Oh, the places they'll go: Flatzes start Seuss tour

Story by Janie Magruder
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau

The most talented, most accomplished and most identical twin sisters ever to graduate from Grand Canyon University’s College of Fine Arts and Production stepped into a Mill Avenue diner earlier this month for a hearty breakfast of carbs before an afternoon of shenanigans.

Claire and Joy Flatz, theatre graduates in COFAP’s Class of 2015, were fresh of face but sore of abs and quads, having spent the day before in “tumbling and crash practice,” which is exactly like it sounds. Claire grimaced a little as she sat down, and Joy laced her fingers around a hot cup of tea, inhaling the steam.

And then they perked up.

“People ask whether Claire and I already do this, but no, we don’t typically pick each other up and run around on each other’s shoulders doing tricks,” Joy said.

But they do now, oh, do they, as Thing 1 and Thing 2 in Dr. Seuss’ beloved “The Cat in the Hat.” In their biggest roles yet, the 22-year-old sisters are part of a small cast in the international tour of Theodore Geisel’s classic which is being produced by the renowned professional theatre company Childsplay.

Today through Friday, the Tempe-based company is performing six shows for area school children at the Mesa Arts Center, then will hit the road for six months. They open Sept. 27 at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido and will close April 15 at Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts in Orange, Texas. All told, the six-member cast will perform at 43 venues in 24 states plus nine venues in Ontario, Canada.

In between, the Flatzes, who will take turns driving the tour bus, are scheduled to roll through places as small as Avon, Colo., and as big as the Big Apple. They’ll crisscross the U.S., from Malibu, Calif., to Burlington, Vt., and from Yakima, Wash., to Clemson, S.C.

“This is a major event,” said COFAP Dean Claude Pensis, who has directed and/or lit a dozen performances involving one or both of the twins in GCU’s Ethington Theatre. “It’s their first year in the profession, and Childsplay is a well-known regional powerhouse of children’s theatre. Having Claire and Joy part of this is pretty amazing.”

It seems pretty meant to be.

How it came to be

David Barker, a professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, first met Claire at Phoenix Theatre last January. Barker had a part in the theatre’s “Anything Goes,” in which Claire played an angel.

He already had signed on to direct and was starting to cast “The Cat in the Hat,” and he invited Claire to audition for Sally, the little girl in the Seuss story, and for one of the raucous Things.

“It was a God thing,” Claire said. “He literally dropped this in my lap from out of nowhere just as I was starting to get scared about what I was going to do next.”

Claire told Michael Kary, a COFAP acting instructor, about Barker’s invitation, and his reply was genius: “‘Did you even throw out that you have a twin?’” he asked her.  “They might want twins for the Things.”

Claire threw it out, and Barker made the catch, auditioning and casting the sisters as the troublemaking blue-mopped, red velvet-onesied duo who get released from the Cat’s box. They cause great mayhem in the home of Sally, her brother, Theodore, and the worrywart fish. “Fun in a box,” the Cat calls them.

“Thing 1 and 2 are passionate about flying kites inside the house and running up and down the halls,” Barker said.

The Flatzes have played comedic roles before, a plus because the Things are basically clowns who run and kick, bump and thump, hook the children’s mother’s dotted gown on their kite string, jump and hop. For his part, the Cat promises they “will not bite you” and are “tame. Oh, so tame!” (The latter is not true.) Eventually, the Things are captured by Theodore’s net and stuffed back into their box.

“Ninety-nine percent of what we do is physical,” Claire said of their stage presence.

The twins are learning extreme mobility from one of the best: Barker, a veteran Phoenix theatre actor and movement specialist who has choreographed fight scenes in Ethington. Pensis called his colleague an inventive director and consummate professional.

“It should be a great learning experience for Claire and Joy because they will be performing in dozens of towns and cities and in dozens of theatres that each are very different,” he said. “What they are in now is a more collaborative enterprise than it would necessarily be in a college theatre.”

Twins suited to a ‘t’

Around GCU, the sisters are famous for finishing each other’s sentences as automatically as they start their own, but they also have what might be called sight synchronicity.

“Our tendency on stage is to find each other’s eyes — I can look at Joy, and she will look back at me, and we’re in synch,” Claire said of a skill that’s helpful with the tag-team dashing required by their Seuss characters.

“When we do things spontaneously, we can guess what the other person will do,” said Joy, clapping simultaneously with her sister in a trick you sense has not been rehearsed. “Live theatre doesn’t always run as practiced, and so I’m very glad I’m doing this with Claire. We have established trust already.”

Rehearsals began the first week of September, and it didn’t take Claire and Joy long to learn their lines, spoken jointly, of course:

“How do you do? Would you like to shake hands with Thing One and Thing Two?”

The pair grew up listening to their parents, Rita and Ron, read them “The Cat in the Hat,” incorporating a different voice for each character. Rita had it memorized by the time the girls came along because she had read it so often to their two older sons.

Dr. Seuss and “The Cat in the Hat,” written in 1957, go together like green eggs and ham. An instant hit, the book was made into an animated television special in 1971 and a film in 2003. Barker, who said the story is “as timeless as ‘A Christmas Carol,’” smiles broadly when asked about the sisters.

And what’s not to be giddy about? They are funny, athletic and intuitive, possess a great work ethic, are born tour roommates and, because they are almost identical in size, costuming is simplified. A director's dream.

“When I heard Joy had a twin, I was stunned,” Barker said. “It’s absolutely brilliant. They’re talented and have trained together as dancers all their lives, and it’s just so perfect.”

Years ago when he was a young actor fresh out of college, Barker's first gig was a national theatre tour. It changed his life, as this will for the sisters.

“For Joy and Claire, the timing was not good, it was remarkably perfect,” he said.

Contact Janie Magruder at (602) 639-8018 or [email protected].


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