A fantastic peek into the world of Cassadie Petersen, the actress and puppeteer behind the bossy Fish of The Cat In The Hat here at ZACH Theatre:
I distinctly remember reading books as a child and feeling like the worlds in the stories became my worlds too. I imagined the characters would play ‘pretend’ with me, I dreamed of my bedroom transforming into the places in my books and I would lay in bed at night wishing that my favorite stories would come to life.
When I was cast as the ‘Fish’ in The Cat in the Hat as part of the Family Series at Zach Theatre, I was overjoyed by the amazing opportunity to bring the famous storybook to the stage in the way I had dreamed of as a child. However, as an actor and Dr. Seuss fan, I was also a little nervous about whether I could truly make the Fish ‘come to life’ for the thousands of young people seeing the show. Our director, Nat Miller had the unique and wonderful idea to keep me visible as an extension of the Fish, as both a performer and character in the story. This way the audience can see both of us (myself and the Fish) reacting to the Cat’s crazy antics throughout the show. It definitely took a lot of practice to match all of my expressions, breath and movement with the puppet but it is wonderfully challenging and fun and I think it makes for a funnier and more dynamic character!
The Fish is really the only authority figure of sorts in The Cat in the Hat but he spends most of the show stuck in a teapot unable to stop the Things from causing a ruckus, which makes him a great foil to the kooky Cat. It is the contrast between the uptight and anxious Fish and the freewheeling, clowning Cat that creates a lot of the humor in the show. As a young female, the uniqueness of this role is not lost on me and I really treasure it; there is often a tendency for younger actresses to get typecast in theater and playing the gender-neutral, quirky, sometimes bossy and always loud Fish has broadened me as a performer and is more fun than I can even say!
My favorite part of the whole process has definitely been the reactions children have to the show. In this age of immediacy, media-overload and literal storytelling, it is so important that children are exposed to the magic of live theater and are given chances to suspend their disbelief and engage in the world of a play. Theater (and puppetry especially) is a wonderful tool for strengthening the imaginations of children while encouraging them to observe and think critically. When the actors meet the audience after shows, I am always excited to see how children react to the Fish because often they don’t know whether to look at me or the puppet! Although most of the children can recognize that it isn’t an actual fish, most still respond to it as though it is very much alive and talk to it directly. I love when they look right past me and only at the puppet because it means this character is no longer something on the page to these children but rather a dream brought to life. A few weeks ago, a child who had just seen the show came up to me in the lobby and said hello to the Fish. Then she looked at me and asked me ‘how do you and the Fish talk at the same time?’ I smiled and told her that the Fish and I have a very special connection, and we truly do!