30 Aug 2013

A night at the Theatre

The story below was published this week as part of the 500 Words ABC Open project, under the topic "On the job."

All my hopes were on Ruben that summer evening.  When I noticed that the rest of the cast laughed at the handsome boy’s jokes, I realised that if I could get him to turn up on the night of our performance, the others would follow. Including Carmen, who would always drag her feet defiantly as she approached the front door of the local theatre, half an hour late. 

A short play I had written was going to be performed at an awards ceremony for a regional amateur theatre festival and I was directing that performance. When I arrived at the theatre, a bored council employee opened the door of the small venue with discouraging demeanour. I waited outside for my cast to arrive. The air was still warm and smelled of sea. Since my teenage actors had started their school holidays, I feared they would feel reluctant to spend anytime indoors and fail to turn up.
But they arrived, chatting among themselves, wearing t-shirts and shorts, surprisingly tanned for the beginning of summer. All were there except for Carmen. ‘Here we go,’ I thought but tried not to show my disappointment.

They swiftly got into their costumes and shortly after there was the sound of audience members finding their seats.  As I nervously looked through a slightly open curtain, hoping the crowd would flow in slowly and give us some extra time, I heard Carmen’s voice behind me and smiled with relief.

I watched from the side of the stage as the actors gave performances in the extremes so characteristic of puberty: incredibly confident some, incredibly timid others. After a few minutes I was relaxed enough to start laughing at their jokes.

And then one of the boys got his lines confused, or so I thought. The rest of the cast looked at me with quizzical terror. His mates in the audience laughed as he moved up and down the stage delivering his own jokes and ignoring the script. When he finished there was silence. 

I started mouthing the words to the next passage, hoping the actress who needed to continue would understand. The silence grew uncomfortable and then, unexpectedly, Carmen reacted. She remembered her lines as well as her friend’s. Everything went back into gear.

The play concluded and received an ovation from an audience made up mostly of relatives and friends of the actors who took part in the festival.

A succession of camera flashes followed as the different theatre companies received their awards. Before the end of the ceremony my cast went back to their t-shirts and shorts.  The beach was waiting. And friends and music, and maybe that boy or girl who had been there on holidays the previous year.

The stars were shining beautifully when I left, so I walked home, letting the sea breeze cool the skin of my cheeks, warmed by the excitement of seeing my work on stage.