Backstage with ‘Cats’

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(Host) Directing a theater production isn’t easy – especially when it’s an elaborate Broadway musical like Cats.

But 16-year-old Jacob Patorti loves a challenge.

The high school junior from Castleton has already directed a string of local productions.

Cats, which opens tonight at Rutland’s Paramount Theater, is by far his most ambitious project.

VPR’s Nina Keck attended a recent rehearsal and filed this report.

(Keck) Cast members sit with their legs dangling over the edge of the stage. The atmosphere is relaxed and playful – yet there’s urgency in director Jacob Patorti’s voice.

(Patorti) “I’ve given enough to run it under all the text above – but wasn’t sure how that would sound.”

(Patorti) “Shhhh shhhh . . . . For the opening of Mr. Mestopheles, Matt either tonight you need to make up this really cool dance or I’m going to put you at the top because you look too distracting for her.”

(Keck) Have I mentioned Patorti is only 16? See, that’s the thing that’s so hard to get over. This guy – with his short curly hair and sleek, understated glasses . . . this guy who’s running around with a clip board calling out directions to fifty cast members – a third of whom are adults . . . . this high intensity director is a junior in high school.

(Patorti) “I always have the adults who’ll say to me, it’s so funny sometimes we’ll look at you in rehearsal and say – oh my god he’s 16! And someone will leave and they’ll say, I forgot he’s only 16. I just have to run the rehearsal smooth – I can’t act like a teenager.”(laughs)

(Keck) Teenager is the last thing you think of seeing Patorti in action. He knows exactly what he wants from each cast member – and he patiently goes through his notes nudging, joking, suggesting and praising.

(Patorti) “Okay shhh shhhh – the Mcavity fight – Heather great dance. It was sooooo good.”


(Keck) Jamie Willis, a senior at Mill River Union High School in Clarendon, has one of the leads. It’s a challenging production, he says, but Patorti is making it gel.

(Willis) “He’s just amazing. He’s a year younger than me and I like – when you look at him and watch him work, you wouldn’t think you were working with a teenager in any – in any way. You feel like you’re learning from one of the best.”

(Keck) Cast member Judy Tompkins agrees. The Pittsford woman has worked with Patorti before on other productions and says she’s continually amazed at what the 16 year old is capable of.

(Tompkins) “His style is demanding and he gets the very best that we all have to offer he gets from us.

(Keck) It’s obvious that Jacob Patorti loves the theater. Even when he’s correcting someone, he’s smiling. But it’s hard to keep up. His mind seems to be wired faster – allowing him to think of 17 different things at once – perfect skills for a director. He says he always loved to sing and play the piano. But directing is a more recent passion. Two years ago, a drama teacher in Rutland asked him to take over the music for a production of Huckleberry Finn.

(Patorti) “Seeing the show go up and noticing that this is actually happening and it they sounded good and I didn’t hide my head every time they performed. And it was just this thing that I had to do more of. And thank God I have a supportive family because I said to my mom the week after Huckleberry closed, I said I wanted to do something for Halloween.”

(Keck) Jacob’s mother, Paula Patorti, says she was worried that her son was taking on too much. But rather than dissuade him, she took a different approach.

(Paula Patorti) “I just said, you got to do it as a business Jacob, you have to put it down on paper – you know, what your expectations are and what you have for a budget and how you plan to make all that happen. And he just took it from there and this is his eighth production Cats will be.”

(Keck) Paula Patorti says each time the productions get a bit grander and she’s more and more in awe. She and her husband are not theater people, and she says Jacob has done everything on his own. She says they did loan him $2,500 to cover start up costs for last year’s production of Grease. But she says after four shows at the Paramount, Jacob paid them back, paid the theater, the musicians the technicians, and still had enough left over to invest in his next project.

(Paula Patorti) “That gave him a good shot in the arm to allow him to continue to invest in the theater company he so eloquently put together.”

(Keck) To help with his business, Jacob created an advisory board made up of his peers and others in the community who’ve worked on theater productions. The sixteen year old admits that Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats is a lot to take on, but he couldn’t’ resist. It’s such a great story, he says with a smile and audiences are going to love the music, costumes and sets.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

Note: Cats runs tonight through Saturday at Rutland’s Paramount Theater.

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