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Listen To Your Muse: How Pets, Music & Theater Make a Paw-sitive Difference for Animals

by | Nov 7, 2014 | Appearance (Theater, Signing, Talks), Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 4 comments

LeaseOfThese

Gotcha day adoption during STRAYS. (All images courtesy of Mike Marlow, used with permission)

I call myself the “accidental pet writer” because I had plans to be a New York Broadway star…and instead my career went to the dogs (and cats). There were very few jobs available in a small town in Eastern Kentucky where my husband and I first lived after we got married, and so I interviewed with a veterinarian for an office manager position.

My interview took place during a Chihuahua’s C-section, with the vet asking me questions while handing newborn puppies for me to resuscitate. I think I got the job because I didn’t pass out!
There were so many amazing experiences as a result of working with veterinarians and I used to share them with my mother. She finally said, “Amy, you’ve got to write those stories down!”

And so I did, and my nonfiction pet-writing career was born. A few thousand articles and 30 nonfiction pet books later, my dream of writing fiction became a reality by combining the cat and dog expertise with fast-paced emotion-driven stories in novels. My debut thriller LOST AND FOUND introduced animal behaviorist September Day and her service dog Shadow, and my most current release HIDE AND SEEK continues her story.

But I never could have imagined that writing about cats and dogs would lead me BACK to the stage—to the Honey McGee Playhouse as a playwright/composer with my partner-in-thespian-crime, Frank Steele.

Kaitlyn-Christina-DreamCat

DREAM CAT song, sung by “Queen Cat” Christina Childress (above) and danced by “Pariah Cat” Kaitlyn Casmedes

THE THEATER CONNECTION

We’d already collaborated on other scripts, including KURVES, THE MUSICAL, but both of us are passionate pet people. I think Frank first brought up the concept of a pet-centric show, with actors portraying cats and dogs in funny or poignant scenes to not just entertain, but explain these behaviors. We didn’t want funny animal makeup or elaborate costumes, though. Our characters, we decided, would be developed strictly through the actor’s skill—so they’d need to love pets themselves.

STRAYS was born over countless glasses of iced tea and scribbled notes, developed through back and forth emailed lyrics and dialogue, written and revised music, recording the orchestration, and finally polishing with the help of two different volunteer casts, setting up a “cast recording” and three preview performances. Truly, the show was written in “kitty litter” with final polishing help from the cast.

The generosity and support of SCP Theatricks made the performance possible–how often does your own hometown get to debut an original theater production? PLEASE support the arts in your community–Frank and I hope this experience opens the door for other local artists. It’s been quite a journey.

PuppyMonologue

“PUPPY MONOLOGUE” was the first scene written in STRAYS, with “Puppy” performed by Kate Carson.

THREE YEAR PROJECT

The first scenes were written in August 2011. Now, after a 40 month gestation, STRAYS has been born this week, thanks to a brilliant cast and crew of local talent. Mee-WOW!

STRAYS was written to be performed for (and by) animal rescue organizations as a fund raiser. Frank and I never intended to write a “kids show” and STRAYS was designed for an all-adult cast. Through the review-style performance, the various scenes and a dozen songs highlight the many ways cats and dogs lose their homes—mostly because of “normal” behaviors—and also offer tips to solve problems and preserve that most special loving bond between pets and owners.

ItsNormal

Our youngest cast members shine in “NORMAL” chorus.

Because of the venue and its wonderful support, we’ve cast the show not only with experienced adult performers but also talented young thespians from the Theatricks program. Their own “furry muses” are featured in the curtain call, too!

Muse

“THE MUSE” song, led by MacKenzie Kozak (center) with slide show above illustrating how our cats and dogs inspire us every day.

Last night was OPENING NIGHT of STRAYS, the MUSICAL. The amazing cast of 30 performers prompted laughter, cheers, and perhaps a few tears in the generous crowd gathered for the event. What a feeling! To have the words and music come to life–and take on a furry life of their own–is every creative’s dream-come-true.

If you’ve never visited the lovely Honey McGee Playhouse, now is your opportunity. STRAYS takes the stage again tonight and tomorrow, 7 pm. on November 7 & 8. Tickets are $10 general admission at the door, or reserve online at www.THEATRICKS.org on the STRAYS page.

There’s even a fund raising program to benefit Animal Refuge Foundation and Red River SPCA during the show. At last night’s event, we gave away a big basket of dog food and a cat-care basket with fun toys, pet CD and cat care books. Pet carriers, more books and pet food, a “well pet vet package” and waived adoption fees are also offered!

Here are a few more photos from the show, taken by the amazing Mike Marlow. He also videotaped the entire show last night, so DVDs and photos from the show will be available to the cast. We may be able to make it available to theater groups interested in producing the STRAYS show.

PuffPuff

“Puff Puff” (Jim Barnes) and “Mom-Cat” (Marty Burkart) discuss how litter-ary mishaps lost them their homes.

CuzImADawg

Theresa Littlefield sings the dawgie blues to “Show Dog” (Jesse Childress) about the normal behaviors that got her kicked out of her home.

PetDebate

Lew Cohn (left) and Susan McGinn (right) in the Pet Debate….”why dogs roll in “schtuff” etc.

No, I never intended to be a writer. I never planned to be an animal behavior consultant. For sure, I never thought I’d be a choir teacher, or a composer, or heck…never imagined I’d live in Texas…But I did all of that. Sometimes, the unexpected turns into something wonderful.

StraysProgramPlease come share our “something wonderful” celebration this week, as our STRAYS cast makes our dream comes true. And don’t forget to dream up your own “something wonderful.” You just might discover an unexpected, glorious dream-come-true of your own!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

4 Comments

  1. Bernadette

    Amy, this is so wonderful! I have managed to miss the preview at the Cat Writers’ Conference but I do hope to see more of this production someday!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks Bernadette! Paws crossed more groups will want to share the furry love. Theater companies and rescue groups can contact me here…happy to talk about ways to produce the show in other “furry” locales. *s*

      Reply
  2. allia zobel nolan

    Great idea for a musical, helpful yet at the same time, fun.
    Hope that it goes viral.

    Reply
  3. Amy Shojai

    Thanks so much Allia, I hope it gets some furry attention, too!

    Reply

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