When the cat’s away, the Prytania’s not the same


Popcorn, or Poppy, is a one-and-a-half-year-old gray tabby who has become infamous at the Prytania Theatre. When she went missing in late January, Poppy grabbed the attention of New Orleans Uptown. Photo Courtesy of Paige Brunet.

Catie Sanders

Jan. 23 should have been no different from any other day at the Prytania Theatre. “Let’s all go to the lobby,” rang out from the single-screened theater as moviegoers chatted and munched on concessions. But, when manager Paige Brunet arrived that morning, something was missing.

Tabby cat Popcorn, known by friends as Poppy, could usually be found lounging in a comfortable red chair, patiently awaiting the admiration of Prytania Theatre guests.

But on Jan. 23, Poppy was nowhere to be found. Her little, white paws had left no prints. She had vanished without a trace.

“My sister was in town visiting from NYU and noticed that Poppy wasn’t in her usual spot,” Brunet said. “She didn’t think much of it. Sometimes she just gets caught up having fun outside.”

Maybe Poppy had gotten a burst of energy. Maybe she was outside exploring the city or taunting neighborhood dogs, as many cats are known to do. The theater staff felt uneasy, but were sure she would show up soon, according to Brunet.

“The next morning, I arrived to work and noticed she wasn’t inside the theater or hanging out outside waiting for her favorite time of day – breakfast,” said Brunet. “I was a little concerned, but again sometimes she just goes on adventures.”

As time ticked on with no sight of the grey tabby cat, the Prytania patrons had grown to love so dearly, Brunet began to recall an unsettling pattern of behavior from Poppy in the days leading up to her disappearance.

“After a full day of her not coming around, we all feared for the worst,” Brunet said. “She had been running across the street recently and all of us were worried she would get hurt.”

At that point, the tone shifted. The crew went from being slightly concerned to having all hands on deck searching for Poppy.

“The employees all knew to look out for her and to text us immediately if they spotted her,” Brunet said. “It was a very noticeable absence from our family.”

About a year-and-a-half ago, Brunet discovered Poppy hiding under her car. Only 6-8 weeks old, the kitten was skeptical of Brunet at first. If only Poppy had known that life at the Prytania would be so cozy, maybe she wouldn’t have been as guarded. Still, Brunet took her in, and it didn’t take long for Poppy to warm up to her new home.

“We already have one ‘theater cat’ named Ella, who has been with us for almost seven years, and Poppy started following her around like she was her shadow,” Brunet said. “After a few weeks of her following Ella around, we decided she would become a part of the family as well.”

Poppy has been a part of the Prytania family ever since, and has become a bit of a celebrity among Prytania Theatre regulars. Brunet said it’s not hard to see why everyone is fanatic about this feline.

“I think people love having a personal connection to the theater, so many people come to the theater and just fall in love with her immediately – she’s a huge ham in that sense,” Brunet said. “She accepts pets from everyone and is always purring. She’s just a really sweet cat.”

Tara Bennett is one of those affected by Poppy’s disappearance and among the hundreds who shared the missing flyer on Facebook. Bennett said she shared the missing flyer in hopes it would create more awareness.

“You never know who would recognize her and if they had seen her,” Bennett said.

Already a fan of the Prytania, Bennett felt Poppy added even more charm to the historic theater.

“One of the reasons I fell in love with the place was because of Poppy’s presence,” Bennett said. “I’m a huge cat lover, and she is such a sweet and loving cat herself that her presence was an added bonus.”

By Jan. 24, it was time to take to social media to spread word of Poppy’s disappearance. It was an ordinary ‘missing’ flyer that Brunet posted on the theater’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. It read “MISSING Popcorn ‘AKA Poppy’” followed by the colors of her fur, eyes and collar. At the bottom was contact information and a plea for help finding her. What was out of the ordinary was the response.

“When we made the flyer, of course we hoped our customers who were in the Uptown area would share the post and help us get Poppy home, but I was shocked when I saw how quickly everyone was jumping up to help,” said Brunet.

Reaching almost 500 shares on Facebook and with dozens of comments across all three social media platforms, Brunet said the flyer was one of the theater’s “most interacted with posts in a very long time.” The response was much-needed by Poppy’s theater family.

“The kind words and hopes for Poppy’s safe return was so uplifting and gave us hope she would return. Customers were even dropping by just to see if she had returned,” Brunet said. “It really was so reflective of everything we love about Uptown & New Orleans, in general.”

On Jan. 25, Poppy came home. The theater family was complete again, but it became clear that Poppy had not been swept up in a whim of wanderlust and left on her own accord. Brunet’s initial fears proved to be justified.

Poppy had been hit by a car and suffered a broken pelvis.

“She is confined to a kennel for 3 months, and is getting special laser treatments to help her heal as quickly as possible,” Brunet said. “So for now, she lives in her kennel in our back offices next to our owner, Robert, and our general manager, Eric, and makes sure she gets plenty of love and affection by meowing basically 24/7.”

As Poppy recovers, Brunet said she and the Prytania staff are thankful to have her home.

“She still has her sweet disposition and is handling her confinement well. We are just so grateful she is back home with us and will make a full recovery,” Brunet said. “My dad has joked multiple times that we should move her kennel up front for ‘visiting hours’ with all her loyal fans.”