enjoy working with the grownups and the kids.”
It’s Nick’s first community play as well. He’s acted at church and at school and idealizes actors such as David Tennant. He plays the cat Davinci.
“I’m the oldest stray cat. I’m really old. I don’t move around that much. I’m tired and lay around, mostly. I’m not always happy, I’m melancholy,” Nick describes. “[Curiosity’s] got some great actors and it’s a really good story.”
Chip, the stray cat character 11-year-old Julian Damann-Meldau of Wake Forest plays is similar to Davinci. Julian’s mother, Melissa Damann, plays two roles, Aunt Ginny and Mrs. Podger, who takes in some of the strays in the play.
“I just sit around and meow all the time. I like just play with other cats,” says Julian. “This play is pretty fun. It’s fun to be in. You get to play with other cats. It’s fun being adopted by my own mom.”
Though she shows poise on stage and off, Melissa’s acting experience is limited.
“I’m sure you saw the 1987 production of The Music Man when I was in the eighth grade at Signal Hill School in Bellville, Illinois,” she jokes. “My kids were interested in trying out, but they were nervous so I said, ‘You know what, if you go audition, I’ll audition too.’ … It’s been a great experience for both of us. It was a very spontaneous decision. We were both very nervous. I think it’s good to always try new things.”
The Damanns have two cats at home, Ninja and Mamba. Marina Segreve, 8, who plays the cast’s only squirrel, also has two cats, Taz and Sophie. Marina and her dad Bill of Wake Forest also appear together in Curiosity Cat. He plays the father of the two children in the play.
“I really enjoy (the role) because I love to joke around and I love to be funny and be fun. I like (how) you get to act out the character and see if it suits you or not,” says Marina. “I know a lot about squirrels. I have a yard with a pond. There’s a ton of squirrels around there. There’s this squirrel that always comes around and looks at me.”
The performance cracked open an old love for Bill, who hasn’t performed in community theater since he left Boston 12 years ago. Raising a family takes up all his free time now, he says.
“When my daughter saw the, maybe it was The Wake Weekly, one of the papers in our driveway, showed the auditions. I thought it would be fun for both of us, father-daughter doing it together, so we both auditioned,” he says.
“She got the part she wanted and I got the part I wanted. So we’re having a blast,” he says. “It’s cool to be doing this with her. And I haven’t done any community theater since I’ve been here so I guess the bug has bitten me again. I’d want to do some more depending on time with my kids.”
“I’m very happy to see there is community theater starting here in Wake Forest and I’m very happy that they’re doing a youth production. It makes it easier for me because it’s right here in my backyard,” he adds.
Sisters Mia and Chiara Gibboney commute from Cary to act in the play. Chiara, 9, plays a stray cat, Scamp. Mia, 11, is one of the main characters, the human girl Claire.
Mia has previous acting experience with Raleigh Little Theater’s youth productions. She was encouraged to audition by her theater teacher Heather Snow Clark, who is Curiosity’s director. Mia sets the story in motion.
“My character, her mom is sick and her dad spends all his time at the hospital watching over her. So I have to move in with my Aunt Ginny, and Curiosity comes and breaks my music box that my mom gave me and we go to try to save her because I throw her out of the house,” she says.
“It was hard work to memorize the lines when I first got them because I’ve never had a lead role,” she adds. “So it was a lot of lines for me, but it got easier. (And) we sing at the end.”
Two more siblings are in the play, stray cat Emerald is played by Violet Guthrie, 6, and her 10-year-old sister, Amelia, who plays Curiosity. Their family lives in Siler City, commuting to all of the practices and performances.
“We usually have a big commitment. We once went to Sanford and that took an hour and we went to Raleigh and that took an hour,” Amelia says. “I’ve had seven plays so far and it’s just fun and it’s a passion.”
“So when I saw this I thought it’s a fun thing to do. … I decided it would be an amazing opportunity and I decided to audition,” she adds. “I was originally auditioning for Claire. I actually didn’t know that Curiosity was in the age range of 10 to 14, so I wasn’t expecting to get Curiosity. I was expecting to get a stray cat. I was very excited.”
“I think that it’s an amazing play,” says Amelia. “It is very funny, well put-together. I think [parts] would scare little, little kids, but other than that it is amazing production.”
‘Great for family’
The sentiment is shared by Gianni Cinelli, 17, of Wake Forest who plays Sgt. Shultz, a dog.
“Curiosity Cat is a play that really can be enjoyed by any age group. It has that fun, comical entertainment. It’s just really great for family to come see. It’s really well written, too,” he says.
Bunn resident Kasey Clift, 12, a Franklin Academy sixth-grader, has previous acting experience and plays two roles in Curiosity Cat, Tubbs, a fat cat and Leo, a lion who comes with both a Boston accent — and attitude. She enjoys having a performance so close to home.
“I think that Forest Moon starting a community theater is a brilliant idea because you are used to driving forever away,” she says.
Adds Olivia Absher, 9, who plays the stray cat Marshmallow, “It’s a good play. I suggest coming.”
Curiosity Cat opens Friday at 7 p.m. at Franklin Academy Middle School’s stage, 1127 Chalk Road, and continues through Sunday and March 28-29 as well. Tickets are $15, adults; $13, seniors and $11, students. At the door, tickets are $3 extra. To order tickets or for more information, see forestmoontheater.org.
Other cast comments
For fun, we interviewed all 26 cast members for this play and found many of their comments intriguing. In addition to what’s above, their answers are below.
Abby Rhoades, 9, Stray cat — Sparky
My character is active. It’s still a young kitten and my character likes to play a lot. My character is a calico cat.
This is a fun, cat-loving play. There are some very funny parts.
Abigail Cornell, 8, Stray cat — Socks
[My character] was left behind a gas station. Someone found me and brought me to the shelter. Now I’m really scared of people because I don’t know what they’re going to do to me. But if I live with them for a while I’ll get used to them and I’ll learn to like them.
I saw [a stray] with a plastic (can six pack ring) stuck on its neck and it couldn’t get it off. My mom tried to help it but it ran away.
Amelia Guthrie, 10, Curiosity Cat
I’ve just been in acting for a little bit. I wasn’t expecting to have a song at the end. The other plays I’ve been in are musicals. I love to sing. Singing, acting, dancing, drawing are all things I like to do.
Acting is definitely a thing for me. In the future I want to see myself in more plays, musicals, maybe singing. When I’m grown up I want to be an actress. But I kind of want to be a marine biologist, sounds like a fun thing to do. I think it would be cool. One thing, I am animal crazy. Animals, animals, animals, animals. And the second thing is, just under the water is a whole different world. You’ve entered this kingdom of magic. It’s amazing. So I think it would be fun to be a marine biologist and I could study all this stuff.
Ava Jones, 8, Stray cat — Lollipop
It’s fun. At first [my character] really doesn’t know anyone and I’m really scared. But then when I get to know them I start playing. When there’s something scary I get really scared. But when something happy goes on I get super excited.
It’s my first play. Stray cats don’t have to memorize that many lines. And it sounds really cute when everyone says (lines) together.
Bill Segreve, Father of Claire and Charlie
I’m very happy to see there is community theater starting here. Some of the other stuff I’d have to travel to Raleigh to do. It’s so much fun. I love doing it. And the kids are so great; they’re having a blast.
Brian Davis, Slicker
(Davis, 22, is deejay Chris Wonder with 92 Jams, 92.1 FM)
Slicker — he is really slick. He’s real confident. He’s a feral cat, he lives in the alley so he’s trying to protect himself.
It’s been great. I love the cast. The director really knows what she’s doing. (The little ones) are great, have a lot of energy. I know they’re excited. They’re just trying to have fun.
I love acting, love theater. I’m really excited to be a part of it. I’m trying to move over to acting from the radio personality thing. I love for people to hear my voice, to hear what I’m doing. For me to create a character where I don’t have to be just one person all the time, I can have fun, be a different person, for different shows.
Chiara Gibboney, 9, Stray cat — Scamp
[After Duke], Scamp is actually the first one who asks for a name.
I like that especially at the end of the play we’re going to sponsor cats (from Safe Haven for Cats, a no-kill shelter off Durant Road). I chose two cats. We take notes on them. So I’m going to try to memorize the notes and tell the people about the cats.
Daniel Brown, Skeevelberger (cat-catcher)
This is my first time in community theater. I’ve done lots of things through church throughout my life, dramas, Christmas or Easter type of things, Bible stories.
Drew Cady, 9, Charlie
Charlie is the brother of Claire, the second main character. I’m kind of more like the person off to the side. It’s pretty fun.
I’ve only done, like at school, singing for concert chorus. I really didn’t even know about this play until the day we tried out because my mom never really told me and I only practiced for like an hour and 15 minutes. (He performed a dog monologue). I was kind of scared, like, I don’t know what to do.
Evelyn Huntley, 9, Stray cat — Powder Puff
I’ve been in many other plays, school plays. I love acting. I like becoming someone else. That doesn’t exactly change my life. I like to pretend. I [also] like to make new friends.
Gianni Cinelli, 17, Sgt. Schultz
Schultz is a stereotypical henchman, motivated by gravy. It’s fun, it’s creative. It’s outside the box, so I can act a lot differently. It requires a lot of energy. A lot of movement, a lot of jumping, pouncing and snarling.
(Gianni has performed in Lockdown, in the N.C. Theater competition, Music Man at Wakefield Middle, in Living Word Church’s Another Chance movie and is involved in theater at Franklin Academy.)
I definitely want to do it (act) on the side growing up.
Hannah Elder, 9, Duke
Duke is British. I’m a tuxedo cat. It’s really fun. I really had to work on talking British. It was really hard so it gave me a challenge. I didn’t know how to pronounce and move my mouth.
I’ve acted at my school (North Raleigh Christian Academy). And plays for our grade. In the beginning of the year I was in three plays at the same time. In my school, musical theater and this one.
All the actors and the director are really nice. My grandparents from Rochester (N.Y.) are coming down (to see it).
Jasmine Brewer, 8, Stray cat — Junebug
This is my first [play] and I really wanted to see the experience. We were looking in the Wake Forest newspaper and we saw it and my mom said ‘You want to be in a play?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’ We worked on the monologue, and we practiced and on [that] Saturday were the auditions.
For the audition I was afraid they would say no. I just said my monologue and practiced.
I have some speaking roles. I have to say ‘Oh yes he’s right‘ — we have to say that all together. (Staying in synch) is kind of hard sometimes, but I get through it.
Yeah I do (want to act more). Now that I’ve really practiced it, I really want to be in another one.
Julian Damann-Meldau, 11, Stray cat — Chip
This is my first play. I’m having a great time here. I really want to do more auditions. Hopefully I’ll get into more plays.
Julianna Ehm, 11, Fred the dog
I’m like this really, hoppy, kind of excited, dog that belongs to Aunt Ginny and I’m kind of like always bouncing around. I’m part Springer Spaniel, part lab. I really love the other characters; they like to interact with me. I sniff around a lot, take them places. I sniff their way to the zoo, and go to the cat-catching place.
This is my second play. I do some acting in summer and stuff. It’s really fun because you get to be with people and get to be on stage. I love being on stage, being the center of attention. It’s pretty fun and a good thing to do after school.
Kasey Clift, 12, Tubbs the cat and Leo the lion
(Kasey has performed with Raleigh Little Theater and Durant Road Musical Theater.)
I’m Tubbs. Tubbs is a housecat who to be honest loves attention. He thinks he’s better than the others so he expects more attention than he should get. Leo thinks he’s one in a million. Leo thinks he’s all that but he’s not good at all. Leo’s very narcissistic. He’s super lazy.
The former director that was supposedly directing, Catherine Gouge, she was my teacher over here (at Franklin Academy) before she got a better job. I thought it was great I could still see her.
Things change and I’m still very glad with my experience but what I got was different than what I assumed I was getting. I’m very, very happy that I did this. It opens my eyes to things I need to learn.
I need to let myself be OK with the fact that I’m only 12 and to be OK that I’m still young and I don’t need to know everything. I feel like I think I should know everything so I’m too hard on myself, but I also need to focus on characterization (accents, special movements, study of characters).
I have a very good stage presence but I have to focus on getting into that character and truly absorbing everything in it.
(In real life) I’m very energetic, and a wild child. Since the age of 5 I’ve loved the stage. This is just a unique experience.
Marina Segreve, 8, Squirrel
It’s really fun coming to rehearsals, trying out costumes and acting. And I like to entertain people. I like to put on my own plays (skits) at my house and I like to sing. I basically like to act out. I also take dance. I’ve been in musicals for school (at Forest Pines Drive Elementary).
I have two cats. Taz is the youngest. Sophie loves to be petted. She loves to sit up on our couch. Taz’s favorite spot is on my dad’s chair.
Melissa Damann, Aunt Ginny and Mrs. Podger
My son Julian is a stray cat. It’s wonderful. It’s been a great experience for both of us. [Auditioning] was a very spontaneous decision. We were both very nervous. I think it’s good to always try new things.
I love both roles. Aunt Ginny is sort of a sweet, southern, grandmotherly sort of woman. Mrs. Podger is the richest lady in town and is crazy about cats and is just fun. I think I have 14 already and sweep in and adopt a bunch of strays at the end.
I’d like to be involved in future productions. It’s a great theater company. I’m on the mailing list. I love theater in general, I’m sure from The Wake Weekly I first heard about them and I had signed up for their newsletter.
Mia Gibboney, 11, Claire
I want to be an actress. My teacher is the director, Miss Heather [Snow-Clark]. She told us about it and said I should audition for Claire, which I did and I got the part.
My favorite scene is the last scene because it’s fun to save Curiosity from the evil guy and I like being on stage. I do get nervous but then I start getting into it and I don’t realize anyone’s there.
Nick Brown, 11, Davinci
I’m excited because this is my first community play. I want to be an actor. I think I’m going to start with real life, like this stuff and then move on to TV and movie acting.
One of my favorite [actors] is David Tennant. I just like how he can change his moods. He’s happy then sad, angry. He’s been in some movies and he’s in Downton Abbey.
Olivia Absher, 9, Stray cat — Marshmallow
I’ve been in a few school plays. We did a Thanksgiving play (at Sanford Creek). I was an Indian. It’s quite easy, since I don’t have to do very much and we do the scenes over, it’s easy to memorize. I sort of wish I had a bit more lines.
Actually when I grow up I’d like to be a singer, but I’m trying to get over a little bit of stage fright.
Olivia Barrows, 9, Stray cat — Kit ’n Kaboodle
My character, the name kind of makes me feel like I’m fluffy. And I’m wild (stray).
I’ve acted in four ballets and this is my first play. I really, really like to act.
The finest part about being a stray cat is you get adopted after the last scene.
Rachel Herbert, 17, Penelope Podger
I’m a fluffy Persian. I’m very posh. I’m one of Mrs. Podger’s cats, she has 14 at the beginning of the play. I fall in love with Slicker, one of the other cats. In the end, Mrs. Podger comes along and adopts all the strays.
I do modeling, I’ve been in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (at Cardinal Gibbons High School). I did Annie Jr. and Music Man Jr.
I got the notice on 800Casting and it just seemed like a fun play to be in. I came to rehearsal and when I did a read through of the script, it was a bunch of cat puns. I’ve three cats right now — Tinky, Tommy and Tabbi — so it was definitely my cup of tea.
The entire rehearsal process has been definitely a ride. As soon as we added all the stray cats, 13 kids running around, it’s been nothing but fun. They love being in character, they’ll come up, they’ll rub on your leg, meow in your ear.
Riley O’Brien, 9, Stray cat — Nacho
I’m Nacho. I’m a black cat and I guess I’m 2 years old. I’m one of Curiosity’s first friends. (Curiosity names Nacho.) It’s exciting because you haven’t had a name for your entire life. You finally have identity. You finally know what is your name. It makes you feel special and important and really good.
We have this traditional play at my church, Hope Lutheran, a Christmas pageant. I’ve been in it every year. I really love acting.
This is my first year at East Wake Academy. I really wanted to get to know more people. I just want to make new friends.
Rose Davis, 15, Coot Cat
My character is an old female cat. She has been left by her previous owner, who cannot afford to keep a cat. Curiosity finds her and they go on a little adventure to find her a home.
I’m a big theater person. I’ve done multiple musicals and plays for school and outside for John Casablancas (talent agency), commercial modeling.
This role is like nothing I’ve ever done ever before. I’ve never played an animal before and I’ve never played an older character. Last year at Franklin Academy I was in Sound of Music and I played the youngest Von Trapp, this year I’m a step sister in Cinderella.
I have a ton of fun. I think that doing this is really awesome. It’s nice to get outside my comfort zone, because I do want to make acting my living.
Violet Guthrie, 6, Stray cat — Emerald
(This is her third performance, she’s been in two plays at school.)
I really do (like it). At the very end someone adopts us.