Jeremy Varner shares his vision for Cats and the surreal experience of producing quality work for his alma mater
The Jellicle moon shines brightly across the stage of the Abilene Civic Center. Actors, musicians and crew members scramble silently as microphones, lights and sound boards prepare for the opening number. Jeremy Varner walks unto the stage in his trendy plaid shirt and army green pants checking the progress of the set while loudly humming one of his favorite show tunes.
Offstage, the stage manager removes her headset as she yells “We are at time, ladies and gentleman. We are at time.”
The lights dim and mystical music begins to play. Debuting his first directing and choreographing show, every aspect of the show has come through Jeremy Varner’s creative vision.
There was a new man in town and he is ready to take Abilene on a journey far beyond its imagination.
After growing up in Abilene and graduating with a theatre degree in 2010, Varner has been working professionally in the theatre business. From working in television voiceovers to debuting as the Rum-Tum Tugger cat in Atlanta to acting in shows at the French Festival in New York, Varner is living his life doing what he loves most– performing.
Months passed and the time for the Homecoming musical was commencing. Unlike most musicals, Dawne Swearingen-Meeks, chair of the theatre department, decided to take a producer role and contacted Varner with the opportunity of a lifetime. Varner was announced as the newest director for Cats the Musical.
With the help of his father, Gary Varner, professor of theatre, Varner decided to fly down from New York to Abilene with one goal in mind– create the best musical performance Abilene has ever seen.
For eight intensive weeks, Varner said he has loved seeing this side of theatre.
“Its an exciting new lense to look at the theatrical process,”said Varner. “As an actor, you’re focused on your job and your job is acting. As the director, you’re this helicopter view making sure that all the different elements come together to create a singular vision.”
Varner said one of the reasons Cats stands out as a musical is because there is no strong linear plotline. No single actor leads, no long monologues and no real beginning, middle or end.
That’s the beauty of Cats.
“It’s less about what the story is saying and more about the celebration and the intersection of music and dance and poetry and all of these arts coming together to create something much greater than their individual parts.” said Varner as he smirks revealing inches of his white smile. “The production value is always phenomenal at ACU and that’s one of the things that people always expect out of the homecoming musical.”
It’s obvious Jeremy loves this show– and the students love him, too. Before he arrives at rehearsal, one can simply mention his name. In an uproar, cast and crew members begin voicing compliments immediately.
“He’s so cool,” “Oh he’s great,” and “I want to be his best friend” are just some of the few common remarks heard among the checkered hallways of the backstage rooms.
Just by looking at Varner’s eyes behind his round spectacles, one can see his passion for his work. His constant character-like remarks and quick laughs has allowed students to grow foundly of Varner’s fresh face and bold ideas.
As a former theatre student, Varner understands the amount of talent that is required to put on a show of this magnitude. With over two hours of pure dancing and singing with very little break in-between, Varner compares the entire process to professional-grade theatre referring to it as one of the most technically intense shows that the department has ever done.
“It’s one of those things where the music by itself is amazing. The set by itself is amazing. The lights by themselves are amazing. The costumes by themselves are amazing,” said Varner. “And then, when you combine them it’s like everything comes together and creates this crazy event.
Above all else, Varner stresses that this show is more than just a light show or a weird caucus of meowing actors on stage in spandex bodysuits. With Varner herding the tribe, the show will be one for the history books showing what is possible with a fresh, New York face and a never before seen vision.