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

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!

Got Strays? Pet-Astic Theater Celebration Helps #Cats & #Dogs

FullStraysCastSTRAYS, an original musical by local playwrights Amy Shojai and Frank Steele, premiers at the Honey McGee Playhouse for three nights only November 6, 7, 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm. Cast with 30 local talents, the review-style show explores furry foibles from the PETS’ point of view.

STRAYS was written to be performed for (and by) animal rescue organizations as a fund raiser, and isn’t specifically a “kids show,” although talented thespians from the Theatricks program are cast. All ages will enjoy STRAYS.

“I’ve been a fan of STRAYS since I saw the concert preview back in 2013,” says Susan McGinn, “so I’m delighted that my husband John, daughter Sarah, and I are cast for the first fully staged production! It’s been fascinating (and unique in all my theater experience) to be directed by the co-writers of the show and watch them refine and tweaked the script and score during the rehearsal process. It’s an honor for all of us who are acting in the production to know that our work has contributed to shaping STRAYS.”

PariahCat2

Susan McGinn (far left) and the other “cats” intimidate the Pariah Cat (crouched center) played by Kaitlyn Casmedes.

Jim Barnes recorded the show songs for the preview cast album, and decided to audition for the staged performance. He portrays the only boy cat, a feline who has used up 8 of his 9 lives. “I like performing in STRAYS because it gives me a chance to make people laugh,” he says. “Everyone should see it. You will laugh, you will cry a little and you will learn some insight on the behaviors of animals.”

TheresaLittlefield-LewCohn-JimBarnes

Jim Barnes sings how he’s wasted 8 of his 9 lives, while two dogs (played by Theresa Littlefield and Lew Cohn) look on.

The large cast has become close. Lew Cohn says, “It is great to see talented performers of such a wide variety of ages come together to perform original material that is so well written and informative about the plight of stray animals. My favorite scene is the Old Dogs Talking, in which I play a Bassett hound with various “difficulties” that make for a lot of fun. But there’s something for everyone—bust a gut comedy, tear jerking drama and great original songs that tell a story.”

LewCohn-SteveMildward

Two dogs played by Lew Cohn (left) and Steven Mildward (right) discuss bulldogs, bullfrogs, worms and Poodles–and other important dog schtuff.

Steve Mildward has been involved in many productions, both onstage and backstage. “I can address the excitement that comes from the direct involvement with the writers. In the classics, you can’t ask what the intent was. In this production, the directors are there to lend that insight.”

Cohn also appreciates being able to create a role from the ground up. “This is an exciting opportunity to set the bar in an original show.”

Abraham-Eliana-Sofia-Guerra

Abraham (a puppy) and kittens Eliana and Sofia Guerra have featured roles in the show.

For some actors, STRAYS is their first onstage experience. Carolina Guerra and her daughters Sofia and Eliana are first-time performers cast when Carolina’s son Abraham decided to audition. She especially enjoys being able to share the experience with her family. “My kiddos love to perform but I am more of an introvert so I was not sure how it would go. Much to my surprise, the play has been both educational and fun for all of us. It has been a great introduction to being in a theatrical production. I might even consider trying out for another one.”

Her son Abraham is a veteran of Theatricks productions, and says he likes getting to wear a bone as one of the puppies. He also performs a dog rap. His favorite scene is Show Dog, because it’s so funny. “The main difference (compared to other plays) is being on stage the whole time,” he says. “In some ways it is easier because we are not running back and forth but it is also hard because you have to stay in character the whole time.”

Both Sofia and Eliana Guerra like playing kittens. Sofia loves to sing and march in GOTCHA DAY, while Eliana prefers the fun song NORMAL.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be not only working on a new show but a show with an important message,” says Kaitlyn Casmedes, who choreographed STRAYS and portrays the “pariah” cat. “Anyone whose heart goes out to animals will love this show.”

Carolina says her favorite song is RAINBOW PETS, the finale. “In particular the lines, “Lessons learned don’t come for free…shed no tear have no fear pay it forward in kind.” What a great life lesson not just about pet ownership but everything in life. I hope my kiddos will remember these words forever.”

“There’s a line in STRAYS that I think describes perfectly why the show is so appealing,” adds Susan McGinn. “There’s a lot of love represented here, a lot of love.” When the joyous finale arrives, we all truly feel it. We want the audience to know about the happiness that comes from helping cats and dogs in need. We can’t wait for opening night!”

The Honey McGee Playhouse hosts three performances November 6, 7, 8. Tickets are $10 each available for sale at the door or can be reserved online at https://www.theatricks.org/ by clicking on the STRAYS link.

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!

STRAYS CAST ANNOUNCED! RESERVE SEATS NOW!

Strays Cast 001The cast of STRAYS has been rehearsing since late September, preparing for the November 6, 7, 8 performances at 7:00 pm at the Honey McGee Playhouse in Sherman Texas.

STRAYS is an original show by Amy Shojai and Frank Steele that explores furry foibles from the PETS’ point of view. “All new scripts are written in (forgive us) kitty litter. Working with a cast helped us tighten scenes and refine songs for the best actor/audience performance experience possible,” say Shojai and Steele. “We’re proud to premier the show with this fantastic cast, courtesy of Theatricks and the Honey McGee Playhouse.”

All actors remain onstage and each portrays several feature roles—including human owners—in this hilarious and often moving “drama-dy” that seeks to edu-tain audiences about normal pet behavior that too often gets pets kicked out of the house. In addition, Petco, Natural Balance pet food, and others have donated pet-centric gift baskets (including some waived pet adoption fees to qualified owners) to raise funds for the local Animal Refuge Foundation and Red River SPCA.

“Our pet loving cast ranges in age from kindergarten to mature adults, including several parent/child castings,” say the playwrights. “Many are experienced performers you know from Theatricks and Finley productions, while others are first-time actors.”

The cast of 30 includes Denison performer Avery Hall, and Van Alstyne performers Kate Carson, Charlotte Thomas and Sofia Westmoreland. Sherman performers are Sophia Allen, Jim Barnes, Marty Burkart, Kaitlyn Casmedes, Christina and Jesse Childress, Lew Cohn, Roxy Farrel and her mother Katie Wiley, Kevin Gautier, Ava Gibson, Carolina Guerra and her children Abraham, Eliana and Sofia, Ken Kozak and his daughter MacKenzie, Theresa Littlefield, Brenna Michaelsen, Steven Milward, John and Susan McGinn and their daughter Sarah, Charity Riley and daughter Brynn, and Liam Troncalli.

Strays-PerformPoster copySTRAYS is co-directed by Steele and Shojai, with assistance from rehearsal pianist Dr. John McGinn and choreographer Kaitlyn Casmedes. In addition, Steven Milward is technical adviser, with Michael Gardner running lights. Brenna Michaelsen and Tobias Scheibmeir share the duties of stage manager.

The show is suitable for all ages, and children will especially enjoy the funny songs—just remember that the actors are pretending to be cats and dogs doing what often “hisses” owners off, like scratching, barking, jumping or missing the litter box. Parents of very young or sensitive children should be aware the show briefly addresses the reality of what happens to unwanted pets. “Rest assured, there IS a happy ending!”

The Honey McGee Playhouse seats slightly over 100, and the three performances November 6, 7, 8 are expected to sell out quickly. Tickets are $10 each, and you can purchase tickets at the door or reserve seats online at the Theatricks website by clicking on the STRAYS link on the night you wish to attend.

CLICK HERE FOR THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 7:00 PM PERFORMANCE

CLICK HERE FOR FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 7:00 PM PERFORMANCE

CLICK HERE FOR SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8, 7:00 PM PERFORMANCE

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Audition for STRAYS, Channel Your Inner Pet!

Strays Logo2-LoRezCome channel your inner cat and dog and audition for STRAYS, THE MUSICAL on Tuesday and Wednesday, 6:00-9:00 pm on September 23-24 (callbacks September 25) at the Honey McGee Playhouse in Sherman Texas.

STRAYS explores furry foibles from the PETS’ point of view. The actors give voice to a variety of cat and dog characters in this hilarious–and often moving–musical review “drama-dy” that seeks to edu-tain audiences about normal pet behavior while honoring the bond we share with them.

STRAYS seeks up to 25 actors, singers and dancers, from kids to adults. Families (parents and kids) are encouraged to audition together. Rehearsals are at the Honey McGee, Sunday through Thursday evenings beginning September 28 with performance three nights only November 6, 7, 8 at the Honey McGee. The show will be rehearsed in individual scenes, so actors won’t be needed at every rehearsal. Families will be scheduled at the same time frame.

MagicStraysHOW TO AUDITION

No experience is necessary. Auditions consist of filling out a form, singing a short selection of your choice (or simple music will be provided), reading scenes from the script, and demonstrating your best cat and/or dog character. A pianist will be available for you to bring sheet music, or bring your own CD for your song and/or dance audition. Dancers may be asked to learn a short routine.

There are up to 20 individual speaking/singing parts; you may be cast to play more than one role or given additional lines and/or solo verses in company songs. STRAYS includes music styles from pop rock to blues, calypso, gospel and musical theater, and even rap, country-western, jazz, and Celtic. The show will be performed with full orchestration via CD recording.

KarmaStrays4AVAILABLE ROLES!

Featured roles for men include BOY PUPPY (age 13-20), CHOW HOUND (adult bass/baritone), OLD DOG (adult tenor), LUCKY CAT (adult, talk-singer), DOG RAPPER (any age), and HUMAN-OWNER (adult).

Featured roles for women include GIRL KITTEN (soprano/actor age 13-20), QUEEN CAT (soprano/adult), OLD CAT (non-singing, mature), CAT RAPPER (any age), PETS TRIO (any age, close harmony), DANCE CAT (solo-modern/ballet), and HUMAN-OWNER (adult).

Several featured roles may be played by either males or females of any age, and include BLUESY DOG, BEGGING DOG, WISH CAT, and GOSPEL CAT (all mid-range solos), EGO DOG (non-singing), and DANCE PETS (any age).

SecretGardenSet

THE SECRET GARDEN show just closed at the Honey McGee Playhouse, and this gorgeous set will be re-purposed and used for STRAYS.

STRAYS will be co-directed by Frank Steele and Amy Shojai, with assistance from rehearsal pianist Dr. John McGinn and choreographer Kaitlyn Casmedes. In addition, Steven Milward is technical adviser. Anyone interested in technical/crew positions is encouraged to attend.

For further information contact Amy Shojai, (amy@shojai.com, 903-868-1022). You can also fill out an audition form online at the Theatricks website.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

FREE WORKSHOP FOR #PETS CENTRIC MUSICAL

KarmaStrays4Those who regularly read this blog know that I not only write about pets, but also give talks about pet behavior. You may be surprised to learn that sometimes I write music about pet behavior, too and even SING about cats and dogs. (Magical-Dawg howls, Seren-Kitty does her lion cough and Karma yawns…everyone’s a critic!) Now you have a chance to sing along!

I’m proud to partner with local actor/writer/musician Frank Steele to co-write STRAYS, THE MUSICAL. Next Saturday, September 13 from 10-noon at the Honey McGee Playhouse in Sherman, we’ll present a free workshop about the show. The workshop is designed to help pet loving performers prepare to audition for STRAYS on September 23, 24, 25. Those who attend may learn a thing or two about cat and dog behavior, too!

I’ve written lots of pet-centric schtuff, and Frank and I have written other scripts and performed on stage a great deal. But STRAYS combines all our loves—writing, music, acting and pets. Now we want to share STRAYS with area actors and audiences.

Love theater? Love pets? You’ll fall in love with STRAYS!

MagicStraysWe’re looking for up to 20 performers and production folks to bring STRAYS to life. A few human characters appear in the show but most actors portray cats or dogs—but without any special makeup or costumes. That’s right! You get to create your own character using your skill as a performer—are you a Great Dane? Chihuahua or Siamese? Mutt or tabby? We’d love to cast families, too—with the kids playing kittens/puppies and parents as the adult pets.

During the workshop, you’ll practice channeling your inner pet. Feel free to bring a dog or cat toy to help get into character. Participants will learn one of the songs from the show and practice pet-centric moves. Are you a rapper or beat box expert? Come show your skills! Dogs and cats move and act in very specific ways that communicate to each other (and to clueless humans!). Shake your puppy tail or display kitty ballet moves to evoke the pet’s mood. During the workshop you’ll also practice reading funny or poignant scenes from the script.

Two featured parts call for 14-year old actor/singers to play the parts of Girl Kitten and Boy Puppy. But all other parts have no age or type limitations and performers aged 9 to 99 are welcome. STRAYS includes solos, ensembles, rap, featured dancers, non-singing actor roles, and fun company numbers in styles ranging from pop rock to blues, calypso, gospel, jazz, and Celtic. If you’re like me, you often “speak” for your pets and now’s your chance to bring that cat or dog character to the stage.

We look forward to working with Supporting Cast members from SCP-Theatricks. We also seek technical assistance with lighting, sound, projection, choreography, stage managing and more.

Dr. John McGinn will assist us as rehearsal pianist, and the show will be performed with a CD of full orchestration on November 6, 7, 8, 2014. We hope STRAYS will benefit animal welfare organizations in their fund raising efforts, as well as entertain pet lovers. And purr-haps bring a new audience to Sherman Community Players.

Now is your chance—come to the STRAYS workshop Saturday September 13 from 10-Noon to learn more. Please SHARE this post with cat and dog lovers and theater peeps. 🙂

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!