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In the Theater
A throng of babbling teenagers dressed in head-to-toe black files through the heavy swinging door at the theater’s entrance. Reverence sinks into them, curbs their exuberant exclamations and immediately subdues their manners. One stays back dutifully to lean against the chipping tan paint of the door as classmates shuffle by. Shouts automatically lessen, fade to whispers. The excitement floats from their throats to their eyes, sparkling with quiet awe and reverence. Am I good enough? they will always wonder, participating in conversations they cannot hear with their eyes glued to the expansive stage. Chatter crescendos again as each of them regains mental footing. Adolescent voices soar into the musty air, ricochet off of dark paneled walls, trickle down to the orchestra pit, and disappear into the rows and rows of plush red folding chairs, paled now with age. They are all life, hot cheeks, quickened heartbeats, and anticipatorily sweaty hands and underarms. The kids hear footsteps in the hallway, authoritative and sure. They silence once again and perk up in their chairs, and the director strides into the theater.
He marches to the center, short, pale, ant-like despite his round midsection, minute against the black universe of the stage. He waves his arms about and opens his wide red mouth and spews forth so many marvelous things in one terrifically large breath, remarkably important things, remarkably profound things, and the kids all nod their heads and “mmhmm” and “aha” and swear to themselves they’ll remember his every word. They watch intently as his jaw flaps up and down, up and down, his eloquence and aptitude charging the molecules of the stuffy air; his words enter their souls and bounce about like ping-pong balls.
He completed his grand soliloquy, the magical stirrings reduced, and these intrepid teens took the stage one by one. Not one child stood out much from the bunch; they all exemplified the actor’s neutral in plain, solid outfits with combed back hair and makeup-less faces. By now they were seasoned veterans of these auditioning affairs. They knew how to climb the stairs and steer themselves toward center with shaky steps, shaky breaths, perform for a moment or two, and slide aside for the next one. And afterward they are all quite professional about berating themselves for every nonexistent flaw in their demonstrations.
Glowing phone screens start peeking out from under long sleeves, materialize behind chair backs. They exchange doodle notes as the director’s incisive commentary continues. And when his words hurt (they always do), the kids know to assure themselves his words mean nothing, that he is wrong and stupid and nothing but a failed actor anyway.
They all lie, say oh I do not care what part I get and claim I hardly even prepared! I memorized the scene just before class! But in each warm, pubescent heart the gnawing hunger for stardom lies rumbling, curled up against the essential belief that they are better than all of their peers.
The ruse naturally continues. The next day, they all conceal their terrifying jumble of nerves and their fifteen minute toilet visits, and they cover quite convincingly their surreptitious cellphone-checks every two minutes to see if the list - the list - has been sent out. Soon they discover it in their inboxes, and twenty, maybe thirty young hopefuls scattered all about campus open the fateful email in unison, scroll down frantically, searching for their own names.
It inevitably creates new rifts and bonds, fractures and regroups friends, enemies, while they try to pretend they are not at all competitive. It is all a front, a grand, sweeping prevarication, because it takes an incredible sort of mental maturity to rise above such grave disappointments, and perhaps even greater mental maturity to celebrate oneself yet disguise such glowing pride from the less fortunate.
They are most shocked that she has been cast as the lead: the quiet one, who sat in the back corner, slouching down, the one to whom no one ever paid much attention. They conduct extensive investigations to address the pressing question: How could she possibly be a greater star than any one of them? Such inquiries prove futile; she seems to be nothing special.
She is demure, gentle. Her eyes are sad, empathetic, a deep brown that complements her full auburn hair. Her skin is porcelain, her eyelashes thick and long, her overall stature unassuming. She stands at five feet, four inches tall, perhaps adds another inch to that number when she observes proper posture. She never goes out with the group on their ice cream expeditions or joins their gossip sessions. Those who know her better say she rarely speaks, that her nose is always buried in some novel or play. And some days she sits on the bench in the great green lawn and observes people as they pass her. She is a leper, the outcast, yet somehow has risen above them all.
True characters are exposed in the wake of the news; a few try to befriend her, glorify their own names by basking in the reverie of her projected glory; others ignore her, still more defame her. Slander spreads about the school; she is ostracized, smited, despised. Opening night arrives, and her peers are still snickering, praying her performance will go awry.
She, however, has ignored them, has gone back to her room and read her books and prepared, poured her heart into her craft, and tried to shut her eyes and ears to the cruelty of humankind. She suffuses her entire being into her art. Her glowing heart will never let her forget her moments in that spotlight, not for the attention they reaped, but for those joyous nights when literal blood, sweat, and tears came to fruition on the giant universe of that stage. Only there could she present a sliver of life to the world, throw it into the nothingness for viewers to treasure or discard. Yes, she will cling to this forever, because in such moments she knows she has transcended them all, transcended life itself, touched hands with God, achieved immortality. Or at the very least gotten a standing ovation.