Expressive 1010 2nd Place
Professor: Alice Kane
The make-up caked, the actors drilled, the stage set, and the adrenaline illegally high; this is the theatre. I came bounding onto the stage my sophomore year at Tuacahn High School and haven’t been able to get enough of theatre arts since. However, the life and times of the actor isn’t the fairytale so many Hollywood sweethearts make it out to be. What goes on backstage and what the audience sees are two very different things.
Acting is like a rollercoaster. It takes you through the twists and turns of rehearsal. The climbs of auditions and job hunting at times makes you feel like you’ll hit rock bottom. It tests your limits, sometimes flipping you upside down. All the while, the butterflies in your stomach encourage you to reach for the stars. Some people can’t wait to jump off the fast paced ride. While others, including myself, jump right back in line. A show I performed last year illustrates this.
Thirty-eight students had been drilling Les Miserable for hours on end until this moment. It was time to perform after only three weeks of rehearsal. I stood in the wings waiting for my entrance; feeling tired and yet having an energy coursing through my veins that always lured me back to the stage. From eight in the morning until six, sometimes seven, in the evening, the cast hashed and re-hashed the Broadway masterpiece. When we weren’t working on scenes in the show, we were working on set pieces because we were also our own stage crew. As for me, I had to maintain a part time job four to five nights a week to pay for simple necessities. I had never done anything this intense before, and the effects became obvious after the second week of rehearsal.
I heard the queue that signaled my entrance into the world I had so vividly created. I was in a dirty French factory. My bones ached, the pneumonia in my lungs had spread because I had no means for a doctor, and I hated life. The faces in the audience seemed like phantoms waiting for their moment to strike. People I didn’t know and would probably never meet held the power to accept or reject everything my colleagues and I worked so hard to accomplish. One quick change and I was back on stage; this time in the body and mind of someone completely different. Now, I was a disease-stricken whore desperate for any gentleman, sailor, or vagabond with enough change in their pockets to steal after they drunkenly dozed off. The girl singing next to me wasn’t a friend and the fellow actress I had laughed with only hours ago; she was stealing my part of the dock.
Finally, I get a moment backstage to breathe. The crowd seemed to be captivated; we were winning this one night stand. I found time to joke around with a friend backstage while the character on stage went to her death like she would dozens of more times before her next birthday. The sleep that had once invaded my body was gone. I had drilled my guts out for three weeks and wasn’t about to let some silly thing like rest stand in the way of a flawless performance.
By the final bow, I felt as happy as a fat kid with cake. There wasn't a single audience member sitting. We had triumphed with no casualties…at least for tonight. We had another 36 shows before we could go back to probing through ads for more auditions in low end productions.
I made my way to the dressing room with a euphoric feeling. The costumes I had thrown off in a rush got neatly placed back in their appropriate places. The make-up that had taken me a good hour and a half to apply was scrubbed off using several baby wipes and a load of astringent. I was finally ready for that date with sleep that I kept on canceling for my love affair with acting.
The next day, after my make-up and hair were masterfully put together, I made my way to an empty stage. The dark set pieces loomed behind me. The seats were empty except for two. I imagined my dad and step-mom sitting there with expressionless faces. Would this be something else they could use against me for choosing such a humiliating profession?
"Why don't you become a doctor?" I can hear her nag, "That's a respectable job." Then there's dear old Dad, his tone mocking, "The theatre is a fine goal. Just don't be surprised if you have to give it up for a real job." I had come to expect half-ass support. They had their points, and I had mine. My contemporaries began to file in to get their notes from the director. "Good show," she remarks, "but..."
How can there be a 'but,' I thought. We did spectacular. The audience loved us. "But, the third entrance was a little slow. The volume during the finale needs to be much louder, and you really need to die tonight." For 36 more shows we had audiences on their feet cheering with elation, and for 36 reviews after, we had something we could have done better... directors!
At first glance, you might think acting is just a fun little hobby done by recitative quacks. But anyone who acts for the love of acting knows there’s so much more required. They know the rollercoaster looks exciting, but they also know what endurance it takes to step in line and finish the ride. The spotlight flaunts the character, but it's in the dark wings practicing, stressing, aching, and believing where the actor really is.