The day was ending peacefully for
Lynn Rollwagon although it started
off with one crisis after another; the day was spent literally
running from issue
to issue with no awareness of time or circumstance. The year-end
activities were in sight and as with many year-end businesses, people
began crazed as the year slipped away. Her team was professional and
proficient but many of her customers insisted on involved her; so in
she jumped with one eye on the curtain and one eye on the task at hand.
"I love being backstage," said the thick-hipped actress. As Lynn struggled to stitch the hem as the actress moved around on the riser, completely oblivious to Lynn's efforts below.
"What did you say?" said Lynn was she frantically hemmed the bottom of a heavy velvet skirt. The velvet was necessary from an audience's point of view as they needed to see the sheen throughout the performance. The actor was playing an aristocrat and the velvet skirt and brocade needed to send the message of rich and privileged to the whole house. Unfortunately, the thickness of the material made it a challenge to cut and lay correctly; especially with five minutes to go before the final dress rehearsal. As she quickly ran a hand-sewn hem across the bottom, her mind wandered to the edges of realization that she was getting far too old for this kind of crap. The production would be saved, again, and she would trudge back into the little nooks and crannies which made up the the back end of the theater. She caught the skirt issue before anyone else during dress parade so the mixed emotions of extra work versus her nagging professionalism was the real culprit tonight and she knew it.
The lights were ready to bump and all the first scene actors left the backstage to get settled on their marks. Lynn and her staff cleaned up their work areas and headed for the doors. Only one designated seamstress would remain for emergencies and for Lynn, it wasn't her night. The whole crew would be on hand for tomorrow's opening night and she knew that once they had a few nights underneath their collective belts, it would be business as usual through the run of the production. Each show brings a few rips and tears but these period pieces were substantial, tough fabric and would hold up to the standard pressures. Also, since the cast group was fairly small and interchangeable, there was no need to switch out costumes for understudies as the second-tier folks, swings and related supernumeraries looked regal enough if there was any role switching necessary.
"I am getting way too old for this stuff," said Terese as she leaned against the backstage slop sink. Terese was her long-time partner and had as many performances under her belt as anyone. Her skills were strong, her work ethic stronger and her approach to the business was definitely old school. She had no interest in being promoted or being recognized for her work; a brief mention in Playbill was sufficient as she enjoyed being the gal behind the gal who was behind the actor.
"Don't you love being backstage?" asked Lynn with a forced deadpan look. It was hard not to laugh but during performances it was consider déclassé to generate any potential noise which might find its distracting way to the audience. If the stagecraft teams wanted to have some fun, they would head out to the alleys or rooftops during the show for some entertainment as a backstage were not the place to either share a secret or make a noise. The back alleys along Broadway were still fairly undiscovered and crews from nearby theaters were always socializing, networking and congregating during and after performances.
Terese gave her the finger and checked her watch. Since they were in final dress rehearsal, no one had the internal timings of the show memorized yet. Once a show had fifty plus performances in the can, the entire cast and crew would begin hitting an elegant stride of efficient effort. People would know exactly when to do (or not do) things, when to move (and not move), when to be quiet (and not quiet), how the show was going (or not going), the audience's general reaction, the temperament of the cast (ranging from darling to diva to dickhead) and all the other small but unseen messages which emitted from a collective endeavor pointing only one way. Like many things which never need too much scrutiny, the backstage of Broadway shows were a prime candidate for passive indifference. Lynn had been fully engaged months before the dry tech runs so she had enough insights for the whole group.
Lynn had been at the top of her profession for years and admitted that she didn't know any better to make any changes. However, when well-meaning design students from across the country contacted her with stars in their eyes, she wanted to tell them the brutal truths of the gig: working in firetraps, surrounded by an all-star combination of mental instability and ego, dealing with bizarre and impossible tasks from a wide variety of bullying directors, insane producers, arthritic fingers and fragile stars. The worst was when a big-name star from another medium decided to get back to their roots by forcing their way into an established show during the summer months. Daytime television stars, fading starlets (now destined for the matronly roles), young overnight success film actors armed with no depth or appreciable skills (just dumb luck) and the barely living legend anxious for a final but steady check. All this group had was general talent at one time but Broadway was the professional ice hockey of the performing arts: you had to act, sing, dance while always moving around to hit established marks: there were no second takes on the stage and certainly no discretionary time outs for turned ankles or muffled lines.
As the adrenaline subsided, Lynn looked down at the tools of her trade and sighed. She was surrounded by dozens of sewing kits, tapes, material swatches and a variety of sharp-edged tools which allowed her to construct and deconstruct anything she wished at a moment's notice. Her hands were tough as dollar steaks: scarred and leathery from hundreds of pinpricks and countless bouts of material wrangling; the slight onsets of arthritis in her knees and wrists were not to be ignored but she had chalked those twinges into the "wisdom born of pain" category. She quietly gathered up the tools and placed them, even quieter, back into the bins; hopefully, they would only be needed for repairs and general maintenance. The show was poised to make a nice long run and if Lynn was right, and she usually was, the show would spawn a few road companies and run at least several years. Her notes, sketches and documentation had to be solid because if this show was going to have babies, her work would be repeated five or six more times in the future.
She could tell by the muffled sounds that the show's pacing was good and things felt well-connected and in sync. Lynn had labored through many productions and had seen the best and worst in people's reactions and actions brought about by the collision of varied opinions and perspectives. Although it was final dress, the crowd in the seats were a nice combination of friends and insiders relied on to provide any last insights but the die was cast. Either way, this show was going to be a solid addition to her already-impressive resumé and while it was not as exciting as her first show, she felt grounded and satisfied with the overall production. A little known fact, she already had a five Tony awards for costume design for both general plays and musicals so she had the reputation of a professional. But her diminishing interest level felt to be more of a symptom than the real cause for the troubles which were laying lightly dormant within her. While she sat there gathering up the remainders of the hem, she reminisced about her first Tony Award experience.
She was a co-winner with her old mentor and they got drunk well below the ceremony because there was no realistic chance of a victory. As irony works sometimes, their award for Best Costume Design in a Musical was the first award of the night. Still pre-occupied with a just-planned visit to the bathroom, she had to be grabbed by the arm and hauled up onto the stage. Drunk and with kidneys at brim full, Lynn quickly thanked her family and friends while swinging around the Tony. Her mentor, easily as drunk as her, smiled and waved and grabbed Lynn one more time and walked off stage to semi-surprised applause. No one knew they were knee-knocking drunk; they were surprised with their come-from-nowhere victory and after a few vague comments to the press, Lynn found herself back in her seat with a Tony and ready-to-explode kidneys. During the next pause, she walked quickly to the women's lounge to finally relieve herself. While sitting down with her shoes off and the Tony on the tile floor in the stall, she felt she had arrived. The other victories were not as exciting: they were mainly the result of well-funded and overblown productions but as time went on, her victories were no surprises and her enjoyment, while legitimate, suffered when compared to the first one.
As a former Tony winner, unsolicited resumes and phone calls constantly came to her attention at the theater from dozens of students wishing for a shot on the great white way. And as a former Tony winner, other job offers also started to bunch up and Lynn started to move from one show to another with no time to look back or overthink. Her career had secondary effects: shredding relationships, established a semi-transient lifestyle and firmly kept her world within the island of Manhattan. As the years continued, Lynn stayed involved in dozens of Broadway productions and her reputation, while narrow, deepened significantly with each and every success. However, outside of a small circle of friends and even a smaller circle of peers, no one knew or really cared about the art and science of either costume design or the theater. To expand her underwhelming social circle, Lynn agreed to several adjunct faculty positions at a few institutions around the country. The lectures usually consisted of Lynn pulling out the journal, notes and working papers of a successful and recognizable play, sitting in front of yaw-mouthed undergrads, reading and reminiscing about the campaign and concluding the presentation by fielding a few softball questions. She always tried to emphasize the importance of regional theater and centers of excellence located somewhere else than Manhattan but the comments always fell a bit disingenuous and flat. As far as Lynn could determine or care, she was an overt theater snob and looked down on all non-New York Broadway stage work. When pressured, she could generate some respect for a few places in Britain and Italy but for the most part, no interest could be feigned anywhere else. She shrugged and motioned Terese to accompany her to the backstage wings to critique the costumes as the first act was concluding.
"Unibrow's jacket needs more strengthening," said Terese. She never called the actors by their given names and thanks to her tenure, Lynn accepted it as part of the package when dealing with talented professionals. As Lynn looked at the actor, she agreed. He was more athletic than assumed and the jacket was going to need some relief tacking and perhaps some hidden air holes to keep the fabric dry and strong for the show's run. She hadn't noticed his reliance on using his arms as he spoke and Terese was correct with the call. The Director might calm him down a bit by the end of the week but the costumers couldn't take the chance. Lynn nodded and made a small note on her work pad to revisit the jacket (and its backup) as soon as possible.
"What do you think?" said Terese as she pointed at a young busty actress in the front of the stage.
"I don't know yet," said Lynn. The actress was prone to gaining weight once the fear of the first few weeks of the show was over. Lynn had called a friend who had dressed the young actress in some earlier shows and asked for an confidential update and was notified that the woman constantly was being refitted due to weight fluctuations. Her weight dropped during the stressful opening week but then once it was determined the cast was in for a long run, it rebounded with impressive confidence. The inside source also complained she and her team were constantly being blamed for the actresses's inability to maintain a stable form and were browbeaten regularly in public by the actress. The costumer had notified the director so there was no formal issues but the constant comments by the actress grew tiresome quickly and the show saw some key early departures from the costume staff. Thanks to her comments, Lynn's team converted almost all side panels to elastic with generous seam vents which could be taken in and out within minutes. To the ignorant, her dresses looked like any other stage product but behind the scenes, the internal workings of the dresses were mechanical marvels. Lynn also made a note to send one over to her friend when the show was shuttered as a memento and well before the cast started lifting items for their own closets.
The show ended on time and the cast left the theater quickly and quietly so as not to run risk of annoying the Broadway gods with their own self-satisfaction. The entertainment industry in general and the theater group in specific were a superstitious bunch as once the final dress completed, almost the entire backstage had cleared out leaving Lynn, Terese and a well-meaning intern to strike the lights and head out the door a few minutes later. As the three walked out onto Broadway, no one could argue with the rush of adrenaline and pride that comes from working on a show. The three trudged towards a local cafe (read: bar) which catered specifically and passionately to the theater and were ushered into a small booth to discuss the show for one, final time before it became a living thing, outside of a majority of their control.
"Thanks for letting me tag along," said the well-meaning intern. She was sandwiched between two legitimate talents and politely basked in their wisdom without making a fuss about it. Both Lynn and Terese were far too old and far too tired to have a fuss made of them so the brevity of her comment was appreciated. The intern was astounded by her good luck and decided to order what they ordered, drink what they drank and bask in their wisdom without wasting their time.
"So, what have you learned so far?" asked Lynn. She was polite but always curious.
"Well," said the intern. "Broadway is not exactly flooded with kind people and even less flooded with talented and kind people.And some of the performers are kind and some are real dicks."
"No argument from me," smiled Terese. The kid was a quick study which forced her then to ask, "Anything else?"
"I give it until the end of April."
"And no argument from me," said Lynn. "Let's have a drink."
At the bar that evening, Lynn and Terese had a heart to heart with intern. She was wired from the performance and the duo had no intention to diminish her pure but naive energy. Cast members drifted in and out and many of them took a moment to pause to thank the team for their efforts. The appreciative attempts were fairly genuine and the ladies were drunk enough to not analyze their motivations but just respond in kind with an appropriate compliment before going back to their drinks.
"Oh, and by the way, I have a date."
When the time was right, Lynn had announced she had a date planned for her first available night off and while it was two weeks away, the declaration of a social opportunity for someone who was or is NOT an actor was attention-getting to everyone who could read lips or pierce the din of the cafe. The cast and crews of all types suffered from a combination of inbred and awkward attempts of love. Romances would run white-hot during the making of a film or the first run of a play but would rarely, if ever, survive for any significant duration. Lynn wanted to get this information out to the rumor mill early so she could attempt to control the message. If discovered by someone else, Lynn would fall into a victim's role and the chances for a successful date would usually implode from the collective weight of well-meaning but exhausting friends and family.
The show moved nicely into overdrive and Lynn's pre-occupation with the first grown-up date in approximately thirteen years grew daily. On the day of the event, she slept late and quietly planned her outfit and strategy. The date was a friend of a friend of a friend and he was so far removed from show business to be considered almost an alien being. He was well-read professional geologist with several papers and patents to his name. He was new to the big city and had never been married due to a challenging work schedule and demands for his time in the field. Finally, he had been promoted to a key administrative position and had moved with a good salary, a tiny social circle and a desire to meet someone nice. In New York, that package was unheard of and opportunity rich for the lucky person who intersected with those facts. Lynn had been told this person was not from "her world" and while she assured the friend of a friend of a friend that the arrangement was not impacted by his social limitations, a little trained voice projected clearly from the deep recesses of her mind to be careful for everyone's sake. A few phone calls had gone well and Lynn made a point to exclude any stories of her long-term, safe, comfortable relationship which had recently dissolved due to relocation and a general lack of mutual interest resulting in muted "meh" and two people walking in opposite directions in mid-town with neither the energy or the interest to steal a final glance.
She arrived exactly five minutes late and walked in to see her future, high-potential boyfriend stuffing several Chinese dumplings into his mouth with no regard to social graces or consumption time ratios. The meeting was defined as an official pre-date as Lynn spent the several weeks positioning the opportunity of a formal social invitation and it was mutually agreed to meet and get to know each other face to face. While watching him continue to stuff the dumplings into his gaping yaw, Lynn tried to give him some unknown but existent benefit of the doubt. He could have arrived famished due to his uncompromising desire to complete some fantastically confidential soil sample or as part of his devision prior to the official start of the date began, he may have felt within his rights to order some food as an ice-breaker. Lynn also hypothesized he saw himself in a no-lose situation; either she arrived with the food and he would be looked upon as an effective planner and one who could be relied on to take one critical initiatives or she would arrive after the food and he would begin the date with a cool demeanor which always accompanies a content and quiet stomach.
However, what troubled Lynn most was not the face full of greasy, dripping dumplings but his surprisingly aggressive nature to place them as many as possible into his large mouth at once. When she sat down and got situated, he slowed his pace a bit and reluctantly offered the lone surviving dumpling as a sign of mutual respect but when she had reached over with her still-clean chopsticks to spear it from the now-cloudy plum sauce; she could sense his disappointment with her decision. His eyes watched the journey of the last surviving dumpling from plate to palate and she knew he had immediately regretted the decision to demonstrate some gallant effort because his love for the dumpling was obviously larger than any attempt as a relationship with her could ever hope to exist.
While he pouted, Lynn thought, “What’s with the face? There certainly has to be more of them in the kitchen.”
While she ate the dumpling in several bites, an alternative not likely used by her potential boyfriend, she thanked him and waited for some other gallant gesture to come forth but none seems to rise to the occasion. He did not ask if she wanted more dumplings (he certainly did), a drink (which she certainly needed) or a menu, he just stared at the ever-shrinking bolus in her freshly lip-sticked mouth with the look of lost opportunity and sadness.
“This date isn’t going too well, thought Lynn. As the clock struck midnight on the last night of the month, she smiled to herself and thought “I give this to the end of April and it is time for me to exit."
She rose from her seat, took a bow and left stage left.
"And scene" she said as she headed for home with no interest to see what was next on the menu.
This one is heading off on an interesting direction
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