Oakland Local

This Saturday, Bay Area Children’s Theatre will kick off their 10th anniversary season with the opening of The Cat in the Hat, performed at Children’s Fairyland. BACT’s Nina Meehan recently interviewed Doyle Ott, the talented actor who will be starring as The Cat in the Hat. In addition to his work as a performer, Doyle runs the Children’s Theatre Program at Children’s Fairyland, teaches at Sonoma State, and works as a freelance director and dramaturg. He’s also someone who’s a very special character—on and off the stage.

BACT: Did you read Dr. Seuss when you were a young reader? If so, what impact has Dr. Seuss had on you?

Doyle: I remember lying on the rug in a library and reading through every Dr. Seuss book I could get my hands on. I think, for me, his books were a little subversive, and some of them were among the first I “discovered” for myself.

BACT: Describe your experience getting into the character of The Cat in the Hat. What has your process been like? What has been most challenging about it? Any surprises as you were exploring the character?

Doyle: It’s been fun playing with finding little bits of cat behavior, and figuring out how they live in The Cat’s body. Right now, I’m asking myself a lot of questions about how The Cat instigates things. How much is deliberately mischievous, and how much is accident? Does he know what’s going to happen when he lets the Things out of the box? A fun, simple obvious surprise came in thinking about what The Cat wants and why he’s there. Part of it is just a cat wanting in out of the rain. Right now, I think the biggest challenge is distilling all the great stuff we’ve come up with as a cast and making it clear.

BACT: Why do you think The Cat in the Hat is such a popular story?

Doyle: The book really is just full of stuff for children and for parents. A lot of the classic elements of myths and fairytale journeys are there: the parents are gone, and an incredible adventure comes through the front door. At first, it’s fun, then it gets out of control, and the children have to figure out how to control it. I love that the book ends with a question that’s basically about ethics. Would you tell your parents if something totally unbelievable happened while they were gone? As a parent and a teacher, it reminds me of the amazing things that children go through on a day-to-day basis, the daydreams and make-believe games that are so engrossing. It’s easy to forget the value of the adventure that led to the mess. And I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t want The Cat’s mess-cleaning machine.

BACT: How does this production compare with the book, or other appearances of The Cat? Has the production stayed true to the book?

Doyle: The adaptation that we’re working with is the truest to the book that I’ve read. The words are all there. For me, the old Chuck Jones animated version — which Dr. Seuss was involved with from beginning to end — will always be the standard to meet as far as adaptations go. Because people tend to read the book over and over, the images are icons. So the challenge is to make as many of those images come to life as possible, while keeping the same spirit of play the book evokes.

BACT: What do you hope audience members take away from this production of The Cat in the Hat?

Doyle: I’m using it as a reminder to embrace all the wonderful opportunities and adventures that walk in the front door every day. If this encourages anyone to let the world in a little more, that would be a victory. In terms of bringing the book to the stage, I’d love it if they leave feeling like nothing’s been left out, or maybe feeling like they’ve seen one of those “find the differences in the pictures” puzzles.

BACT: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Any final thoughts on The Cat in the Hat?

Doyle: I’m just grateful for the chance to be working with such a talented, committed cast and production team!

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