My nose is overwhelmed with the smell of hairspray, baby powder, and a fruity perfume. There are too many girls in here, all struggling and fighting for a space near the mirror that covers the entire back wall. It’s dim in here, but it’s a good kind of dim, almost calming. The only light is coming from the round vanity bulbs that line the top of the mirrors, making it so that the fluorescents don’t impair what natural light reveals. I make my way to the red lockers on the right, squeezing past two of my fellow giggling cast-members as they try to make their way out the swinging door.
After opening my locker, personalized with my name stickered on the front in purple sparkly letters, I get out my bulking make-up bag and curling iron. My eyes dart across the room in search of an available outlet, hoping one even still exists within the chaos. I look around the base of the walls near the white and blue tiled floor, trying not to get annoyed at all the hair straighteners that are just sitting there unused and warming. I roll my eyes and sigh, I could be finished curling my hair by the time the straightener’s owner even picks it up to begin taming their frizzy head.
I shouldn’t be surprised though, this is always how the dressing room is an hour before the first show. Arms full of beauty products, and attempting to keep my curling iron’s cord from dragging across the floor or getting stepped on by the constant rush of people moving about the small room. I finally spot someone unplugging her phone charger from the wall and jump on the opportunity to steal an outlet before anyone else notices. I set my curling iron on the highest possible heat and click “turbo-mode. ” I will apologize to my hair later for the abuse.
The counter beneath the mirror is covered in bronzer powder, used eyeliner pencils, and countless lost bobby pins. I slide my arm across the objects askew making them into messy pile in the corner. This isn’t my ideal “getting ready” station, but it’ll do. I’m just grateful to have secured a spot near the mirror and outlet; you’d be surprised how stressed one can become when they don’t have a place to get ready thirty minutes before it’s time to take places on stage. I look in the mirror, face naked and hair in a messy bun, and realize I have a lot of work to do.
I spot my best friend and fellow lead in the corner near the sink, already in full costume and stage make-up, peering down at her script in concentration. I smile to myself; it’s so typical of her to be trying to memorize her song lyrics at the last minute, but I know she’ll be great. The stage manager walks in to announce that we only have a few more minutes to get ready before show-circle, urging us to get a move-on. In light of the excitement, I see one of my friends pull out her iPod and speakers and I know exactly what is coming.
Nothing pumps you up before show more than rocking out to show-tunes and dancing while you pat blush on your cheeks and fluff your hair. One our unanimous favorites being the Disney song from Mulan, “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You,” in which literally everyone sings at the top of their lungs without hesitation or missing a beat. Mouth open wide putting on mascara, the finishing touch to my stage make-up, I start bursting out laughing as one of my friends jumps on a chair wearing nothing but a sports bra and boy-shorts and begins to dramatically sing into a hairbrush.
I absolutely love these crazy theatre people. I quickly remove the hair-tie from my bun and brush out my ginger curls, swaying to the music at the same time. I’m so lucky to be playing the part of a horrible, mean, dirty, inn-keepers wife – meaning that I pretty much just have to make my hair into a rat’s nest in order to look the part. Perfect, considering I only have about ten minutes to transform. I pack up all my brushes and different shades of eye shadow, currently wearing the darkest shade of grey I could find, shove them in my bag without the intent to be organized, and head for the costume closet.
Everyone is throwing off their t-shirts and athletic shorts and getting into their eighteenth century French peasant costumes. I open the door to the closet and find, not to my surprise, even more people digging around looking for lost items of clothing. The floor is covered with clothes and costume jewelry, and I can’t imagine how anyone is supposed to find anything in here. I keep my costume in the corner, all confined and zipped up in a dress-bag. Sifting through my multiple costumes I find my first outfit change.
It consists of an ugly green dress with floral patterned strings lacing the top together, a white puffy shirt to go underneath, black tights, a hideous striped apron, and scraped black character shoes. I leave cramped closet and begin to feel slightly claustrophobic. Either from the heat of so many bodies in one place or due to the fact that I have to shove myself against the wall in order to have any space to lay my clothes out, I begin to get anxious and feel the need to just get this over with and escape the crowd.
Once dressed and ready to go, I check myself in the mirror for the last time and apply a dark shade of lipstick that says: “I hate my life, love scamming people, and absolutely despise my husband. ” A perfect fit for the role of “Madame Thenardier” whom I will be portraying shortly. I leave the dressing room to meet up with the rest of the cast, everyone looking like they just stepped out of a French battle scene in order to set the opening scene. Outside the dressing room it is open, cool, and quiet – quite a drastic change compared to the loud and stuffy dressing room.
Our director announces that the show will start in five minutes and in one giant herd everyone rushes out of the dressing room, closets, bathrooms, and black-box and makes it back-stage. I can almost physically feel the energy of the cast seeping into my own skin giving me a boost. I hang back for a bit, muttering a few lines of excitement and encouragement to my friends before approaching the water fountain in attempt to cure my rather out-of-no-where dry throat.
I gulp down a few mouthfuls and wipe the remaining water on my sleeve and follow the rest of the cast back-stage. It’s dark and my eyes take a while to adjust, guiding myself with the light that is coming from beneath the giant dark red curtains. Everyone is quiet, shuffling around looking for props on the labeled tables and attempting to put the finishing touches on their costumes. The only sound to be heard is the mumble of hundreds of audience members just a few yards away.
A feeling in the pit of my stomach settles in, and my heart begins to race. My senses enhance, and I can hear individual conversations from across the curtain. I try to pick out any familiar voices that may be waiting behind the red wall, but I know it is unlikely with such a large amount of people. My stage manager whispers to everyone to get into place, the show is about to start. I feel my way across the dark stage and stand in my assigned position. No one says a word. Adrenaline begins to pump through my veins and I have to resist the emptation to peek under the curtain to see how many people will be watching. Silence slowly falls over the unseen audience. All I hear is the breathing of my fellow cast-members beside me, and a few footsteps as the last few people find their spots. All lights from beneath the curtain go off, and I am now standing in complete darkness. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears and my stomach feels as if it is about to fall through the floor. I rub my sweaty palms against my apron, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. The curtain opens.