Ella Nicolson ’14
The lights go down and silence permeates the air. A single note blares, the lights flick on, and suddenly we’re in the 1950 slums in New York. Riff hops over the fence, and with one single snap Tension slithers onto the stage.
It’s an abrupt transition, even for those of us who know what’s coming, who have been there and done that. This time, there’s something different. It’s only a dress rehearsal, but it doesn’t feel that way, not at all. I’m not being sentimental because I’m a senior, I’m telling you honestly that this show is different. This show isn’t about the people in it, it’s not about the who’s who, it’s about the show. It’s about a musical that shocked audiences when it first appeared on Broadway fighting to survive. We’re shameless, passionate, loyal, and ready to burst with agitation.
They will never know how hard you work. They’ll never know the thirty minutes spent perfecting three lines of dialogue. They will never know the fear of tripping in the dark and landing on a nail, nor the terrifying crack when a set piece breaks. They will never see the quick look of panic that zips around the stage when something goes awry, and they will never notice minute hardening of our features that indicates we’ll go on anyways. They will never know that it takes an hour to pin up the hair that will be punned into a wig cap that will be pinned into the wig. They will never know about the seven-second costume changes, and that has continued to captivate audiences for generations. It’s about an age-old struggle between opposing groups. It’s about love that refuses to die.
This is the feeling in the audience, but the moment I turn down the corridor into backstage, the feeling changes instantly. Backstage there’s a quiet hum of urgency, orange and purple jackets trading places with green and purple, red and pink dresses. Wigs are checked one last time, ties are adjusted, and we communicate only with gestures, facial expressions, and the wispiest of whispers. The music changes, and we burst through the backstage and onto the stage. We’re no longer students at SI, we’re tough kids the panic when the fight make-up smears onto your costume. They will never know, because that all happens backstage.
We’re not athletes. You don’t see us sweating in the field. You don’t see us panting for breath. All you will see is the effortless quick step, the gentle gliding, everything choreographed to look natural. That’s our job. We take something mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, and we turn it into something meaningful, touching, and brilliant. And when we leave the theater with headaches from pins, sweaty make-up still clinging to our faces, red marks from falls and punches, we smile because we have pulled off the greatest trick since Houdini.
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