Columbia- “Grizabella? Wait, where is Grizabella?” Trent Rash, director of a Columbia production of “Cats,” yelled into the microphone during a dress rehearsal Wednesday at Smithton Middle School.
A frumpy feline, who looked like she was dressed by a stage assistant without her glasses, emerged from the curtains and made her way on stage.
“Oh, there she is,” he said. Although Trent Rash was momentarily satisfied, Jacqueline Rash, his wife and the director of choreography, was not. She addressed the cast, showing them how to do a curtain call.
“This move might change a little with the music,” she said, twirling her arms around her head, as the cats on stage imitated her every move.
The rehearsal continued in a similar vein, with edgy, hot pink and icy blue jellicle cats singing and leaping, stopping only to take cues from their directors. The backdrop for this version of “Cats” is the Blue Moon Diner rather than a junkyard; the stage was littered with broken bar stools and trash.
Performing Arts in Children and Education, or PACE, is a youth theater program that allows children as young as 4 to take theater classes and act in plays and musicals.
“PACE puts an extraordinary amount of trust in their students,” Jacqueline Rash said. “Students run the light board, the sound and manage the stage.”
In addition to the technical crew, this summer’s production of “Cats” has 37 cast members ages 12 to 18. They began rehearsing in late June, going for four hours every afternoon Monday through Friday.
“Professional theater companies will learn a show in two weeks,” Jacqueline Rash said. “We were trying to prepare them for that.”
She said it was especially challenging to teach the choreography in such a short amount of time.
“I had one rehearsal to teach them the dance, and they had to remember it the next day and move on to new stuff,” she said. “There was rarely time for review.”
Jacqueline Rash started working for PACE this year after Deborah Baldwin, the organization’s artistic co-director, saw her choreography for “High Society” at Hickman High School this past season. Trent Rash has been with PACE since its first performance in 2003.
“This is the first musical I have directed that was entirely without speaking parts,” he said. “I was nervous about doing it with kids who were so young because of the complexity of the music.”
Jacqueline Rash said she didn’t hold back on choreography for the show.
“And they rose to the occasion,” she said. “It’s neat to see these kids who you taught the basics of how to point and flex, doing it every day like it’s nothing.”
Donna Blevins, whose 17-year-old daughter, Alyssa, is “Electra” in the show, is impressed.
“Trent and Jacqueline treat the kids like they are adults,” Blevins said. “They expect the best and the kids give their best.”
Greg Thackery, whose 14-year-old daughter, Kristin, is in her fourth year with PACE, said the directors do a great job. “It’s nice to see them working as a couple, too,” he said.
As for that, the Rashes said for the most part, they like it. “We are kind of opposites,” Jacqueline said, “so we balance each other out.”
Trent interjected: “Yeah, I’m more extroverted, and she is more introverted.”
“I think we reach more kids this way,” Jacqueline Rash said as her husband nodded. “It provides a more well-rounded education.”
She acknowledged a downside. “We talk about the show 24-7,” she said. “It’s constant, because it’s at work and at home. But at least we are setting a good example.”
While they spend most of their time together, the Rashes do have time alone. Jacqueline likes to garden and cook; Trent prefers to bake and read. That includes the last Harry Potter book, which came out last weekend.
“I was joking that I was going to write J.K. Rowling and tell her she picked a bad week to release the book,” he said. “I’m too busy.”