BY CARY GINELL
Today we meet Katherine Bottoms, a young actress who we hope you will be able to see on stage some day before fame and fortune takes her away from us. Katherine was born in Palm Springs but has lived in Santa Barbara most of her life. Her father and three uncles were actors so it was only natural that Katherine would become one as well. She performed in musical theater at Santa Barbara High School and was attending Santa Barbara City College when she decided acting was what she was going to do with her life. While in high school, she got a manager and was driving to auditions in Los Angeles so often, she was missing class, so she put off her career until later. Now, at 23, she feels she is ready, and has been making solid appearances in a number of local productions. Her life has been a procession of one show after another (“my longest break was maybe a month”), with her latest being the ARTS production of Peter and the Starcatcher (see our review in this week’s Simi Valley Acorn). In the show, she plays Molly, a wide-eyed, independent 13-year-old girl who embarks on an adventure with her father to deliver a trunk of magic star dust to a far-off island. Katherine’s bubbly personality and infectious giggle make it easy to accept her as a teenager, but this is only one aspect of her versatility as an actress.
VCOS: You told me that you don’t really prefer to do musicals anymore. What roles do you like to do?
KATHERINE: Recently I did a play called Proof. I played Catherine. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning, beautiful, beautiful show, and I got to play this very depressed girl who just lost her father and is going crazy. I liked that a lot, but I like a bit of everything. I’ve been doing a lot of different stuff recently. I love being “classic English” but in Peter and the Starcatcher, I get to be English and thirteen as well! I’ve been jumping around a lot; I was in Heathers recently and I loved that, but every time I think I’m transitioning out of musical theater, I keep finding myself back there because it’s so much fun to do. What I really want to do is start doing film and TV and that whole grind.
VCOS: Did you ever take singing lessons?
KATHERINE: I took a couple of lessons with a woman in Sherman Oaks and that was fun, but I should do more.
VCOS: When you do a show, what challenges you the most?
KATHERINE: In dramatic shows, if I have a tough day and I’m just not in the mood to perform, that’s always incredibly difficult for me. I’d have to build up to be in a place where I just don’t want to be. For instance, in this show, Proof that I did, I have to be in a very dark place, where I’m weeping all the time, and since I was already feeling sad, I didn’t want to take myself there because then, it’s hard to get out of it.
VCOS: Had you heard of the show before?
KATHERINE: I had. All I knew about it was that it had been on Broadway. I had seen an eleven-second clip and that was pretty much it. Jan Glasband approached me after I was in The Importance of Being Earnest and said, “Hey, we’re thinking about not doing American Idiot, do you know Peter and the Starcatcher? I’d like for you to audition.” So I said, sure, why not? Sounds fun. And I got the part. So many girls auditioned – there’s never enough guys. But they got enough guys for this one; it’s the perfect male show. I didn’t know what was happening in the show until three weeks into rehearsal. There is just so much information being thrown at you, like which trunk has the stuff in it, and if this is happening over here, what did that mean? Now that I know the show inside and out, I get it. But my dad came and saw it and said, “Wow, that was so much information.”
VCOS: This is one of the busier shows, physically, that I’ve ever seen. How much of all the stage business is in the script?
KATHERINE: Not a lot of it. They let us do what we wanted to with the show. For instance, the whole “cat-being-a-sweater” thing – they would usually use a stuffed cat in the Broadway production, but we found we could do anything we wanted to. You could do it with no stairs or no ropes, for example.
VCOS: Who came up with the idea of using the ropes to represent so many different things?
KATHERINE: That was mostly a Broadway thing. They did have the ropes, but we do different things with them. We use them to tie people up, like Austin, who plays Captain Scott, who’s always tied up somewhere. He’ll untie himself and become a pirate and will use it as a noose or a doorway. There’s one scene where we’re all in the ship in these tight corridors in our little cabin, and that is so much fun. A big part of this is lighting. On Broadway, they shine spotlights on the ground and that would be your perimeter. If I were directing the show, I’d draw chalk outlines on the stage and that would be your area. I think I saw that done in Spring Awakening.
VCOS: There’s one point where you are “levitated” and you guys do a fabulous job simulating that without the use of wires or anything.
KATHERINE: That’s also from the Broadway production; they did something similar but they used a whole different mechanism that’s more discreet because they have a bigger stage and a bigger budget. We use the mast of the ship that we flip over onto the ground and I sit on it and it becomes a levitation device.
VCOS: Oh, so it acts as a fulcrum.
KATHERINE: Yeah, something like that. It’s very creative. I think that was Sean Harrington’s idea. It’s a terrible piece of wood with lots of knots in it, so I’m always scared that it’s going to break and I’ll just fall flat on the stage (laughs). We had a little boy in the audience see the show last week and when I do the levitation thing, he yelled out, “WHOA! HOW’D THEY DO THAT? SHE’S FLYING!” And I almost cracked up because everyone started laughing. And that’s what I want the whole show to be because it’s just good for all ages. The kids aren’t going to understand the deeper meanings behind a lot of the stuff, like when I don’t want to leave Peter. The very end is very sad; it’s Molly’s first little heartbreak and she knows she’s not going to see Peter again, and it’s just sad.
VCOS: To me, the main plot device isn’t Molly and Peter’s relationship, it’s what Peter means to Black Stache, who is the forerunner of Captain Hook. Stache is looking for a rival, a heroic figure that can make him feel whole.
KATHERINE: Right. It’s interesting how whenever Peter and Stache come together, everything slows down for a second. Like in the first act, when Stache gives him his name. I just love how they’ve tied everything together with Peter Pan. I never read the books, but it’s genius how they came up with all that stuff.
VCOS: Has it been physically hard on you?
KATHERINE: Yeah. On all of us. You should have seen the rehearsals for the mermaid number. You have all of these men, who don’t usually do things like sit on their hip or twirl around, or go on their knees, so all of the noises that you hear, all of the grunts, those are real. And me, too. We did that in rehearsal and we thought it were so funny, we kept it in the show. We are actually all dying. I want to be Triton in that number, because everyone else is dressed as a woman so I want to get a big, long, white beard and be a man.
KATHERINE: Yeah. As I told you, on opening night, I dislocated my knee, but I’ve done that in other shows. I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I put a ton of gymnastics into the character and I popped my knee out so bad that I had to be carried around on stage by Oberon. That was the day before we opened. But it wasn’t that bad and popped right back in. I’m kind of used to it. I have bad knees. I did gymnastics for seven years, so I think all my joints are just gone; I’m just an old lady in a 23-year-old body. So that can be a challenge, physically. So on opening night of Starcatcher, my knee popped out of place and I had to do the second half of the show like that. That sucked.
VCOS: How is it being the only girl in the cast?
KATHERINE: Honestly, though, it doesn’t feel any different. I usually gravitate towards hanging out with my male co-stars anyway, so it’s like me hanging out with all my guys. I’m a total dude.
VCOS: What can you tell people about this show?
KATHERINE: You will never be bored. Something’s always happening. You can see it over and over and always see something different. We’re always on stage and we all play multiple parts. I think I play four parts. There is just no way you can be bored by this show. It’s not a musical, but there’s enough music in it that it just lifts everything up. It’s fast-paced so be ready, there’s a lot there, in the best way possible. There is so much laughter in it, but there are so many real moments as well.
Peter and the Starcatcher plays through August 28 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar