Fifty cents and some green glass love.
Have you ever been in an empty dressing room? I mean, “I’m the first person here” empty? Devoid of activity and people, these rooms are very lonely. The mirrors are meant to reflect life, the lights are meant to highlight faces carrying conversation and laughter. Empty, dressing rooms are simply lonely echoing boxes waiting expectantly for the stories that will fill them.
This last week I have been contemplating the history of my dressing room life and the people who have shared it with me and I’ve come to the conclusion that, even though community theatre is many things to many people, ultimately it’s the people we have the privilege of knowing that gives it meaning and joy. Their stories and the lines they write in ours carry a beauty we do not recognise until they have left the dressing room.
In 35 years of theatre, many people have become part of my dressing room stories. Some have entered and enriched the space with their generosity and kindness while others I couldn’t wait to close the door on. As I sat in my “empty dressing room” this week, I remembered….
Standing in the wings with “him” in West Side Story, waiting for my entrance before “A Boy Like That”, I had to knock on a timber door. I couldn’t make enough sound with my knuckles but he always had a 50 cent piece in his pocket for me to use. Every performance for the entire season. It became our moment and at the end of the season he gave me that 50 cent piece.
“She” was a true pro. The way she worked through her process and was always ready at every rehearsal. How she helped others with their singing. After many years as a professional performer she had so much to share and was a joy to work with, teaching me so much without her even realising it. Her personally-made gift of ‘green glass’ (Thoroughly Modern Millie reference) was something that I treasure, reminding me that I am enough.
“He” died suddenly. At 24 he was standing on stage helping me to find my way back into a scene as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls after a prop malfunction. At 25 he was gone. I spent months expecting a phone call from him telling me it was all a mistake. I can still hear him yelling, “Jocularity, jocularity!” in the dressing room.
I can still feel the inexplicable joy that overwhelmed me as I watched my cast accept praise and adulation from their family and friends after their opening night of Phantom of the Opera. It’s a joy that fills you to the point of feeling like you’re going to explode.
In our “empty dressing rooms” of the theatre we have the privilege of sharing the stories of many people. Many are scripts that continue on and on in our life as we share experiences. Others are scripts that are simply too short. We get to the end and want more. We look for more pages that can never be there or we try to go back to the beginning of the script looking for another run at it.
I’ve learned that, as empty as the dressing room can be sometimes, it inevitably fills with noise, activity and joy, whether we’re ready for it or not. It’s not up to us. The script goes on. We can avoid our entrance for a while but eventually we have to get onto the stage and remain part of the story.
So, I’ll sit here for as long as I can in the bittersweet beauty of this silent dressing room knowing that, when it’s time, the cast from my story will fill the space with laughter, joy, tears and life and we’ll begin reading another script.
Sherryl-Lee Secomb is An Idiot On Stage. The Idiot exists to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary.
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