Madwoman

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In that one split second, I figured I had a choice. I could lift my layers of petticoats above my ankles, hold on to my wig and sprint off the stage for dear life, or I could keep my feet firmly planted and ride it out to the best of my ability until the bitter end. This was the dilemma I faced, standing alone in front of two hundred panicking people, on the opening night of The Madwoman of Chaillot at Dawson College last spring.

I had been cast as the Madwoman herself, much to my delight, and had worked in heart-swelling rapture throughout the rehearsals. Late night conversations with the cast over the themes and undertones of the play made up some of my happiest times of that year, and I felt more honored to have been a part of such a satisfying production than I ever would have imagined. This was my first “money role” as they say, and earnest motivation consumed me to do the best possible job I could. The message of the play moved, frightened and inspired us with its perpetually relevant illustration of the misplaced priorities in our society, as weighty today as in the 1940s when it was written. The play chronicles the antics of Countess Aurelia, the Madwoman of Chaillot, a woman the definition of eccentric, who lives and dresses as though captive in the 1860s, as she formulates a plan to rid the world of “evil”, that being the mass-media and corporations which are effectively sucking the freedom and soul out of humanity. With a play so poignantly jocular and working circumstances as stellar, what with such a loving cast and creative, open-minded director, I was, at lack of a better phrase, having the time of my life.

Finally, opening night arrived, as eagerly anticipated as each before it. As the first act progressed, I found my nerves to be gradually dwindling, and my ultimate enjoyment of the play and the pleasant on-stage company of my talented peers taking over, much to my relief.

But then, came an unforeseen complication the likes of which none of us had ever experienced, much less imagined. In a twist of events that even sounds manufactured for the sake of a reader's laugh of disbelief, our opening night was tragically cut short. Five minutes into the second act, I was at work in a scene between myself and one other actor, in the set locale of the Madwoman's home. Shortly after this point in the play, I was to send a parade of evil corporate fat cats down to Hell via a trapdoor to the basement, when eerie red lights and thick, creepy smoke was to cascade out of the trap opening. Little did we know that someone had accidentally left the door to the room where the smoke machine resided shut, thus forcing the heat to build up to a point where the alarm system could not resist but to notify us in the most ear-splitting way imaginable. Yes, half way through the first scene in the second act, a piercing fire alarm stole center stage. I jumped slightly in my seat, surprised at the noise, and with a reflex reaction of confusion and concern. The audience shifted quizzically, most probably wondering to themselves if this was some sort of misguided sound cue, and then moved into a more agitated commotion. It was then that I saw a pair of eyes in front of me, belonging to none other than my scene partner, glistening with a look of such panic that I had never before seen. I attempted to shout out the next couple of lines, in hopes that the alarm would be promptly switched off and we could resume the play without much damage done, but my partner seemed to disagree. In fact, much to my horror, after several more eternal seconds of fearful attempts at silent communication, he right up and headed for the wings, leaving me alone on stage. It was at this point that I realized what kind of a choice I was facing. I knew that there was no immediate danger, as the only sign of trouble was the confounded alarm, and there was no sign of fearful panic anywhere around me, only that of befuddlement and worry. There seemed to be two roads splayed out before me at this moment; I could follow my friend and dash offstage to the safe and comforting arms of whomever might be standing in the wings, or I could tough it out proudly for as long as possible, forcing my Mary Jane heels to uphold their commitment to this theater's floor until the monkey is dead. There was no time to weigh odds or agonize over consequences, the choice had to be made quickly, and as it turned out, required little to no thought. I was staying. I needed to stay. Corny as it sounds, there was no way I could justify in my mind dashing off that stage. So, I proceeded to wander about the stage in a flurry, and with the help of a brave cast mate of mine who came on at that time to help me out, we somehow managed to improvise a minute or two of our two characters scrambling to find the cause of the noise. It wasn't until those few moments on stage that night that I fully realized the level of fear of which I was capable of possessing while somehow managing to maintain somewhat outside composure. More impressively, it was also the instant in my stage-adoring life during which I came to completely understand the fleeting nature of both the live theater, and simply life itself, and how often, despite however many long hours of rehearsal and preparation is put into making an opening night a seamless success, complications will inevitably arise. It is up to us in these cases, to smooth our costumes, raise our chins and stick it out, taking comfort in the fact that for it, curtain call will be that much sweeter.





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