Carlo was sweating. Not from the heat. It was cool backstage. But he was a large Norway rat and he was nervous. He shifted his bulk so he could see upstage. The roof rats who were his principal dancers were warming up. Turning their focus inward, reviewing the choreography in their minds, trying to get into the zone for performing. The mice who made up the corps de ballet swarmed backstage. They were everywhere. Carlo wanted them out.
He signaled for his runner. She scurried over. “Tell the mice the house is open. We need quiet backstage. In fact, tell them to go back into the dressing room until you call them.”
“But, their cue is right after the show starts,” the runner tried to explain. “Controlling those mice is like herding kittens. If they go back to the dressing room, we’ll never get them all onstage in time.”
“No excuses,” Carlo muttered. He wanted to scream, but the audience would here, and the house was full tonight – of cats. Carlo knew his troupe would have to perform their best to keep the cats entertained.
“Places in 15,” he said into his headset. “Only principal dancers backstage.”
The music started. Carl cured the stagehand working the main drape, counting down 3-2-1 Go.
The stage lights came on and the three principal dancers began their glissades and pirouettes. The crowd roared in approval when they performed pas-de-chats across the stage. Carlo allowed himself a smile and a sigh of relief. The cats were entertained.
Carlo cued the corps. One of the younger mice ran onstage and froze, eyes wide with terror at the theater full of cats. Tears welled in her beady, black eyes. “I forgot my steps,” she whispered.
“No excuses,” Carlo hissed. “Just dance. The audience won’t know if you make up your part. Just dance.”
The mouse just stood, center stage, staring, her mouth quivering.
The cats hissed and waved their paws, claws extended, in the air. Tails twitched.
“The cats are getting restless,” Carlo said, mostly to himself.
“Cue the next piece,” he ordered. “We need to keep the show moving.”
Then he froze in horror as 200 cats jumped onstage and began to swat and bat at his dancers as they scurried around. The sound of purring reverberated when some of the cats captured their prey. It was mayhem. A roiling sea of terrorized mice surrounded by hungry cats.
“We didn’t dance well enough,” one of the principal dancers moaned. “We didn’t keep the cats entertained.”
“No excuses!” Carlo bellowed as he ran out the door.
He had another show to run, and dancers to recruit to replace those he lost every single night. His audience was cats. What else did he expect?