I wanted Dakota’s attention. I wanted him to know that I was thinking of him without being a simpering puppy about it. I was better than Jay, I didn’t need to follow people around like a fucking creep and guilt trip them when they didn’t give me attention. Honestly I didn’t care if I got a response at all, I wasn’t into guilt trips, and if he didn’t want to give me his attention, then I wouldn’t give him mine. Not really anyway.
He had already gotten his costume, but he’d left it hanging sideways on another hanger as he went to help Val reach a spare pair of obnoxiously large boots for another performer (and bless Val for distracting him). I had a post it and a safety pin, and snuck over to his kilt, sliding the pin and note onto the inside of the waistband, where he’d see it when he put it on. I hadn’t exactly been subtle or anonymous; the note only had one word on it: Nerd.
Val and Dakota returned right as I reached my initial spot by the corsets, and I slid an innocent, pleasant smile onto my face. Dakota didn’t even check his costume as he picked it up and walked away, poking me in the belly as he passed.
“Did you do it?” Val asked. I grinned and nodded.
Lunch was uneventful, as always, but when we got back to the theatre, hell had broken loose. A lead’s mic had malfunctioned, someone had called in sick with barely enough time to bring in the understudy, and for some reason we were short three stage techs. If all that wasn’t enough, Steph had dropped in to visit.
Steph was everything I’d ever wanted to be and more. Willowy and short, she had a sort of Disney Princess vibe to her, from the way she stood to the way she spoke, to her pretty face and bright smile. In everything she did, she moved with confidence, but not so much so that she seemed pretentious. I’d heard stories of her being a downright klutz, though I’d never seen it happen myself. I’d only seen her once before this, but I hadn’t actually met her.
Patience radiated out of her as she stood in the middle of the stage, chaos whirling around her like a hurricane, and she was in the eye of the storm. Performers were darting around everywhere to preset props and quick changes, someone was crying, techies were shouting at each other as they did light and sound checks, leads were practicing in varying spots in the audience, and there we were, sitting awkwardly in the back of the house, waiting for instructions. Steph looked practically regal up on stage, in her flower print dress, her long hair loosely hanging down to her hips. She spoke softly with the stage manager about whatever catastrophe was ensuing, as though the rest of the world simply didn’t exist.
“Boo.” I jumped at Dakota’s voice by my ear, turning to glare at him for startling me. He just smirked, in full costume already, as usual. I stuck my tongue out at him. He ignored that. “Having fun staring into space?”
“I wasn’t staring into space,” I countered, crossing my arms. “I was watching Miss Steph. She looks like a queen up there, just patiently waiting out all this… whatever’s going on.”
“She’s done this before.” Dakota dropped down into a seat in the row behind us. “It’s probably pretty trivial to her.”
I nodded, my attention drawn back to the stage as Steph turned on a mic. A techie stood next to her, another college age kid, looking decidedly uncomfortable with so many eyes turned in his general direction. Steph looked out into the audience with a serene smile. “Hey guys, can I get everyone either into a seat or quietly on stage? We’ve got some stuff to address.”
It took a few minutes, but eventually, the entire cast and crew had gathered in the same room, and I looked around in mild shock. I’d known the theatre was run like a hive, with dozens of worker bees roaming around, but I’d never actually considered how many people that was– and honestly, no one was ever together like this on a regular day. Half of the performers were already fully costumed, others half dressed. A few of the dancers stretched on stage, even though warm ups had already ended. The musicians waited in the pit, craning their necks to see Steph. Everyone seemed to be wound up, high strung, the energy in the room like a taut bow.
“Good afternoon, everyone!” Steph’s voice was soothingly calm and cheerful. I felt the tension in the room ease slightly. “We’ve got about an hour before showtime, and obviously we’re opening the house a little later than usual. It’s been brought to my attention that we’ve had some issues with this show, but don’t worry; we’ve got it under control, and I’m here to address some of those problems in person.
“Firstly, let me remind you that the night show, Cinderella, is closing in about a week, so if you haven’t seen it, please do! You can volunteer to usher if you can’t afford a ticket; god knows we never have enough seaters.” There were murmurs of excitement and disappointment amongst the room. “Pictures will be taken the last two days. If you’re usually in the show and haven’t been scheduled for one of those days, please come let me know after Brigadoon. I tried, but I’m only human.
“Next, Halloween will be taking over the night show until Halloween– yes obvious I know– and Happy Holidays will be taking over on and off in November and throughout December. Nutcracker will be alternating with the evening show throughout November and this show in December.” There was a rustle of concerned whispers. I glanced at Val, who shrugged, as confused as I was. “Yes I know,” Steph continued, “Exciting and scary. Brigadoon will be closing in December, as you all know, and will be replaced with Shrek in January.” Steph looked pointedly at someone in the front row. “No, I don’t like Shrek myself, but I’m not directing it or in it. I’ll get back to that in a bit.
“Alrighty, thirdly, we have some concerns with the amount of people backstage at any given time. Between my kids in costuming– kids, I say, and half of you are as old as me or older– and my techies, we have a swarm of people back there. When performers come on and off, it’s even more crowded. This means we’ve got people chattering and stressing, anxiety is through the roof, personal space is a myth, and everything is generally awful.” She grinned as we all chuckled at her phrasing. “So, I’d like to remind all of you of this.” She turned to the bare back wall, walking to it and opening a black door tucked to the side. “This is a room specifically designed for performers to wait between their scenes. There’s a speaker in there so you can hear your cues. Performers, please utilize it.” She crossed to the other side and opened another door. “This room is designed for quick changes that take longer than thirty seconds. In dance shows that means you have one song between your numbers; in musicals that means you have between two and five minutes to change, and can’t reach the dressing room. Please use this so that the people with thirty second to one minute quick changes can use what little room we have in the wings. My costuming friends can also hang out in here when you’re not needed and everyone is pretty much on stage.” We all nodded our agreement and flashed her either smiles or thumbs up.
“Okie dokie everyone, last but not least, we’ve got some personal news on my front. As you all know, I tend to be in every show I can, and if I’m not in it, I’m directing it. For those of you who are new and think that’s super pretentious, for me to own the theatre and be in the shows, let me just say: I do what I want.” She flung her hands up sort of half-heartedly. “I won’t be able to do this forever, so I may as well do it while I’m young and flexible and still have what little sanity I had left after getting this joint running. That being said, I’ll be taking about a year…” She paused, doing math in her head, “Eh, a year and a half long break from performing.” People gasped, I heard a distinct voice shout why? Steph only smiled. “It’s for good reason. You all know I got married about a year ago, and my hubbie has been helping me keep this place up and running, sometimes we’re in shows together, the works–” She pointed to someone close to the front as I heard an excited squeak. “Don’t get ahead of me, Lisa! You all know how much I love performing, but I’ve gotta say, I think I’m gonna love being a Mom just as much.”
There wasn’t even a beat of silence as everyone registered what she was saying. The room erupted in cheers, excitedly congratulating her, performers and techs alike rushing to the stage to surround Steph in a gigantic, squealing group hug.
“Aww,” I said, touching my hand to my heart. “She’s so cute! That’s so exciting and sweet! A baby!”
“She’ll be a good mom,” Dakota said.
I turned back to him. “How well do you know her?”
He shrugged. “She’s a family friend. I knew her briefly when I was in high school and she was in college. We were in Fiddler on the Roof together; she was Chava and I was a dancer.” He stared at the throng of people milling about the stage. “She was really nice, but we weren’t exactly close. Went through some serious shit to put this place together, though.”
“Huh.” I turned back to watch the crowd disperse as Steph waved everyone away and made her way down the stage steps into the audience. “She seems so put together and confident.”
“Practice.” Dakota got up and wandered away to mingle backstage.
“Hey,” Val said, tapping my leg. “Dakota slid this under my collar.” She handed me the note I’d pinned to his kilt, and my heart sank.
“Aww, he thought you’d given it to him?”
“Aww!” I outright pouted, slumping back into my chair. “Rude.”