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Entrances and Exits (Drama!)by Paul Ruditis
Sam took the stage, as I'd seen her do many times before. She stepped out from the wings with a commanding presence, daring us to look away. Moving downstage center, she stopped a few feet from the edge, at home under the bright lights.
"My name is Sam Lawson," she said in a clear voice. "And I'll be performing the part of Felicia from Hope Rivera's play, Achromantic." Sam had chosen one of the three parts we'd selected for the girls to audition with. None of us was surprised that Felicia was the monologue that Sam had chosen. The playwright, Hope Rivera, is our other best friend.
Sam closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. It was part of her traditional preparation for an audition. Her body language shifted as she took on the character. People who didn't know her probably wouldn't have noticed it at all. But to me the transition was clearly evident. Sam's eyes blinked open. She was prepared to begin.
"NEXT!" I shouted.
"Bryan!" she screeched in response as her carefully constructed character fell apart.
I was laughing too hard to fear for my life at the moment. "Sorry. Couldn't resist." But seriously, like I needed Sam to audition for me. Like our teachers, Mr. Randall and Ms. Monroe, weren't already familiar with her talents either. We each wanted her to star in the one-act plays we were directing. The only question was who was going to get her?
"Bryan." Mr. Randall gave me a teacherly disappointed look that made me realize the tactical mistake I had just made. If I wanted to get Sam to be in my play, juvenile games like that during an audition were so not the way to make it happen. But in case I didn't get the message on my own, he had to give me the lecture. "I realize you and Sam are friends, but I would expect you to behave in a more professional manner during an audition. I only agreed to allow you to direct because I thought you were mature enough to handle it. Please do not make me regret this decision."
Wow. He didn't use a single contraction there. He must've been upset.
I suspected that it wasn't a good idea to point out that he'd mainly agreed to allow me to direct because the playwright — namely Hope — had told him that she wanted it to happen. Mr. Randall was more afraid of upsetting Hope than anything. Not that Hope is the real problem, mind you. Oh, she can be downright frightening when she's mad. Seriously. You don't want to see her angry. But the real intimidation comes from the power she wields in having a father who is a big-time lawyer to the stars. Hope would never take advantage of our teacher's fear, like so many other students at our school do on regular occasion, but Mr. Randall has worked in Malibu long enough that he knows to avoid the risk by keeping the students happy. And keeping Hope happy meant making me the director. Though I like to believe that part of the reason I got the job was based on merit.
"My apologies," I said with my best attempt at a professional demeanor. "Ms. Lawson, you may proceed."
Sam squinted in my direction. I could tell she was weighing the risks of being unprofessional herself and laying into me for interrupting her audition. With her talent she could get away with almost anything. But she didn't. She closed those squinting eyes again, took another deep breath, and launched into the monologue I could now recite by heart. And I was usually lousy at memorizing dialogue.
My familiarity with the text had nothing to do with having heard it a half dozen times already during the auditions — though that certainly didn't hurt. Since Hope gave me a copy of her play back on the first day of school, I'd probably read it a hundred times. No lie. I may be prone to exaggeration from time to time, but not in this case. Recent behavior aside, I was taking this whole directing thing very seriously. Not because I was the first student in Orion Academy history to direct a play in the Fall One-Act Festival. Not because I was hoping to redeem myself after learning that some people thought I wasn't the best actor in the world. And certainly not because I felt I had anything to prove to some of my more obnoxious classmates.
No, it was mainly because if I screwed up Hope's play, she'd kill me.
Fear is a handy motivator.
The full significance of this event was not lost on me, though. Hope was also the first student ever to have a play produced in the showcase. It used to be that the one-acts were directed by Mr. Randall, Ms. Monroe, and a celebrity guest. The thing is, celebrity guests hadn't worked out all that well in recent history. The faculty had been considering dropping that element of the festival when Hope came along with her first stab at a short play. I'm told that once Mr. Randall read it, he couldn't say no. And not because Hope had threatened him or anything. Her play, Achromantic, was just that good.
Now, you might think I'm biased, with Hope being one of my best friends and all. And I am. I freely admit that. But every girl who auditioned for the festival was allowed to choose a monologue from one of the three plays we were putting on for the show. And so far every girl had chosen to read Hope's. Even our old archnemesis, Holly Mayflower.
You can't get much more of a recommendation than that, can you?
Although part of me would like to believe they were also excited about the possibility of working with me as a director. You know, because any serious actress would prefer to work with an amateur who doesn't know what the heck he's doing as opposed to two professional educators with years of directorial experience under their belts...who also could get you out of class for additional rehearsal time if necessary.
"Thank you, Sam," Mr. Randall said, pulling me out of my wandering thoughts. As a director — and a friend — I should have paid more attention to her audition, but I had a lot on my mind. In addition to the casting there was the actual directing of the play itself. Then there was the design of the play, the costumes, and all that. Surely I was going to have help with those things, but I was also going to have to be the final word on everything. This being a high school production, we didn't have a huge staff at our disposal. We were more like producer-directors, truth be told. This was particularly exciting because I could then think of myself as a producer-director-photographer, which raised me to a double hyphenate for the first time in my life.
See, hyphens are how we judge success in the L.A. area. The more hyphens in your title, the more successful you are. Me? I've made it into a bit of a game. It isn't much of a fun game considering I can never manage to come up with a good hyphenated title for myself, but I'm working on it. And I admit, the "photographer" part of me is more a hobby than a lifestyle. But this "producer" thing could work. Granted, I didn't have any money invested in the Fall One-Act Festival. Mr. Randall was actually the one who would make all the final decisions about the big stuff. Even Headmaster Collins will have the ultimate say in things like how we cover the budget. People will probably be checking over my shoulder every step of the way.
Okay. Fine. Back to director-photographer.
Even though I wasn't feeling much like a real director yet.
I shot Sam a smile as I came back to reality while she left the stage. No doubt she was getting a lead part. I only hoped it would be in my play.
"Hope, no!" our intrepid stage manager yelled from the stage door. Poor Jimmy Wilkey didn't have a chance as Hope barreled past him and onto the stage.
"Just one thing. Only going to be a moment," she said as she crossed the stage, ignoring Jimmy and aiming directly for me.
"Hope, this is a closed audition," Mr. Randall reminded her for the umpteenth time. "That means no other students. And especially no playwrights."
"But I want to make sure that Bryan — "
"He does," Mr. Randall said. "Whatever it is you want to make sure of, he knows it, he's done it, or he intends to do it. You chose him to be your director. Now you have to trust him to do his job."
For some reason my mind continued the line as "...and suffer the consequences."
"But — "
"Thank you, Hope," Mr. Randall said. "Jimmy, please escort our playwright out of the audition."
Yeah. I couldn't blame him for fearing the death glare.
"Hope," I called to her. "Don't kill him for doing his job."
"Fine," she said, storming off. And I was the one getting in trouble for behaving in an unprofessional manner earlier?
"Next!" Jimmy called into the hall as he exited with Hope following her brief cameo.
Suddenly it became clear to me why Hope had interrupted. Belinda, one of Hope's evil stepsisters was next in line. Mind you, it was the less evil of the stepsisters, but that was only a matter of degrees. Hope probably had come out to warn me not to bother paying any attention since I wouldn't be casting her.
While it was no surprise that Belinda's leader, Holly Mayflower, would audition for the Fall One-Act Festival, Belinda was new to this whole acting thing and an unknown commodity. Her sister, Alexis, had proven she had no acting chops whatsoever, so I was pretty sure she wouldn't be setting foot onstage. Still, Hope should have known me well enough to trust that I would never cast any member of that particular evil trio in her play.
"My name is Belinda Connors," she said as her skinny little legs took her center stage. "And I'll be performing a monologue from Achromantic."
Great. I couldn't figure out what she was pulling by coming in to audition for Hope's play, but it didn't matter. The monologue selection was just so the actors could indicate what play they preferred. Us directors were free to ignore their feelings entirely and cast them in any of the three plays. Since I wasn't going to be casting her in mine, I started silently working on my argument to get Mr. Randall and Ms. Monroe to let me have Sam for my play. I wanted Jason MacMillan to play the male lead. Still wasn't sure about the other female part, but there were several contenders that would be...acceptable.
A discreet cough from the stage pulled me back into the moment. I thought Belinda was clearing her throat, but that didn't explain the change that had come over her. Always the shyest of the evil trio, Belinda looked downright timid onstage. Had stage fright affected her that dramatically? I figured I should pay attention since the story of her tragic collapse during the audition would provide hours of entertainment for me, Sam, and especially Hope.
"Excuse me," she said meekly. "I'm not sure what to do." I was going to ask if she needed something explained to her...slowly...with small words...but then I realized she wasn't confused. She was doing a different monologue from the play.
I'd chosen the part of Felicia as the audition piece. It was the stronger of the female roles and had the biggest emotional arc in it. Felicia is the "other woman" in a love triangle, struggling with her feelings for a man she should not love. Every girl so far had played by the rules and chosen that monologue. Leave it to Belinda to go and pick the other female character in the play. I would have stopped everything to say something about it, but Belinda was doing well enough that I decided to let her continue.
Belinda went through the monologue, finding something interesting in every vulnerable beat. I caught myself leaning on the back of the chair in front of me, utterly absorbed by her performance. Though the Rachel character was in less of the play than the other two, she was the most nuanced of the roles. While Sam was going to have a challenge bringing her character down to keep the audience from hating her for stealing Rachel's man, whoever I picked to play Rachel was going to face the daunting task of elevating her character above being a doormat. It was all there in Hope's script. I just wasn't sure that any girl at our school could pull it off.
"Um...is that all?" Belinda asked. I'd been so wrapped up in her performance that I didn't even realize she was done until after about ten seconds of awkward silence while we three directors stared at her in amazement.
"Yes," Mr. Randall said, pulling his tongue up off the floor, where it lay next to mine. (Okay, that's a disgusting visual.) "Thank you, Belle."
As she walked back to the stage door, I shared a confused look with my teachers. They were as shocked as I was. Belinda had never shown anywhere near that level of performance before. Heck, before the Summer Theatrical Program a few months back, she'd never even shown any interest in performing. I'd say she was a natural talent, but I wasn't sure where that talent came from. Surely not from her mom, the washed-up eighties pop-culture cult sensation, Kara Bow. These things probably skip a generation.
The remaining auditions were good, if uneventful. We had a number of fine actors and actresses in our school. Of those I found a couple of girls who could play the part of Rachel well enough. But no one really hit it for me. Well, no one I could cast in the part and still expect to live.
While Mr. Randall went out into the hall to thank everyone for their auditions and Ms. Monroe ran out the back of the auditorium to throw up (more on that later), I mentally prepared for the coming battle over Sam and Jason. The role of Rachel could pretty much go to anyone, since no one — other than Belinda — had that wow factor. Seeing how Belinda wasn't an option, I had to concentrate on the fight for the actors I wanted. Maybe I could suggest Belinda to my teachers if either of them wanted Sam.
Mr. Randall and Ms. Monroe might still be so awestruck by Belinda that they wouldn't notice I got the way better end of the deal.
"A nice batch of auditions," Mr. Randall said once he and Ms. Monroe returned from their errands. "What did you think, Bryan?"
"It was weird being on the other side of things," I said.
"Never been in the inner circle before."
"That sounds so much more clandestine than it really is," Ms. Monroe said.
"So what now?" I asked. "Do we have a battle royal to see who gets what actors? 'Cause I'm not so sure I can take Ms. Monroe. Even in her condition."
"Nothing so exciting," Mr. Randall said. "Who would you like to cast in your play?"
"Well," I said, opening up negotiations. "There were several people I would consider for the roles. Not that I would be presumptuous enough to expect that they would be available."
My teachers shared a look that could only be described as "amused."
"Bryan," Mr. Randall said. "Just tell us you want Sam and we can start there. Ms. Monroe and I have already agreed that you should have the first choice of actors since you're the student."
"Really?" I asked, feeling kind of let down. I was anticipating a negotiation on par with the great debates of history. Or at least something like the catty bickering they have on The View. "You sure?"
"Positive," Ms. Monroe said.
"Okay," I said. "Then I'd like Sam and Jason for the parts of Felicia and Mackenzie."
"We assumed," Mr. Randall said, placing a pair of check marks on his audition sheet. "But before we finalize that, I want to make sure you're going to be okay with directing one of your best friends."
"I'm looking forward to it," I said, imagining all the fun things I was going to make Sam do. I guess there was something about the malevolent gleam in my eye that earned me a warning glare from both my teachers. "What?" I asked innocently.
"And the third part?" Ms. Monroe asked. "The role of Rachel?"
This was the hard one. There were a couple classmates I could cast. What it ultimately came down to was the one who I figured would be most fun to work with. Certainly, no one had impressed me enough to stand out. "Tasha?" I said with uncertainty.
My teachers frowned at each other in a rather telling way. I swear some teachers have this, like, silent language perfected.
"Tasha's a fine actress," Mr. Randall said.
"And she'll do well in the part," Ms. Monroe added. It was like they were tag-teaming me. I was just waiting for the —
"But," Mr. Randall supplied, "how did you feel about Belle's audition?"
"Belinda?" I asked. "She was okay."
"Bryan, it would be a real shame to let a good actress go because of personal animosities," he said.
"I don't have any animosity toward Belinda," I said. "She's never done anything to me." You know...directly.
Mr. Randall continued to make his case. "I know that Hope doesn't have the closest relationship with her sisters — "
"Stepsisters," I corrected in a rather unhelpful manner.
His face got all screwed up in frustration, but he continued, "As the director, it is your responsibility to put up the best show possible. I think you know that Belle would be wonderful in the role, if her audition is any indication."
Don't you hate it when people tell you what you should know?
"But isn't it also the director's responsibility" — I could play this game too — "to create an environment that allows his production to flow as smoothly as possible?"
There was a pause while my teachers reconsidered their approach. I wasn't prepared with the one they came up with, as it was fairly unusual for the Orion Academy staff to be, you know, honest. "Okay, seriously," Mr. Randall said. "We took a big risk allowing one student to write a play for the festival and another student to direct it. You're the most observant student I've ever met." What a nice way to call me nosey. "You can imagine the phone calls we got from parents who were upset that we picked you two over their own children. We dealt with those calls because we have faith in you and in Hope. But if you can't even cast the play without letting childish fights get in the way, then I'm not so sure we made the right decision."
I mean, really...
Copyright © 2008 by Paul Ruditis
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