Of Special Guests and Animal Instinct: A Non–Human Interest Story

By Kayla Minton Kaufman
Gato prowls around William Ball Studio during Seascape rehearsals. Photo by Beryl Baker.

The cast of Edward Albee’s Seascape slowly filters in to A.C.T.’s William Ball Studio as the morning sun starts to warm the space. Cups of coffee or tea from the green room in hand, their hellos and good mornings fill the room as pages of the script turn for last minute review. All of this is classic rehearsal room sights and sounds—until the elevator dings, and a meow emerges from the lobby.

Enter award-winning playwright Winter Miller, who is shadowing our Seascape rehearsal process from first read to opening night. She rocks a front-wearing, kangaroo-style backpack. Nestled inside is the star of our rehearsal room: her cat, Gato. For a production where tuning into animal instinct is key, having this creature prowling around is surprisingly valuable. “It’s such a collaborative room, it makes sense to draw inspiration from a cat,” says Sarah Nina Hayon, who plays Sarah, a human-sized lizard. “I do watch him during rehearsal sometimes.”

At first sight, the room looks like it is built to be a playground for a cat: ramps to climb up, mats to leap onto, a rack of clothes to hide in, and human laps open for pets at any moment. Gato owns the space, whether snuggling in a prop picnic basket or walking between two cast members rehearsing tender or tense moments. But the actors don’t mind at all. In fact, the most fraught day of rehearsal was the only day Gato was not in attendance. (Fraught because we thought Gato was lost; in the end, it turned out he was burrowed in a remote corner of his owner’s bed, buried under sheets.)

Just as Albee’s cats in Montauk, who happened to be named Leslie and Sarah, may well have influenced his Seascape writing, Gato has been known to guide actors in understanding instinct: perking ears and looking up during the sound cue for the plane, inspecting new props when they arrive in the room, and demonstrating how to tune deeply into the world of the studio. “When I’m in full-lizard mode, hyper-present mode, and Gato moves out of the corner of my eye,” says Seann Gallagher, who plays Leslie, “I instinctively respond. It’s quite funny.”

When it comes down to it, Albee’s play is about marriage, communication, evolution, and what it means to be human—and what can remind us of that better than a cat?

Gato rocks an official A.C.T. badge. Photo by Kayla Minton Kaufman.

To see how a cat can influence a Pulitzer Prize–winning comedy, join us for Edward Albee’s Seascape. Previews begin January 23 at The Geary. Get your tickets today!

Kayla Minton Kaufman is A.C.T.'s 2018–19 Artistic Fellow and Assistant Director of Seascape.

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