The Rest Is Her Story....Creating Cougar The Musical with Donna Moore
American Playwright Donna Moore talks candidly about bringing her off-Broadway smash hit Cougar The Musical to the UK stage for the first time this May.
From the calculated advances of Mrs Robinson, to the free-wheeling appetites of Sex In The City’s Samatha Jones, popular culture has always been fascinated by women with a penchant for the younger male. But it wasn’t until the early naughties that the ‘Cougar phenomenon’ first clawed its way into the centre of popular imagination when actress and mother Demi Moore famously courted controversy with the US media by dating a man twenty three years her junior.
With the American media frenzy reaching its pitch, it wasn’t long before ‘the cougar phenomenon’ began attracting the attentions of comedian and actress Donna Moore. On the prowl for material her latest stand-up show, the eagle-eyed performer first stumbled upon the term at a party. Keen to get her claws into this political hot potato, she wrote a song on the subject which she later developed into her one-woman show, The Cougar Cabaret.
What began as a one-hit wonder quickly grew into a fully-fledged animal and an unexpected off-Broadway smash-hit. Nine years on and the pull of Cougar The Musical remains as strong as ever with a new production directed by Patricia Benecke set to take Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre by storm from Sat 16 May – Sat 6 June.
Ahead of the show’s arrival in Coventry, we caught up with American writer and lyricist Donna Moore to find out more about her real-life inspirations for the show, her unique take on the ‘cougar controversy’ and what she believes the term says about the way society values women today.
When did you first become aware of ‘The Cougar’ phenomenon and what inspired you to take on the stereotype of ‘older woman dating younger man’?
It was at a party nine years ago when I first heard the term, ‘Cougar’. At the time, I was doing stand-up comedy as well as performing in a one woman show called, The unBalancing Act. The Cougar theme had so many socio-political ramifications that it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass by.
I remember thinking, “Why are we giving a woman a derogatory name for dating a younger man when what do you call an older man who dates a younger woman? I’ve researched, it…it’s called MAN’’.
From there, I wrote lyrics to a song called, The Cougar” which became the ‘eleventh hour’ number in my new one-woman show, The Cougar Cabaret. As luck would have it, there happened to be a producer in the audience one night who said if I wrote a whole show around the Cougar subject, he would get behind me. The show soon grew in popularity and I quickly gained a reputation as the ‘Cougar’ expert (which was ironic because I’ve always been attracted to older men!)
*For many, the term ‘Cougar’ still carries with it a certain degree of controversy. How important was it to you to reclaim this label and why? *
Unlike those that see the ‘Cougar’ as predator, I prefer to see the older woman/younger man relationship as a way women can empower themselves. I wanted this show to humanize the cougar, to show that women come in all shapes and sizes and each woman is special no matter what.
The fact that we’re using a derogatory name for a woman is symptomatic of just how misogynistic our society really is! I wanted to create authentic characters that women could relate to. I had this image of a recently divorced woman on a night out. Yes, she may be a mum but she’s also someone looking for love and a chance to enjoy herself again. This show isn’t an excuse to make fun of women dating older men, it’s about women saying yes to life, to the opportunities that come their way and about learning to embrace the strength we all possess within us, male or female. Although the action takes place in a Cougar Bar, what we’re actually seeing is three very different women coming into their own, with or without a younger man by their side.
*What can you tell us about some of the characters that feature in Cougar The Musical? *
The first character we meet is Lily, a twice-divorced, empty nesting mother who is scared to be alone and looks outside herself for validation. Through the course of the show, she learns to be comfortable in her own skin and to stand on her own two feet. Clarity is a happily single, successful businesswoman and single mother who decides to leave her job as a financial analyst and go back to school to study Female Studies. She sets out to write a thesis on the Cougar Phenomenon stating that “it is a derogatory term, perpetuating the self-loathing of the modern female after a millennium of patriarchal dictation” and is judgemental about dating a younger man – only to find that happiness can be discovered in the most unexpected of places. Mary-Marie is the more visibly stereotypical of the three. She wears leopard print and opens a Cougar bar so that she can meet younger men. She’s naïve about life but, at the same time, she has a heart of gold. Like each of the central characters, she’s looking for a new lease of life and thinks dating a younger man is the way to achieve that.
*Where did your research for Cougar The Musical take you? Who were your biggest real-life inspirations and do have any personal experiences you would like to share? *
I did once date a younger man, nine years my junior and I’ve been on dating sites where I’ve been contacted by men in their twenties but, in most cases, the guys who got in touch were looking for a sexual encounter with an older woman rather than a meaningful relationship. Through my research, I interviewed a number of women who described themselves as cougars as well as younger men who dated older women. I have a good friend, Felicia Brings who wrote the book ‘Older Women, Younger Men – New Options for Love and Romance’ who is a serial cougar who was a great help.
In terms of celebrity inspiration, I guess Demi Moore could be credited for turning the word ‘Cougar’ into a household name. Her relationship with Ashton Kutcher (twenty three years her junior) was all over the press at the time I was writing Cougar The Musical and she even features in the show’s first number.
*What, in your opinion is the secret to the show’s popularity and how do you think British audiences will respond to its particular brand of humour? *
I think the show comes from a real place. It speaks to people in a way that is truthful and authentic. It’s a funny and joyful celebration of three women embracing life and everything that comes with saying ‘Yes’ to whatever opportunities come their way. I think that’s something a lot of us, men and women, can relate to.
I have never been to England but the English friends I have are all wonderful and strong in their own right. I think the cliche difference between the British and American sense of humour is the whole British stiff upper lip compared to the American habit of letting emotions out rather easily. The real question is what is the dynamic between men and women in the U.K. compared to the United States? England had a female Prime Minister for eleven years and has a Queen as head of the monarchy – so maybe the U.K is more progressive than the United States in that respect?
*As a strong and independent mother of two currently in her 50s, what do you see as the secret to your success? *
When I was 16, I read a book by Shakti Gawain called “Creative Visualization” in which she wrote about the power of affirmations as a healing instrument for health and empowerment.
After I had my first child, I was diagnosed with Lupus, an auto-immune disease that was extremely debilitating. By using Louise’s affirmation for the dis-ease and submerging my consciousness with total positivity, I was able to ‘cure’ myself. As it stands, I have had no symptoms for over 19 years. Because of my experience, I am a big fan of affirmations and the power of positive thinking. I’ve always maintained that a healthy attitude to life and to oneself is the best medicine.
I guess that was my mission in writing this show, to inspire and encourage women (and men) to say yes to life and understand that the key to self-empowerment comes from within.
If nothing else, I want men and women who come to see this show to leave with their spirits uplifted, a song in their heart and perhaps a racy story or two to share with their friends.
Tickets for Cougar The Musical are available now from the box office on 024 7655 3055 or via www.belgrade.co.uk where cheaper tickets are available. Tickets are priced from £9 – £21.25 (with concessions available).