I had to write an observation piece for a class recently. Thought it’d be fun to show what backstage can look like just an hour before the curtain goes up at the Jackson County Community Theater. The chaos and camaraderie did not disappoint.
6:26 – I’ve taken a seat in the corner backstage. Dozens of tweens and teenagers are gathered. They are the cast of the murder mystery, “And Then There Was One” which opens in an hour.
6:29 – A stout boy, Peppy, tells a woman with shoulder length, silver hair he has forgotten his shirt for the show. She exits the back of the building with a set of keys in hand.
6:30 – The Costume Lady returns with three white button down shirts on hangers. She’s not surprised or angry at all. This must happen often.
6:31 – A fellow in all black announces. “You have 15 minutes to finish makeup.” I think he’s the stage manager.
6:34 – A ping pong ball flies through the air, over the heads of half a dozen kids, hitting one of the makeup mirrors. I’ve no idea where it came from.
6:37 – “Has everyone shut off their phones? Have you checked your props?” says the Costume Lady. I check to make sure the sound is off on my phone.
6:38 – A kid, who looks a bit like Hardy, from the 1920’s duo Laurel and Hardy asks, “Morgan, is the list out on the desk?” – It is.
6:38 – Peppy clumsily spins a toy pistol around his fingers as he stands next to the props table. He seems full of mischief. I have no doubt he’s plotting his next move.
6:39 – A girl with short, blonde hair stands in front of the makeup table. “Guys I need a consensus. Would a maid wear her hair up or down?” – I would say up. But the kids in the cast assure her it should definitely be down.
6:40 – Another ping pong ball rolls across the floor.
6:41 – Peppy takes a seat at the makeup table, his back to the mirrors. He holds a basket full of ping pong balls in one hand and a large McDonald’s drink in the other. I should have guessed he was the source of the ping pong balls.
6:44 – The Director calls from the stage, “Actors to the stage!”
6:45 – Backstage is deserted. I can’t see the stage, but I can hear them warming up – the sound of two dozen feet running in place.
6:50 – “Clare, give us a line,” the Director calls. “Where on earth would you get a harpoon!” she responds. All repeat with great emphasis. Several more kids are asked to give a line, but the harpoon line was my favorite.
6:53 – Kids flood off stage to grab their costumes. They’re somewhat frantic, or maybe excited. I can’t tell the difference. The Director has given them 22 minutes before they need to be in costume and in the green room.
6:55 – Hardy approaches the Costume Lady. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Why?” she responds. “Cause you have to do this every night.” She is buttoning up his vest.
6:56 – The main lights are shut off backstage. The makeup table lights are left on.
6:58 – Costume Lady fixes the tie on a quiet young man in a tan-colored suit.
6:58 – One last girl finishes her makeup. She’s dressed in a plaid coat trimmed with mink.
7:00 – The Director cuts the makeup lights. Only the dim, blue stage lights remain.
7:00 – The Costume Lady, who is pinning an apron on the Maid, grumbles at the loss of light.
7:15 – The Director tells the last few backstage to get to the green room. He closes door behind him. It’s so quiet when the kids aren’t backstage. I can hear the audience cracking open cans of pop in the front row.
7:20 – The green room door opens. Two emerge – the boy in the tan suit and another with a detective Hercule mustache.
7:25 – The rest of the cast emerge from the green room. Half of them whisper excitedly. The other half shush the ones whispering. Their excitement is contagious, making me eager to see the show.
7:30 – The Director walks on stage. “Good evening! Welcome to the 1920’s!”
7:33 – The cast members wait in the wings, pace the length of the costume rack or sit quietly at the now dark makeup table, waiting for the Director to finish his lengthy intro.
7:35 – Peppy approaches the Costume Lady. “Look!” he whispers with great amusement, holding up his right foot. “The heel fell off of my shoe!” Her eyes go wide.
7:35 – The stage lights go up and I hear the sound of the curtain opening.