Not too often do you hear of animals taking the stage in high school theater productions. But with Virginia Kongos’ passion for theater and animals, such a feat is possible.
Kongos is a senior in the Veterinary Science program at Butler Tech Natural Science Center who trained her classroom’s pet feline, Oliver, to be a star performer in Colerain High School’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Oliver made his theatrical debut in the role of Mouschi, the beloved pet of the character Peter Van Daan, played by Colerain High School senior Tyler Creech. The original plan was to use a stuffed animal, but that changed when Jennifer Gunther, Colerain High School English and Drama instructor and the show’s director, decided a live cat could add a realistic touch.
“I wasn’t exactly sure of using a real cat since they might be hard to work with on stage,” explains Gunther. “But I wanted the show to have some realism to it. When Virginia mentioned Oliver, I decided to give it a chance.”
Virginia used this opportunity to connect her lessons at the Natural Science Center with her love for theater at her home school.
“I got really excited we could use a real cat,” states Kongos. “I emailed my director explaining that animals are my thing and that I’m great with cats. We have friendly cats at the Natural Science Center that are used to being around loud, noisy teenagers, so after everyone said it was okay, I started training him.”
Virginia began training Oliver two weeks prior to dress rehearsals. She started with crate training to help him maintain a relaxed demeanor around new faces and loud noises, followed by sitting him in different areas of the class for moments at a time so he could remain calm and still on stage when he was moved from one spot to the next.
“Animal welfare is important to me, so making sure Oliver was as comfortable as possible was my top priority.”
Virginia also incorporated socializing Oliver with the cast to help build chemistry and trust. This bonding time was especially important for Creech and Oliver.
“Tyler’s character has a strong connection to his cat, so I wanted that relationship to really show on stage. They spent a lot of time together offstage and it was clear they were becoming good friends.”
Oliver’s performance drew positive feedback from audience members, cast and crew and is welcome back to the stage for future productions.