Today is a two-show day.
We have two or three of those a week.
The concept was fairly new to me when I came aboard ten months ago. I can’t say two-show days are my favorite days though I have gotten used to them. I think they feel so strange partly because doing matinees of this particular musical has always felt a bit bizarre. Phantom seems more like an evening activity. The heavy period costumes and atmospheric haze of our 19th Century Paris feel out of place in the daylight. When you go into the theater at 1pm for a 2pm show, you end up spending the afternoon forgetting that it’s actually the afternoon. And when you come outside between performances, you squint in the sun and adjust your eyes and grab a burrito bowl from the nearest Chipotle before going back in and doing it all again.
Sometimes it makes you tired, but it’s a special kind of tired. It’s the very legitimate but proud kind of tired you feel when you’ve worn yourself out doing something you really like to do.
The first time I felt that kind of tired was in high school. Our drama club, Sock ‘n’ Buskin, was doing Jon Jory’s killer adaptation of Pride and Prejudice the winter of my junior year. Occasionally, the cast and crew of a Sock ‘n’ Buskin show would do something called “play cuts.” If I’m remembering correctly, “play cuts” happened when the English department decided that Sock ‘n’ Buskin’s current production was one worth bringing all of their classes to. For a whole school day. And that year Pride and Prejudice met that standard. It was a day when teachers didn’t have to teach and students who otherwise definitely would not have come to see our play had to sit in the audience for the duration of their English class and watch us, the ardent young actors, affect british accents and find love against the odds in Regency England.
I think we cycled through the show throughout the day, meaning that first period would have seen the beginning of the play. But we’d stop when the bell rang, and I’m pretty sure we just picked up where we left off when the next batch of classes sat down. That means a lot of classes must have come in in medias res. Most of them had not read Pride and Prejudice and thus did not know the story. Most of them were asleep.
At the end of the day we had some notes. We put our street clothes back on and gathered on the stage, draping and drooping on each other in what felt like very grown up exhaustion. That was the first time I felt that special kind of tired I feel right now.
It’s important to note a few things about being a “Buskie.”
First of all, we did plays that many would consider far beyond the grasp of people our age. We tackled Ibsen and Pirandello and Shakespeare and Stoppard. Our director Sandy is a wickedly smart and relentlessly creative person. She filled our school years with those pieces because she wanted to introduce us to that literature and because she wanted to work on good plays. There was no handicap dealt us because we were “just high schoolers.” Our youth was never pandered to. It was never about building a huge cast and selling a bunch of tickets to a bunch of kids’ families. And because of that, we got to take a crack at some masterpieces.
Second of all, Sandy is a world class period costume designer. So, as you can imagine, Pride and Prejudice was costume heaven. All the shows were. When we did Much Ado About Nothing, for example, Sandy set it in antebellum New York and outfitted all of us—each and every kid—in stunning, authentic, handmade costumes. I had seven (seven) costumes for that show. And a corset and a hoop she made for me. We wore stockings and garters and bloomers. All of it. She did this for every single show, and we always looked great. Well, we looked like children wearing works of art and not totally comprehending how cool that was, but we looked great.
It was a high school theatre program that didn’t feel like it had to do Grease to please the masses. Sometimes when I think about being so young and tackling such heavy plays, I wonder if we were bad. We had seen so little of life at that point. But whether or not we were bad was never the point. We were trying. And often we really got it. We rarely packed the house or even got close to it. But we left our teenage guts on that stage, and we looked incredible doing it.
Last night, Sock ‘n’ Buskin held a gala at my old high school. It was a celebration of the club’s 50th anniversary and of Sandy’s retirement after 25 years. I had to be here in Toronto, but I got to watch some of the live stream of the event backstage on my phone before I ran to places. In the weeks leading up there have been a flood of nostalgic Facebook posts. Lots of old production shots. Some from shows I did during my time there. There are so many things I would like to tell that young girl with the untamed eyebrows, fighting involuntary teenage awkwardness in a beautiful dress.
I would like to tell her that there are certain brands of hairspray that will always remind her of getting ready “backstage” in the crowded choir-room-turned-unisex-dressing-room. I would like to tell her how proud she and her castmates should be of their ability to maturely handle a unisex dressing room in the throes of puberty. I would like to tell her that she doesn’t need to use so much mic tape. She does not need a big piece on her temple AND a big piece behind her ear AND a big piece on the back of her neck. I’d like to tell her that it’ll never be easy but that she will eventually figure out how to curl her own hair.
I’d love to tell her that Sandy is absolutely right and that Capezio’s character shoes are only historically appropriate for shows set in the 20’s but that many theatre companies do not care. I’d like to tell her that quick changes won’t always result in having to do a scene with her boots on the wrong feet. I’d like to tell her that even after high school, she will continue picking out what she wears to the theater based on what she wants to come out of the stage door wearing after the show. I’d like to tell her how much more at home in a theater she’ll feel because of the shows she spent working on the crew, how glad she’ll be that Sandy’s husband Dave taught her to use a power drill building sets on the weekend. I’d love to tell her that the public school auditorium she’s performing in is so big and that it’s very hard to sell that many tickets to anything, even when you hang up posters at the Starbucks by school. I’d tell her to be grateful for the gift of sometimes having to play to what feels like an empty house because there will be so many more of those along the way.
I’d really like to tell her to be grateful for being challenged and for being talked to like an adult, that not all chapters of her education will be so generous. I’d like to tell her that finding and dedicating herself to theatre during her time in the sweeping sea of a large public high school taught her so much about not sinking in deep water.
I wouldn’t need to tell her to enjoy it, though. To fall in love with the plays she was handed. To savor every moment in those beautiful costumes and to know the richness of the long afternoons and late nights in that wide auditorium. To have a sense of how much it would all mean to her later in her life. I wouldn’t need to tell her.
She did that anyway.