BWW Interview: Timothy Gulan of CATS at Majestic Theatre
Andrew Lloyd Webber's CATS has won many awards over the years including seven Tony Awards. CATS has been rediscovered by audiences everywhere and will be coming to San Antonio, Texas and the Majestic Theatre from October 29-November 3, 2019. BWW caught up with Timothy Gulan who plays the part of Bustopher Jones among other cats. He shared with us some fun backstage secrets including make-up and costume preparations.
Where did it all begin for you? Where did you step on stage for the first time and who did you play?
It was an elementary school play. I didn't get the part that I wanted [and] I didn't have any speaking lines. But in the play, I was a soldier and I was supposed to walk behind my sergeant, and I was distracted because I'm a child. I bumped into him and my helmet went flying and everything went flying. The audience laughed really loudly, and I went, "This is better than that other part was." Every time we did it, it was funny. And I thought, "Oh this is fun." That's really what it was.
What was the moment when you knew you were going to make acting your career?
I went to college for it. I went to school for acting not for musical theater. We were doing pretty standard would Uta Hagen exercises. After I did the first exercise which was just you in a room sitting with your stuff, I did this thing of like writing a letter to my girlfriend listening to a tape. A certain song came on and I got upset and I hit the radio off. Then I looked at the people in the class when I finished the scene and they all looked at me like I had 16 heads. I [thought], "Oh, yeah, I can do this. I can actually do this." Nobody wants to do something that they're not great at. Once I knew that I had the ability, I thought this is this is what I want to do.
Now you're in CATS. Why did you want to audition for CATS?
From my training, one of the things I love to do is multiple characters and I play four different cats technically speaking. That really appealed to me right off the bat because it's exciting you get to sort of look at the same play from four different points of view. I also do a lot of sound work. I do voice work for TV and film. I can do four different takes on a cat voice. Also, for me and this is not just because I'm doing the part but, "Gus: The Theatre Cat" is my favorite song in CATS. I remember the poem from reading the poems when I was a kid and from the movie "Logan's Run" in the 70's. At the end of the movie, Peter Ustinov is the oldest man in the world, and he recites "Gus: The Theatre Cat" to the newcomers. I remember that as a kid. So, for me it's awesome; it's like all of those things. And Andrew Lloyd Webber, I've done a lot of big eighties musicals, but man, you gotta sing your [head] off to do those parts [in CATS]. It's super challenging fun music to sing.
You play several characters in the show, but, when the evening begin how long does it take you to get in costume?
We have a very strict regimen. Everybody gets there at least an hour before and a lot of people get there an hour and a half before. Make-up is very difficult so, they taught us what they want us to do but, we all do our own make-up. You get half of the costume [done] and you have to go downstairs to wigs and they put your wigs on. You finish your make-up and put your mics on. It takes me about an hour to do the whole thing. After the first two numbers, I take everything off and change it in about seven minutes and that includes your make-up change. To get into Gus is a little complicated because one thing that is good is I change the make-up, but, he's old so then I do the make-up well because it has to be perfect and then you mess it up because he's old. I have about seven minutes as well, but I do it in stages. I do most of it, so you think I'm finished. I'm not really finished. In the middle of the ball, I leave for about eight minutes. I finish it and then come back out. It's a little bit of theatrical magic because nobody has seen me yet, so I get away with certain things. You can't even see it.
What has been the most challenging part about playing in CATS?
There are two things. All the cat work is very difficult to become a cat. That's one thing. But the real trick of it is to maintain being a cat while you're standing up because Gus doesn't crawl very much. Gus is actually one of the most human of the cats, but we still have to maintain this cat sensibility. I think that is a constant challenge because it's not enough to just be you. It's on us. We can't stand there and say well, "We're dressed like a cat, you're a cat." You have to actually still work it. Then, for me, the other challenging part is I'm a high tenor. I'm singing super low and super high in the ensemble, so that's challenging.
Did you have any real cats to study to get ready for your roles in CATS?
I had a cat named Stanley who was about 20 to 24-pound cat. This is a huge cat. Bustopher's a huge cat. I've lived with my research material for Bustopher. Fat cats don't care. I had a small white cat named Blanche too and I've been around cats. I did a lot of research because I love research. I love researching time periods. I love researching T. S. Eliot. When people talk about T. S. Eliot, they talk about him like he's British and he wasn't British, he was American. He was an expat. When you look at some of the words in the poems, like jumping jacks, the Brits call them ones and twos not jumping jacks. But, answering your question, yeah, I studied the cats. Also, I mean seriously, at this time period, how many cat videos are on the internet? For the Rumpus cat there's this is cat in Australia that I watched a bunch of times that got so mad at six dogs. The dogs are scared out of their minds and they're big dogs and this cat yells; he stands on two legs. I love the research. I did a lot. People ask about [if I like dogs or cats]. There are dogs in the show. There's a whole number with dogs in the show. I think when we were kids, people made you think that you have the either like dogs or cats. You don't. You get to like any animal that you like.
What is the last thing that you do right before hitting the stage?
We've been doing the show for a while. I think the important thing to do before you hit the stage is to keep things fresh. This thing that I do is called an object exercise. What did you do before you hit the stage? So sometimes before I hit the stage, I just randomly pick a different thing that cat was doing. I play Peter at the beginning and I come out of this pipe. Sometimes I imagine that Peter just fell in water so when I pop up through the pipes, Peter is like, "What the hell was that?" He's irritated or sometimes he's just like, "Okay, this time I just ate a bunch potato chips and I'm feeling pretty good." Change up what just happened and then that way the next thing that happens seems to be new because what I want to always make sure is that this show only happens this night. It's not a reproduction. It's only happening right now. That's one of the most important things about [it]. This is the Jellicle Ball, and this is it. There's no plan, there's no presupposition, it's not an episode of FAME where everybody just knows the choreography. It's celebration that happens only now and I think that's what I have to think about before I come out.
I think about the fact that the people in the audience may have never seen CATS. This is their first chance to see it. It's a different show for a different person in a different city. It's different every single night. That's the beauty of live theater.
The live show requires of you more of your intelligence and your imagination because when you're at home if you're watching a movie, just push pause. I do it all the time.
Don't miss your chance to see CATS when it opens in San Antonio, Texas at the Majestic Theatre October 29-November 3, 2019. Tickets can be purchased at majesticempire.com
PHOTO CREDIT: Matthew Murphy