"I am the Artistic Director here, and I will not let you put on Hamlet with half the characters cut from the script," Geoffrey said, glaring at Darren Nichols as if that had ever helped.
Bernhardt, the head of New Burbage's dog-pack, was glowering at Darren across the table in the conference room and growling, a low, disturbing noise. Geoffrey didn't know how much actual wolf blood she had, but it was enough to be convincingly menacing. Like all the best theatrical dogs, she was bred to resemble a wolf in size, coloring, and intelligence.
"I will not be constrained by your pedestrian views of the text," Darren said with one of the sweeping gestures that made Geoffrey want to smack him. As usual, he refused to address Bernhardt or acknowledge that she understood him. "If you want to direct Hamlet the way it has always been done, with loyal, doomed wolves following Claudius's retinue and howling on Ophelia's grave, then mount your own production. In mine, there will be no dogs. Horses. And fire. No wolves."
Bernhardt's growl got louder, and she barked at him, sounding as though she wanted to tear his throat out.
Darren threw himself back against the chair as if she'd leaped at him and tried to tear his throat out. "And you wonder why I abhor the breed," he said, a tremor in his voice.
Geoffrey had worked his way through college by training dogs of assorted bloodliness for dramatic purposes. At this point, he felt he understood Bernhardt better than he'd ever understand Darren. "Oliver promised her the role of Sigrid," he said, not for the first time. Hamlet's wolf had to have finesse and regal bearing; Bernhardt had both. "And all the other royal wolves have already been cast."
"I'll compensate them in kibble," Darren said.
Geoffrey grabbed Bernhardt around the chest before she could lunge in earnest. "No," he said firmly.
Most dog-wolves knew far more English than the average, and the ones in the theatre knew the complex hand signals that governed their blocking. These often changed from production to production, as one country's "Come and follow" was another's "Stay and watch." The dog-pack was mourning Oliver's loss more sincerely than the humans, for though they'd sneezed at his production values, he'd instituted a consistency to the signaling system that allowed for more subtlety.
Geoffrey had thrown out a great deal of what he'd learned from Oliver, and sometimes thrust it aside with great force, but he'd kept the standardized gestures. Basil had referred to Oliver alternately as the Laban or Gallaudet of canine communication. That overstated the case from Geoffrey's point of view.
But Darren's desire to remove the entire history of wolves from the canon was worse than any highfalutin terms applied to Oliver's memory. "They're members of the company," he said, and Bernhardt's growling subsided. At least she trusted him to stand up for her.
"And you," Darren said, looking down his nose at Geoffrey by raising his chin high enough that it was nearly parallel with the floor, "are merely the Interim Artistic Director. My contract states that you will not interfere with my production in any way. This is interference of the first order."
"You're putting my employees out of work."
Darren sniffed. "They're dogs. Let them run about and sniff each other's bottoms like any other crowd of actors freed to their own devices."
Geoffrey slammed his hand on the table. "You'll pay them. All of them. In full. If you'd decided to cut the wolves early on, they could have found other jobs, but now they're stuck."
"I don't care what you do," Darren said, and stood up. "Keep them all in steak and sausages if you must, but I will not have them on my stage."
It would be counterproductive to point out to him that it wasn't his stage. Instead, Geoffrey glanced at Bernhardt, who had settled back in her chair. She flicked her ear at Geoffrey and let the tip of her tail wag.
"Their pay will come out of your budget," Geoffrey said, in case Darren had missed that part.
"I'm not tarting up the entire cast in baroque velvets as Oliver would have. Pay the pets."
And with that, Darren left before Bernhardt could do more than bark at him, and he swept out faster than she followed.
"I'm sorry," Geoffrey said to her. "There will be something for you all next season, I'm sure."
Bernhardt put her paws on his knees and barked in his face.
"I promise," he said, and decided that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to be forsworn to a dog. "If I have to direct it myself."
She lifted her left paw and waggled it side-to-side, an affectation that was one of Oliver's favorite inventions.
Geoffrey groaned. "The Scottish Play?"
Bernhardt licked his face, grinning at him.
"Maybe," he said, and rubbed her silky gray ears. "We'll see."