Berni Stapleton’s newly released This is the Cat is about Bridie Savage, a middle-aged woman who, in addition to dealing with her uncle’s death, has a host of problems such as trying to get a job at Walmart as a playwright-in-residence, living off of EI, and trying to figure out how to get her fur coat back from a hooker down the street, to name a few.
This is the Cat is whimsical and imaginative, but it’s partly based on truth from Stapleton’s life.
“One morning, several years ago now, I awoke to an email which said that my EI claim was exhausted,” says Stapleton. “It was from Service Canada. At the time I was very much a seasonal arts worker.” Stapleton ran a theatre festival and then accepted a residency but soon felt like she had “nothing left to give.”
“I had read somewhere that to be the person you want to be, you must live that way. To have the life you wish to have, you must live it. So I wrote the outline for This is the Cat with the determination that I was going to find magic, optimism, and ultimately adventure in the pages, if nowhere else. I wrote myself out of the abyss and that was a turning point for me.”
Enter the Cat, the wise, ageless, brilliant and brazen cat who brings a little humorous perspective to Bridie’s life.
“I’ve had cat companions throughout my life. In grade four I found an abandoned kitten in a ditch during recess time. I smuggled it into the classroom, got caught, got sent home, got told we couldn’t keep the kitten, got told to bring the kitten back to where I found it, sobbed my way through pelting rain to my grandmother’s house, who took the kitten and gave it a home. I have an affinity for strays. Cats suit me and thankfully I suit them.”
Stapleton said the voice of Nikki the Cat emanated from deep within her DNA. “It rolled out of me. I wonder about it because whenever I was writing in that voice I feel I was tapping into what I might call my ‘wise self’ or my intuition, or whatever part of ourselves can lie dormant unless one is meditating or going through times of transformation. It was wonderful to see the world through that character, to see everything with new eyes, and with her newly discovered ability to communicate.”
To adopt the cat’s voice, Stapleton relied on some heavy research or what she calls her “favourite form of procrastination.” She read up on historical cats, ancient Egypt, mummification, Shakespeare and ghost lore. Speaking of Shakespeare, and taking Stapleton’s background into consideration, I had to ask if we will we see this book adapted for theatre.
“The book is so new that all I know at this point is that there will be a sequel. But I love the idea of a screenplay. I love that there might be a way to bring all the characters to life, ghosts especially. Ghosts coming to life is a fascinating thought.”