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Opening Night MAG
“Places in 15, curtain in 20, please!” calls a stage manager. My reply mingles with the other actors’ as we chorus the customary “Thank you.” It’s a silly ritual, really, thanking the stage manager for each time check. Why should we thank the person who brings the bad news that we have only fifteen-ten-five-zero minutes to get into costume and makeup? But actors always do.
Nervous and needing something to do, I had fixed my hair before I left my house. It’s supposed to be casual, worn the way it would be on a normal day. But I had carefully washed and dried it anyway, because the last thing I need on opening night is frizz. To start my pre-show ritual, and avoid feeling as though I have forgotten something, I run a comb through my curls and apply a touch of watered-down gel.
At the sink beside the makeup counter, I wash my face, removing any sweat from my walk to the theater. My face shines, and the skin of my forehead and cheeks feels thin as it contracts upon contact with the air, but this is the best way to begin applying makeup.
“Places in 10, curtain in 15, please!”
“Thank you.” I spread foundation onto a plastic palette, and dip my foam brush into the puddle. I blot it and then start to spread it over the bruise-blue crescents under my eyes, the uneven surface of my forehead, and the shine of the overhead lights on my nose.
I close my eyes, then blink into focus to study the face staring back from the mirror. It isn’t me anymore – instead it’s a nondescript blank-slate of a face that could be anybody. A little dark foundation under the eyes and through the cheeks, and it would become a hollow-eyed, shifty stranger. Quick swipes of highlighting makeup in just the right places, maybe with rosy eye-shadow, and an innocent child would be staring back at me.
But tonight I need only enough to make my features visible to the audience – a little highlight, shadow, and blush. Once blended and powdered, I am just another face. Perfect.
“Places in five, curtain in 10, please!”
I thank the stage manager and close my dressing room door. I step out of my jeans and button-down shirt, and take a moment to look at my costume for the first act hanging on the rack. It is opening night for this painstakingly constructed costume too, and if reviews are unfavorable and the show’s funding is pulled, it will be all over for this costume and for me.
My character and my costume are inextricably mixed. With every zipper I pull and every button I fasten, who I am disappears, and my character grips me tighter and tighter. The person I have read about, memorized lines for, and practiced being, is now in the flesh for the very first time.
“Places now, curtain in five!”
“Thank you.” I leave my dressing room, cross the hallway, and grasp the handle of the stage-left door. I take a moment to breathe. For these final few seconds, I am just a person, just another resident of a city of millions. Then I open the door to an eyeful of blacklight, the scent of cedar, and an unmistakable adrenaline rush. Thirty-thousand watts of stage light beckons me from beyond two rows of curtains. I part the back curtains with confident hands, so unlike those that unlocked my dressing room just an hour ago, and stride to center stage. The lights caress my skin, my makeup, my costume, my character.
“Curtain!” someone hisses backstage, and after an initial jerk, the front curtains part smoothly.
They said backstage that tonight’s was a good audience. But right now, as the curtain stills in the wings and the audience exhales the breath they had held during the pre-curtain darkness, they’re just as vulnerable as I am. Their emotions are shoved aside and their minds are open to whatever I want to throw at them.
It doesn’t matter what the stagehands said about them. It doesn’t matter that some of them walked into the theater angry or frustrated, hating their date, or harboring poor expectations for the show. It doesn’t matter that 15 minutes ago I was a struggling actress with college applications looming. Right now there’s only me, the audience, and three hours in which to leave life behind. I deliver my first line, bask in my first laugh, and watch tears shine in the audience’s eyes. Everyone needs an escape, and I’m here to give it to them.