The Day I Peeked Behind the Curtain

Posted: January 4, 2013 in Acting, Life
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Back stage one day, shortly before the play finished up, one of the bigwigs passed by my dressing room. He was a great guy, and I had met him on several occasions – he clearly loved the theater and actors. He asked me not to divulge what I made, which was perfectly fine with me – it was nobody else’s business anyway. Besides, numbers meant very little to me at that point. That very night, though, one of the older kids I worked with came into my dressing room. He was not terribly subtle.

Kid: Hey, dude.

Me: Whats up?

Kid: Uh. Listen. How much do you make?

Me: From the play?

Kid: Yeah.

Me: Um. I really don’t know…you’d have to ask my Mom…

Kid: Well, if you had to guess.

Me: I’m not sure. I think it’s in the hundreds. Maybe the thousands. I don’t know.
I couldn’t help but give him a useless answer, even if I wanted to tell him the truth – I was terrible with numbers, always getting them backwards or mixed up. I would frequently misread commas when a number reached into the thousands. He left, but I felt as if something was amiss. A great ball of ice began forming in my stomach, and never really went away for the rest of the play. The theater was a very special place for me, and although I couldn’t have articulated this at the time, I hated seeing it spoiled by politics. My mind didn’t have the bent for Machiavellian plots that may or may not have gone on – it still doesn’t. I don’t think it’s that I couldn’t come up with ways to be devious, it’s just that it never sat right with me. I told Mom all about what had happened – I didn’t keep secrets from her, and as far as I know she never kept secrets from me. At least not at that point. We were very close, made even more so by the constant threat of danger and the highs of success. She found out rather quickly that some elements in the theater were discontent with the number of union actors in the plays – they were paid higher wages, and it left fewer roles for the locals. The ice ball in my stomach grew, and I worried that I had done something wrong by even talking to this other kid. As an adult, I know I didn’t give any valuable information away – even if I had, I doubt a 10 year old would have tipped the scales any. It’s still an event that weighs heavily on me when I think of it.

The last night of the play, that ball of ice had melted into black premonition.

Me: I’m never going back there again.

Mom: What?

Me: I won’t be doing another play there again.

I started crying – one of the few times I’ve ever openly done so.

Mom: I don’t think so at all! You did great, they’ll have you back.

Me: No. No, I think that’ll be it.

My premonition was oddly accurate – I never again did a play there. I heard through the grapevine that the discontent elements won their fight – less union actors were used. It’s also possible that no appropriate roles came up, or that Mom somehow said or did something I was unaware of that offended the theater owners. The latter is something I’ve come to suspect happened in other cases – cases where people that otherwise loved working with me suddenly stopped talking to me altogether.

Even though I didn’t go back for a play, I was invited back for their New Year’s Eve Gala – a black tie, star studded event. They even let me sing and perform the first song I ever wrote (the one about the dinosaur). It was an amazing experience, and one I’ll never forget.

I saw several plays there over the years – mostly ones my friends were in, or had directed or produced. My favorite production, I think, was Sweeney Todd. I was probably altogether too young to have seen it, but Mom never vetted anything and rarely policed what I watched (with the odd exception of He-Man, which supposedly contained “magic”). As usual, Paper Mill l did it brilliantly – blood appeared to gush from the necks of Sweeney’s victims, their bodies made loud thumps as they dropped to the floor of his barbershop, and I believe they used real ground beef to make the “meat pies”. Just really good, Broadway-quality (and sometimes even better than Broadway) theater. It’s one of the reasons I loved it there. Nevertheless, I was relegated to enjoy this particular theater from the other side of the curtain from then on.


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