Interview with Jaymes Hodges

Jaymes Hodges, taken from the playbill of Red Hot & Blue

Plato/Macavity in Hamburg, Germany, August-December 1990

Plato/Macavity/Rumpus Cat on Broadway, September-November 1996
(including the float with CATS at that year’s Macy’s parade)

Jaymes Hodges in Plato wig and makeup at the Broadway Flea Market; used with permission from C. Bye (aka Sunsh54).

Delilah: When did you first start dancing?

Jaymes Hodges: At age eleven, which for a man my age was a very early start. Today you’ll find many more boys that age already dancing. I was fortunate to have performed professionally so young in a dinner theatre production of The Sound of Music in my hometown, Austin, TX. The older performers encouraged me to study dance if I sought a career onstage. So I did!

Dee: When did you first start singing?

JH: My mother has an audiotape of me and my two older brothers as children, I was three years old. I was singing up a storm all throughout the tape—so I guess I always sang.

Dee: What is your vocal range?

JH: Currently I’m a tenor.

Dee: What was your first big step onto the stage?

JH: The Sound of Music, eleven years old.

Dee: Did you play an instrument in school?

JH: I have played piano since I was seven years old—still do when I can find a piano to play. I also briefly played trombone in the sixth grade, but stopped when I reached junior high so I could sing with the chorus.

Dee: What made you realize that you wanted to perform onstage for a living?

JH: After performing with the professional dinner theatre production of [The] Sound of Music when I was a child, when I realized that they would pay me money to do that, which I thoroughly loved, I was hooked.

Jaymes Hodges poses with Brian Barry (Rats Dugan) after a performance of Red Hot & Blue; used with permission as above.

Dee: Are you, or were you ever a CATS fanatic?

JH: The music rights to CATS were released while I was in high school in the mid-80s, and subsequently we did a choral medley from the show in show choir. That was my introduction to the show, but I never saw it onstage until I was cast in the Hamburg production, in German! So no, I’ve never been a fanatic.

Dee: Do you own the CATS video?

JH: Yes, I own a copy—I have seen parts of it, but I’ve never actually watched the whole thing.

Dee: Do you think it is a good representation of the show, considering that for many people it is their introduction to the musical?

JH: I really think the show is such an all out spectacle, and unless you were in the show—which is the only time the show is ever explained to anyone—you’re just watching a bunch of “cats” singing and dancing.

Dee: Do you have, or have you ever had a feline companion?

JH: No—I’m really more of a “dog person”.

Dee: Gee, how ironic. What kind of music do you like?

JH: I have a very eclectic taste in music. The music I choose to listen to depends on what mood I’m in.

Dee: What do you like to do when you’re not onstage?

JH: Pursuing a “freelance” career in showbiz does take a lot of your focus—i.e. you’re always trying to get a job or the next job if you’re performing, and continuing to sharpen your skills with acting and voice and dance classes. I mostly enjoy doing low-key activities with close friends—coffee, dinner, movie and such, things that allow for staying caught up with the people close to me.

Dee: What are your favourite stage shows to watch?

JH: I can enjoy almost anything—if even just for the effort that went into it.

Dee: Good point. What have been your favourite roles to play?

JH: So far, my absolute favourite was getting to perform the role [of] Lt. Joe Cable, which I understudied, on the National Tour of South Pacific, where I was performing on stage with the legendary Robert Goulet as Emile De Becque. I enjoy getting to play any role that stretches me as a performer—something that allows me to find a new side of my personality. Other roles I’ve really enjoyed: Leonard [in] Red Hot & Blue, Don [in] A Chorus Line, Chip and Gabey [in] On the Town.

Jaymes Hodges as Leonard the convict in Red Hot & Blue; used with permission from J. Hodges.

Dee: What roles would you like to play in the future?

JH: I’m hoping to get to play more romantic leading men as that is a less comfortable side of myself that I’ve had less experience with.

Dee: What made you decide that you wanted to be in CATS?

JH: I had never seen the show—but had heard how challenging it was—and I knew it would be a special experience.

Dee: What did you like most about being in CATS?

JH: That I was able to be part of such an amazing “machine” and an incredible family. You share such an incredible bond with anyone who ever did the show, anywhere or anytime.

Dee: What did you like least about being in CATS?

JH: It was such a physical chore—it was really grueling.

Dee: Since you’ve been in the show both in Germany and on Broadway, were there any differences between the two, or things you liked more or less about one than the other?

JH: I basically played the same part—except in Hamburg Rumpus Cat is played by Alonzo, not Plato. I enjoyed the Broadway more because my role was designed better. In Hamburg, the change out of Macavity was much too fast—I had to be back onstage to lift Mistof at the end of his number when he jumps off the tire (whew!). On Broadway I didn’t come back onstage until when Victoria touches Griz after “Memory”. The Hamburg stage was a bit smaller than Broadway, which I actually think worked better—it really drew your focus better.

Dee: I have to ask, did you actually learn the German or just parrot it?

JH: I spent a total of about three years in Germany, so—ja! Ich spreche gut Deutsch! Prior to CATS in Hamburg, I had just come from the German Starlight Express company, so I had already done one show in German. I also had made several good German friendships and decided to apply myself to becoming more fluent while I was working there.

Dee: What did you do with Starlight Express?

JH: I worked with the Bochum Starlight [Express] company briefly before my stint with CATS Hamburg, but left prematurely due to compounded injuries—which were unfortunately made worse by CATS. By the time I left Germany my body was so broken down I stopped dancing completely for more than two years and never really went back to it full force. I dance now when I "have to".

Dee: How did you come to be in Germany to begin with?

JH: I went originally with a European (mostly German) tour of West Side Story—from that I auditioned for Starlight Express.

Dee: Did you go straight from StEx to CATS, or did you have a break in between?

JH: Between Starlight and CATS I had about a 2 month break, which unfortunately turned out to be too short!

Jaymes Hodges (on the right) with Lenny Daniel (Alonzo), Jon Erik Goldberg (Pouncival), Joel Briel (Cats Chorus), and an unknown fan at the Broadway Flea Market; used with permission from C. Bye (aka Sunsh54).
(The bandages are for show)

Dee: So how did you get to be in CATS on Broadway?

JH: Broadway CATS came about for me as there was one guy injured [who played] Plato/Mac, and then the guy who was filling in for him got injured and they didn’t know anyone else who was available. I heard through the grapevine there was an audition for an immediate short-term replacement, and as I had never performed on Broadway back then, thought it might be a great opportunity—and I was correct and CATS marked my Broadway debut!

Dee: Whoo hoo! Now, have you ever had any mishaps, major or minor, during the show?

JH: Once during CATS when I was shot through the Startrap for my Rumpus Cat entrance, my tail got caught in the trap doors, so I quickly reached back and yanked to free it, and then giggled through the rest of the dance.

Dee: Nice that you have a full-face mask on Broadway.

JH: The best thing to do when something unexpected happens during a performance is deal with it quickly and try to get back on track.

Jaymes Hodges helping out at the CATS table at the Broadway Flea Market; used with permission from C. Bye (aka Sunsh54).

Dee: Tell us how you prepared for CATS, i.e. how did you learn to move and act like a cat?

JH: When I was rehearsing to go into the Hamburg Company back in 1990, we did lots of cat-like activities and exercises to prepare us. On my own I also found that I would watch any real cats that I saw just to get a better sense of the animals.

Dee: On average, how long did it take you to turn into a Cat?

JH: Fifteen to twenty minutes.

Dee: Can you tell us a little about what goes on backstage, e.g. pre-show rituals, things to do to pass the time, etc?

JH: Backstage during a show I would liken to living in one house with a large family of twenty or more, everyone gets into their own groove and tries not to get in anyone else’s space. Activities change—sometimes I knit or read—depends how much time I have offstage during any show.

Dee: How do you respond when audience members get rowdy and/or obnoxious?

JH: As a performer, aside from holding for applause or laughter or some sort of audience reaction, we are always supposed to keep the show going until/unless stage management stops the show officially for any reason. You just have to keep focused on what you’re doing.

Dee: We all know Grizabella was banished from the Jellicle tribe, but theories on why that happened are numerous and varied. What’s your theory, from the point of view of your character?

JH: As Plato was pretty much lazy and disinterested, I don’t think he much really cared, he just went along with the tribe’s decision because that was easiest. I think she thought she was better than the rest of us and set out from the tribe to become some kind of “superstar”—and things didn’t go as she planned. She became a drugged up prostitute and a huge disgrace to the tribe so nobody wanted her back around as we thought she was bad news.

Dee: It’s time for my favourite part, interpretation of the characters! We’ll start with Macavity; what kind of Cat is he?

JH: Mac is very strong and powerful and uses the power of intimidation, along with some theatrical tricks he worked up to keep the other Cats cowering in fear. He has a major dark side and wants power and control over all.

Dee: What is his relationship with Demeter?

JH: He has strong sexual desires for Demeter and has raped her several times, which is why she’s hypersensitive to him.

Jaymes Hodges as Leonard with Carolyn Saxon (Senator Johnson); used with permission from J. Hodges.

Dee: How about with Old Deuteronomy and Munkustrap?

JH: He has no respect for [Old] Deut—but knows that Munk could actually be a match for him in size and strength, so he tries to keep the element of surprise working in his favor. He realizes that once Munk has worn him down in the fight that some of the younger Alpha males in the tribe will notice his vulnerability ([like] Alonzo) and come after him so he just wants to make a clean escape.

Dee: What about the Rumpus Cat? Is he real or a legendary figure?

JH: Rump is a tribal legend of “Catlore”. Munk loves to over-dramatize the legend for the younger set and everyone just humors him, and helps re-enact the historic event when Rump puts the Pekes and Pols in their place.

Dee: And what about Plato? Is he a mischievous kitten or obnoxious adolescent?

JH: Plato is a young adult with absolutely no drive whatsoever, and wants to get by doing as little as possible. Basic lazy cat!

Dee: What are his relationships within the tribe?

JH: His bud is Alonzo and they hang together, and are cozy with Demeter and Bomb.

Dee: I have a few things that some friends wanted ask:

Feliciradeya: What are the actors told about each character?

JH: They explain the family tree and where your character fits into it, i.e. your age, friendships, romantic interests.

Feli: What is the storyline?

JH: The show takes place on the evening of the Jellicle Ball, which is an annual event with this “tribe” of cats, a sort of family reunion. During the evening’s festivities every cat has a chance to plead their case to be selected by the tribe to go to the Heavy Side Layer (Heaven) and come back as a new Jellicle life (reincarnation).

Sachmet: Do the actors wear earphones onstage so as to get instructions or guidance from backstage?

JH: No. Some of the roles wear microphone pacs so they can be heard. There are usually TV screens placed in the audience so the cast can keep tempo with the musical conductor.

Jaymes Hodges and myself at the stage door before a performance of Red Hot & Blue.

Rheow: What are some of the stage traditions and/or superstitions that actors believe in?

JH: One of my favourites is that it is bad luck to whistle anywhere inside the theatre. In theatre history, the original flymen, the stagehands who operate the pulleys, were sailors. As there were no radio headsets back then to get cues from, they operated the pulleys by certain whistle cues. Therefore, if you were to whistle something—it might be mistaken for a cue and a drop or something might come down out of turn, possibly resulting in a serious injury.

Triskell: Are there actually background stories for the characters or are they introduced just in relation to their roles, e.g. "Skimble is a railway cat. He rides on the trains going to Scotland. He's a cheerful bloke. That's it."?

JH: In every show, your character must have a background or history. Some of it you get from clues in the show—sometimes they give you part or most of your history. If not, it is your job as an actor to make something up—just so your character has a foundation to work from. They told us most of our character histories in CATS.

Tris: Are the actors given any information/guidelines as to how they should move, look, etc, for a particular character, e.g. Skimble grins often, is nice to the kittens, moves with a bounce in his step, that sort of thing, or are they left to improvise?

JH: As I said before—they explain where your character fits into the group—based on that, you take liberties within that structure.

Dee: And finally, if the chance arose, would you ever agree to be in CATS again, and if so, under what circumstances and what character?

JH: I have no further desire to be in another production of CATS—now and forever!

Dee: Ooh, that's too bad! But thank you for your time, Jaymes, and we hope to see you onstage again soon.

Jaymes Hodges with Lenny Daniel (sailor) and myself at the stage door after a performance of South Pacific.

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