This week's writing prompt for Sydney School of Arts' members provoked stories from real life and also fictional pieces. Let's begin with real life ...
It was Robert’s last night in the Opera House. As he began packing up, he remembered that he had left his toolbox in the opera theatre, next to the communications socket that he'd been repairing before a performance.
After the curtain came down and the last of the performers and patrons had drifted off towards the car park or the bars along the forecourt, he made his way into the empty theatre, walking past the darkened stage manager’s desk at prompt corner and then stepping onto the boards. A solitary ghostly light cast a vague shadow as he stood on the revolve, looking across the top of the orchestra pit and into the cavernous blackness of the auditorium beyond.
He caught a lingering whiff of moth balls and Chanel from the departed crowd followed by a musty waft from the heavy curtains and rows of seats. This distinctive note unleashed memories of the last two years.
The leather-clad lesbians from stage machinery, the psychedelic journeymen and women of the lighting crew, and the burnt-out rock & roll roadies of the sound department. He smiled at the thought of stage managers who'd cowered in their offices, trembling at the thought of a performance going horribly wrong and having to write a report. These were all subcultures in the engine room of each show, to which audiences were oblivious.
Then he thought of himself: Technician Grade III. More like theatre handyman Grade B. He walked across to the OP side and found his toolbox where he'd left it, next to the faulty socket.
No one stays in the theatre too long, he thought. The following day he'd be dressed in a suit, seated at a desk in a glass CBD office, in a new job crunching numbers.
It was time to move on, but he vowed to pause from time to time to remember that last night when he'd stepped upon the stage.
Marcel can’t remember the last time he was onstage.
Maybe it was his last audition for that TV pilot that flopped even before they cast all of the actors.
Over the years, one failed attempt after another had caused him to lose all his desire to be seen by other people, originally one of the main reasons he'd got into acting.
When he'd first started down this path, he could see a future for himself. Crowds cheering, his future wife clapping proudly.
Tonight he steps up onto the stage not with the confidence he developed over the years, but with the fear and trepidation of the time his mother had first taken him to an audition for a high school drama.
From the stage he sees the director’s face, his expression indicating the thought that, 'Nothing I see today will surprise me, so why bother being content?'. He knows that face. He’s seen it many times when climbing up stairs onto a stage for auditions.
In a few months time I may not even enter the theatre, he thinks, but at least I can still step up onto this stage tonight.
Stepping onto the stage
His heart was in his mouth and beating at an alarming rate.
Jake had left the script on the seat. After all, he was desperate to make a good impression on the director who was seated in the front row watching him intently. The fellow had a reputation around the theatre world as someone who could spot talent a mile off as well as sum up someone who just wasn’t going to cut it.
Well, that won’t be me - I'll make sure of that, Jake thought. This was his big chance to show off the talent he was sure he possessed. All I have to do is be authentic, isn’t it? In other words, fool everyone into thinking you’re someone else.
Did he have it in him? That was the question.*
Much like the great tragic figure of Hamlet, which he was about to audition for, he’d been waiting a long time for this opportunity. Now that it was here, suddenly he doubted that he could pull it off.
Like Hamlet, I must dig deep and find the courage to keep going, he thought. Here he was centre-stage, ready to be tested. The words were not complicated but it was the meaning they conveyed with their sheer brilliance in potency, their gravity, that truly tested an actor.
Everything had gone silent. He took a deep breath, steadying his nerves to give him the staying power to deliver the full meaning of the auspicious words. He felt silence overwhelming, deafening. One thing was clear, he must begin; he simply couldn’t put it off any longer.
'To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, tis a consummation,
Devoutly to be wish’d.'**
He was building up to a great finish if only he could sustain the pace. Rather pleased with his effort so far, he heard ...
The director's voice cut through the air like a knife before Jake could take another gulp of air. This can’t be happening, but it is. He felt just like Hamlet.
'I’d like you to begin again and give me the man who is grappling with his indecision.'
Funny - I thought I was doing that, was Jake's immediate thought. So he began again, and again and again, for this is what the actor must do if she or he is to uncover a character.
All too soon Jake's time had come to an end. There were many hopefuls vying for the coveted role but, even so, he left feeling sure he had nailed it.
His phone finally rang the next day, the call he’d been waiting for. He answered with hope in his heart, only to hear the words every actor dreads,
'I’m afraid I can’t offer you Hamlet.'
Jake's insides tightened as he was overcome by a sense of utter defeat. Why am I doing this soul destroying work?
Suddenly, he felt closer to Hamlet than ever. Why don’t I just do what my parents want, become the successful lawyer son they've always hoped for?
'However…' the director continued, 'I would like to offer you the role of Horatio.'
Horatio? Jake hadn’t considered himself as Hamlet’s one and only trusted friend. True, not blessed with Hamlet’s intelligence nor his gallant impulses but, nevertheless, a character who Shakespeare had considered a worthy companion to the tragic Prince of Denmark.
Shakespeare’s immortal words floated through Jake's mind: 'Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage. And then is heard no more.'***
Yes, he could rest easy knowing that all is well that ends well.****
* Shakespeare's Hamlet: '... that is the question'.
** Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.
*** Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5.
**** Shakespeare's play: All's Well That Ends Well.
Copyright: text Robert Carrick, Clara Andrade, Meg Mooney; photos Wix.
This SSOA blog showcases the original thoughts and writing of emerging writers who attend our weekly writers' meetups. We can be reached via the www.ssoa.com.au contact page.