Ten days now since we closed The Importance of Being Earnest. What are the chances that the first play I do in five years is one of those rare experiences that remind you why you do theater in the first place?
I keep running my lines as I drive down the road. I want to remember them. I know I won't forget the bright spots, but I want to remember the words. I want to remember everything: getting to the theater an hour before the show, greeting my fellow actors, greeting the crew. I set my stuff down at my place in the dressing room and flip the switch for the lights above my station. I start in the bathroom: brush my hair and teeth, put my contacts in. Then I get my makeup on: foundation first, then highlights over my cheekbones, under my eyebrows, on my eyelids. I stay standing and in motion, leaning in to the mirror, stepping back. I'm too keyed up to sit. Powder, dark blush, bright blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow shadow, mascara, lipliner, gloss. My hair goes up in a bun, with a fringe of curls around my face. Then I layer on my costume: tank, corset, bum ruffle, petticoat (taffeta so it swishes!), skirt, wig (swept up in a Gibson Girl so I don't have to do it myself), hat, hatpin, oh! and shoes. It's easier if you put them on before the corset, but not a problem if you forget. First go trouser socks (they asked if I wanted hose instead - ha!), then boots - nifty, they zip up the sides. Last is my bodice, the only article I need help with. I step into the greenroom so Adrienne can fasten it up the back, and just about this time our stage manager calls, "Places!" We say, "Thank you, Places," and I say "Break a leg!" to the boys, Algy in his smoking jacket, Jack in his top hat.
The girls are in the dressing room still, finishing their makeup, putting on their costumes, gossiping - they don't go on til Act Two. Robin and DeDe, my hearts - I've never enjoyed a dressing room more. I swish around the greenroom in my taffeta petticoat, warming up: "P-t-k, k-t-p. Buhduhguh, Guhduhbuh. Peter Piper the pickled-pepper picker picked a peck of pickled peppers...," and so on. I didn't go to grad school, so my warmup is a little bare-bones: a few vocal slides, half a "salute to the sun," blow some raspberries, trill my tongue, and then swish, swish, swish up and down the greenroom, saying tongue twisters and running my lines. It suffices.
I wait for my first entrance on the platform backstage sandwiched behind Adrienne and Philip (Mamma). We listen for laughs to gauge what kind of audience we have that night. I wave enthusiastically across the platform to "K.K." where he waits in the dark for his own entrance. I love it back there in the semi-darkness embraced by the ugly side of the set - braces, screws, and seams - the stage light spilling over in a dusky halo, the laughter of the audience, the potential energy of waiting there, knowing your moment will be upon you soon whether you're ready or not. The river is flowing forward and it will take you along, unless you get crazy, turn back, and run out of the theatre down the road (to probably never be cast again!) You'll step into that light, squint across the room, smile at Ernest, step to the side. You'll sweep down the stairs with an aside to Algy and greet Ernest with the line that always gets a laugh, even though you're not entirely certain what it means. You'll sit; you'll sip tea quietly, casing the joint, the rugs, the sofa, the Mamma in her dress, settling in as if you were in this room, Ernest just over your shoulder, without two hundred spectators watching the action. You're just here, waiting. The river flows on and takes you, steadily, surging, exuberant, fun. It catches you up and your feet rise from their grounding. You have nothing to do but be carried along, so you don't fight it. You throw yourself into it, and each word has meaning, each action carries you in the direction of your desire. You fight for what you want. You don't waste even a glance, but bow everything to your intent.