There isn’t long for this. There isn’t much time. They’ve just gone back out. For the next act.
It’s a short one, this act. The first one after the interval. Short to let the audience settle back in. Let them get back into the groove after all those little drinks, all those small comments at halftime. What did you think? Oh yes, very good. I quite liked… And what was with…? And did you see…? All the polite conversation.
Some people are anxious to get back in. Nervous to be outside of the bubble for too long. Fearful that too much chatter will ruin the illusion. Others are only steeling themselves. Getting enough alcohol into their system so they can endure another ninety minutes, a next ninety excruciating, tortuous, frightfully arduous minutes. And still others are simply bored and are only playing out their time anyway.
Look at them out there. Back out there basking in the warmth of the lights and unadulterated attention. I hate it.
The curtain came down on the first half and they all piled in here, right down on top of me. Strutted in like swans with their small steps, strained necks and stuffed chests, right down on top of my head like they owned the place, like it was theirs to command, like I hadn’t been here long before them, like I won’t be here long after they’ve given up on this whole sorry mess. Given up and turned to another means of expressing themselves. The bottle, perhaps. I don’t know. But I’ll still be here. Still tucked away back here when they’ve slapped their rear down on their very last bar stool and ordered the drink that will finally kill them.
But looking at them now you’d never know that. They’re the lords of all creation out there. Or so they would have you believe.
And we all play along with it. That’s the worst part. We all go right along with it as if was the natural order of things. As if it was the right and proper way. We all bow and scrape and preen and blush and pander to them.
Is there anything I can get you? Do you need anything at all? How’s the fit? Do I need to loosen that seam a bit, you fat cow? Do I need to widen that wait a little, you gluttonous sot?
And the worst? The bloody worst thing of it all is when they deign to compliment you. They hop down off their perch and say something like, ‘I just wanted to thank you for all your amazing hard work. You are the star. You deserve the applause.
Oh, do I? Well, good. Nudge over on stage next time and applaud me, you twerp.
But, that’s not what we say. No, it’s not what I say either. I blush, goddamn it. I blush and mumble something inept and inane like, ‘Oh, you’re very kind’. I might as well just twirl my skirts and rub the toe of my shoe into the ground just like the bashful little girl I come across as. It makes me angry that I fall for that schmaltzy, cheese-ridden chorus just like the rest of them. Just like you would. Don’t think that you’re any better.
If you were to ask me, publicly, what made my job worthwhile then I’m sure I’d sputter some nonsense about seeing the art on stage, or some other such gibberish. And most of the people here do think that. They do. You can’t fake that sort of sincerity. You can see it in their eyes. The way they talk about this job that they love. It glows out of them.
But not me. I think of myself as a sleeper agent. A spy. A rogue operator, malevolent and bitter, embedded deep within this culture of collaboration and respect. I am a mole. I subvert them in small ways. And they think I’m one of them.
I enact my rebellion by inches. I do it by stitching a seam too tight or by letting out a waist too much. Little things here and there that makes things just that little bit too uncomfortable. You can’t be too obvious or they’ll just come back here and harp at you to fix it. But, if you’re clever, you can give them a little subconscious pinch that causes that tiny bit of doubt to creep into their opinion of themselves. They become a little more uncertain. You can always spot it when it works. It’s behind the eyes. A small glazing of hesitation. I live for that.
Christ! Look at that. They dropped the bloody orange. There it goes, rolling upstage. Hear that? Those nervous few titters from the audience. That’ll ripple across the players onstage like a shockwave. They’ll all feel it, right in their bellies.
And another thing. The people that push up between the crowded elbows to lather superlatives on these people, they always seem to lead with the same, awe-inspired sputum, ‘I don’t know how you remember all those lines,’ they say. ‘It’s amazing that you can do that!’
Amazing? Is that a joke? Amazing! It’s their goddamn job. I don’t get congratulated for knowing how to stitch. Learning your lines is surely a base minimum requirement for the position. How can you marvel at someone for reaching the lowest level necessary to function? How?
I heard a good story once, of a director confronted with a distraught and floundering actor who was struggling to ‘root’ their character’s drive and motivation. They asked the director for help. The director calmly turned to them and replied, ‘It’s simple, my dear. Simply act better.’
I’d have liked to have seen that one. I’d have liked to have been there to see the shocked indignation at the simplicity of the solution. I would have paid good money for that.
I suppose you’d wonder how I got here? Why I stay here? Why I subject myself to this torture in the middle of so many people who obviously love it. Who so obviously live for it. The answer it too disappointing to share. I’m deeply dispirited in myself whenever I think about it. So much so that I have agreed with myself to never share it.
So there. You’ll simply have to squirm in the unease of that one.
In the meantime, there’s another thing that’s been getting to m…
Here they come.
Written by Adam O'Keeffe ©2016
Illustrations by Stephen Galvin ©2016