“What’s wrong now?” The exasperation in Thea’s voice echoed around the auditorium. As soon as her words broke through the scene, the two actors in front of her retreated to opposite corners of the stage like boxers who had just heard the bell. Thea couldn’t help but sigh as she approached the stage, sliding up onto it with practiced ease.
Things were not going well. It was the night before the show opened and they were still struggling through the basics. It was her own fault, Thea knew. It had been her decisions that had led them here. It was her inexperience which had lost them their star actor less than a week before opening night. It was her fault for thinking that she could even direct a show in the first place. But now she had no choice but to push through.
“What’s going on?” she asked as she got to her feet. Though both actors stood three feet above her onstage, neither of them could meet her eye. “Why wasn’t that working?”
“Don’t look at me,” the woman muttered. Her acrid tone did more than merely shift the blame. She crossed her arms and finally met Thea’s gaze. “I’ve been ready to perform for months.” Rosalind was the local prima donna and Thea’s leading lady. She starred in every show that the Arden Community Theater had put on over the last ten years and had an ego that matched. Well into her thirties, Rosalind was the very picture of beauty: her flame red hair and alabaster skin gave off the impression of having a delicate, paper thin exterior, while her hard eyes and sarcastic wit let everyone know that she had a heart of steel. All this prowess was being aimed at the boy standing across the stage from her.
In comparison, Trayvon Rogers looked like a baby. Barely sixteen, he seemed to stumble through life without the confidence that comes naturally to boys of his age. He wilted under Rosalind’s gaze and Thea couldn’t help but be reminded that he was not her first choice. “I just don’t understand what’s going on here,” Trayvon said and Thea could tell that he was trying to keep the whine out of his voice.
“It’s romance,” Rosalind said with a scoff. “Some of the greatest ever written.”
“I get that. I do!” he said in response to Rosalind’s eye roll. “I’m just a little confused at what’s actually happening. All these wilt thous and therefores, it’s like it’s not even written in english.”
Thea cut off Rosalind’s groan with a wave of her hand. “Okay, let’s go through it again. Don’t worry about the lines this time. Just say whatever you think they mean.”
Trayvon nodded though a worried grimace cut across his face as he made his way to the giant bed in the center of the stage. Rosalind shot Thea a pointed look.
“Just play along,” the director sighed. They had gone over all of this with their original star. Mike had had little trouble understanding Shakespeare’s prose, but Thea had insisted on spending a couple of weeks seated at a table talking through line by line translations. All that time wasted…If she had known, there would have been so many other things she could have done with that time.
As the two actors slipped beneath the sheets, Thea returned to her seat in the audience. As she sank into the cushions, she turned to the only other person in the room. “Glaurea, can you watch the script and make sure they don’t stray too far.”
The dumpy woman beside Thea pushed up her glasses and leaned closer to the binder that sat on a card table in front of her. Glaurea was the stage manager, which meant that it was her job to make sure that Thea could focus on the actors instead of worrying about any of the millions of things that happened behind the scenes. She gave Thea an officious nod and the director turned back to the stage.
“Alright, remember: you’ve just had your first night together. It was better than anything you could have imagined.”
“Hold on,” Rosalind said with mock seriousness. “That’s something some of us can only imagine.”
“Hey!” Trayvon replied, his cheeks darkening in a blush.
Thea cut off the rest of his retort. “Focus. Come morning, you both know that Romeo has to leave. If anyone finds him here they will kill him.”
Trayvon nodded solemnly from his side of the bed but Rosalind’s eyes only reflected her amusement.
“Okay, get ready. You can start whenever you feel like it.”
With one last smirk from Rosalind, the couple closed their eyes. They lay silent for a few seconds in a striking tableau. Limbs entangled, Trayvon’s dark skin cut a stark contrast to Rosalind’s light. It was an image that Thea wished she had planned.
Gently Trayvon shook his head and sat up. As he yawned and stretched Rosalind stirred as well. “Do you have to go? It can’t be day yet. Ignore the birds, they’re only nightingales. Every night they sing on the tree underneath my window. Come back to bed.” Even though this was a simple walkthrough, it seemed as if the sarcastic Rosalind from moments earlier was gone. In her place was the gentle Juliet, staring at Trayvon with eyes that could only be those of a love-sick teenager.
Trayvon, for his part, looked only marginally more confident than before. “It was a lark no nightingale. Look love, what…beautiful colors the clouds are in the east?” He glanced imploringly towards Thea who sighed to herself yet again, but to her actor she just nodded encouragement. It was close enough. “Night is over and the day is almost here. I must either live and leave, or stay and die.”
“That’s not daylight it’s…a meteor! It’ll guide you on your journey tonight. So stay, it’s not time to leave.” The mask of Juliet slipped a little bit from Rosalind’s face as she played up the absurdity of what she was saying. Rarely did Rosalind smile, and it was nice for Thea to see that this process hadn’t crushed her sense of humor.
Trayvon embraced the dramatics that Rosalind had tapped into. “Let me be taken and put to death,” the boy rolled up onto his knees, hands raised in supplication as he begged with Rosalind. “I’m happy if you are! If you think the sunrise is just a trick of the light or the bird is no lark; I have more care to stay than will to go: come death and welcome! Juliet wills it so.”
Thea wondered if he had slipped back into verse on purpose. But that worried her less than the fact that everything from the smile stretched across his face to the trembling of his hands spoke of the neuroses of a teenaged boy. Nowhere on that stage did she see an inkling of the suave, romantic Romeo; he was Trayvon through and through.
Silence stretched on onstage and both actors turned towards each other with looks that plainly said, “your turn.”
Glaurea’s stern voice floated out of the darkness. “You’ve got a little bit more Trayvon: ‘How is’t, my soul? Let’s talk: it is not day.”
“Shit,” Trayvon said softly, his smile evaporating. “Uh, how are you? Tell me because it’s not day.”
Rosalind rolled her eyes but when she saw the mortified look on Trayvon’s face she smiled, “It is, it is: now get the fuck outa here. It’s a lark that ruins everything. Like totally just destroys every. Single. Thing. Fuck larks. Now leave. It’s getting lighter with every second you waste.”
A weak smile reappeared on Trayvon’s lips as he finished the scene, “More light and light: more dark and dark our woes!”
For a second the actors stared into each other’s eyes. “Good enough,” Thea said and they broke away from each other, once again retreating to opposite ends of the stage. “Did that make sense to you?”
Trayvon nodded, “Thanks for letting me do that.” Though he was looking at Thea, she had the distinct impression that he was speaking to Rosalind.
“Very good, both of you,” Thea swept her gaze over to include Rosalind. The woman gave her a wry smile in response. “Let’s take five and come back to this later.”
Later that night, after both actors had left, Thea and Glaurea sat in the silent auditorium pouring over their notes. “There’s one thing I keep coming back to,” Thea said, pawing through the papers in front of her. She sat in the very center of the stage, notebook pages and sketches spread out all around her. On her lap was a stack of papers well worn with highlights and scribbles—her script. It had been creased and torn, half of it was missing, and someone had decided to doodle cats all over the front page. Thea now sat trying to read the words behind the doodles. “Why did I ever decide to do this? Theater takes so much effing work.”
Glaurea just grunted in response. Unlike the director, she had been a part of productions at the Arden Community Theater for more than a decade now. While each of those shows had brought their own unique challenges, a common theme between them all was the incessant bemoaning of the creative staff. While actors and directors complained about how their costumes didn’t fit right or wished that the set could be built faster, it was Glaurea’s job to oversee that everything came together in time for the show. Where the creatives saw their production as a priceless gem—something so unique that it could never be replicated—Glaurea just saw another battle of efficiency.
Glaurea sat in the first row of the audience, the card table in front of her neatly stacked with piles of papers. As she peered down at her script she absentmindedly tucked back a wisp of her thick black hair that had escaped the cage of her ponytail. She was typing up the line notes from that night’s run-through and there were a lot of them.
“I don’t know if we’re going to make it,” Thea said to the room at large before laying back in the middle of the floor. Glaurea ignored her. In her experience, every director felt this way the night before the first show…though in this case it might just be justified. “You think Trayvon’s going to make it?” the voice from the stage asked.
Glaurea snorted, “Not if these line notes are proof of anything.”
Thea groaned. She wished that she had been more on top of Trayvon when he had just been the understudy. If only she had pushed him to really get to know the part…Hell, if only she could have put up with Mike. Then they really wouldn’t be in this position. She stared up into the rafters of the old building and prayed to Dionysus or whatever gods of the theater still existed. Please let this show be good.
It had been twenty years since Thea had acted. She had tried to make a career of it after college but couldn’t quite cut it. There had been too many big personalities for her to stand out. So she left. Since then the closest she had come was teaching Romeo and Juliet to her high school sophomores. That was how the producers of this show had found out about her. They were in need of a director and she was familiar with the script. Was she interested? Without giving it much thought Thea had said yes.
Now here she was, lying in the middle of the stage and praying to long forgotten gods with the chance that they could avert the disaster that was about to take place tomorrow night. She didn’t have a hope in the world. She spread her arms above her head and slowly waved them back and forth along with her legs, making an angel from her notes. It had about as much effect as reading them did.
Glaurea glanced up at the stage when she heard the ruffling of papers and sighed. She was going to have to print off another script for the director. She looked back down to the computer where she had switched from line notes to technical notes. Yet again, she was sending off an email about the unpainted stage and yet again, she knew it would go unread. The technical crew had all been at that night’s rehearsal and had heard Thea’s exasperated sighs for themselves. Yet still it was her job. So Glaurea dutifully typed up another long email enumerating every single thing that needed to change before tomorrow’s performance.
Eventually though, there were no more emails to write. Glaurea closed her computer with a thud that echoed through the cavernous space. Thea was still prone in the middle of the stage. To Glaurea, she looked like a child who had fallen asleep in the middle of play; her willowy limbs thrust out from her while her long brown hair lay tangled with her script. “Uh, Thea?” Glaurea called softly, half hoping that the woman wouldn’t respond. “I’m done for the night.”
“Alright,” the voice was quiet, as if the speaker was far away.
“Okay, well I think I’m going to go home. You good?”
“Go ahead, I’m going to stay awhile. I’ll lock up, don’t worry.”
Glaurea paused for a moment, drawn between crawling up onto the stage beside her friend and heading for the door. She could tell that Thea was not in a good way. Maybe she should try to make her go home? But no, Thea was a big girl. She could take care of herself. Besides, everything would work out in the end. It always did. “Okay. Well, g’night.”
“‘night,” that small lonely voice called back.
When Thea heard the heavy doors of the theater bounce against their frames she closed her eyes, basking in the feeling of being alone in the vast space. The stage lights were warm against her eyelids. There was an old theater rumor that if you lay in those lights long enough, you could actually get a tan. She wondered if this was true as she let her body relax, trying to let her mind go with it. There was little that was more calming to her than lying underneath those lights in the middle of the stage. Maybe it was the smell: the dry aroma of dust burning up under the lights mixed with the slight tang of sweat from the earlier rehearsal. It was the smell of her childhood, of the magic of theater where anything was possible. She breathed it in deeply. In and out, in and out. She was not asleep (though if Glaurea had still been there she might disagree) but in a state of zen. It was as if basking in the warmth and the dust was allowing her to let go of her stress. Maybe, just maybe, one of the theater gods had been listening. It was all going to be okay. Somehow, someway, the show would turn out alright. After all, that was the magic of the theater.
Sometime later Thea sat up slowly, feeling almost as if she had slept a full night’s sleep. She was reenergized until she saw the mess of her notes spread across the stage around her. She let out a small sigh as she gathered the papers, noting as she did that her script was now completely beyond recognition. She’d have to ask Glaurea in the morning for a new one. She grabbed up her papers, not even trying to put them in order and shoved them in her bag. With one final look towards the stage, she killed the lights and made her way out of the auditorium. The doors boomed in the darkness behind her.
Z.B. Wagman is an editor for the Deep Overstock Literary Journal and a co-host of the Deep Overstock Fiction podcast. When not writing or editing he can be found behind the desk at the Beaverton City Library, where he finds much inspiration.