acro-catsHello and welcome to this installment of Theatre Notes with Botswana, where I take you inside the world of the staged drama and offer my own critical perspectives on the neo-modernist theater scene. 

You may not be aware, but since the mid 1960s, there has been an alternative movement afoot a-paw in the theater. This new approach fought against all the conventional norms of the theater establishment. Norms like “you should use people, not cats, as actors” and “your actors should try to stay on the stage and not run underneath an audience member’s chair in the middle of the show” were suddenly under assault by these young and hungry insurgents of the New Felinists movement. 

Today this formerly fringe movement is now part of the mainstream. Human actors are now considered old wave and today’s stars of Broadway and off-Broadway (and off-off-off-off-Broadway) are paid in catnip treats. This trend parallels changes throughout our society, where the cat is now the dominant species of all internet-based media including videos, photos, gifs and Cat Fancy profile pieces. It’s a cat actor’s world — we’re just offering treats in it.

There’s no further proof of the ascendancy of the cat-based theater than The Acro-Cats’ recent three day run in Atlanta, where I was lucky enough to see the Acro-Cats live. And I do mean lucky — the titans of the Cat Stage sold out every show (prompting producers to add last-minute late shows over the weekend). The traditional distance between the avant-garde and the mainstream no longer exists. Art is dead. Death is art. Now please give the Mr. Buggles his salmon kitty treat before he claws our eyeballs out.

The Acro-Cats will shatter your preconceived notions about the dynamic space between the actor and the audience. For example at numerous times during the show, the cats exercise their free will as cats and suddenly bolt into the audience. Also, during the show I saw Sunday, the star Tuna decided to climb up a 15-foot ladder that was resting against a wall backstage. She spent most of the rest of the performance trying to figure out how to get down.

The Acro-Cats, for all their bluster, are no mere infantile revolutionaries of the stage. They are true professionals. They perform dozens of amazing tricks. They push shopping cars and roll balls across a rope and climb. And they fucking love climbing. Because they’re cats, goddammit. At one point the Acro-Cats actually compete in a game of bowling against a rather cute and smiley groundhog. This is the sort of inter-species recreational activity that would have scandalized audiences in a more conservative time, but in today’s rough and tumble cat theater world, audiences demand such innovation.

Does all this mean that I am ready to repudiate my past ideological assumptions about using cats as actors? Only so far as I must repudiate all theater movements that refuse to acknowledge the fact that cats can now do all forms of entertainment better than humans. A perfect example of this came during the show’s final act — a musical ensemble performance by “The Rock Cats.” The cats (plus one chicken named Gregory Peck) play all their own instruments. They refuse to bow to the simulacrum of today’s lip-synched, pre-fab pop music. Instead they play all their own instruments and weave a sound using dissonance and non-Western time signatures that reminds this critic of the visceral pleasures of Stockhausen and Glass. When the fluffy white kitty started playing the drums I felt I was ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.

So in conclusion… Cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats cats.

Photo taken by a friend of mine. All rights reserved. Or something.