Off script

Written in response to: Set your story backstage at the theater. ... view prompt

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Happy Fiction

The boy sat on a black painted stool next to a switchboard and a dozen wires that controlled the stage lights above him. He wore billowing velvet pants synched at the ankles, long white socks, and pointy black dress shoes. On top was a pirate shirt and a black vest, and fake gold necklaces adorned his beating chest. His face was powdered white, and a mustache curled at the ends painted his upper lip. On his head, he wore a black wig and a pirate hat. The wig’s ringlets bounced on his shoulders as he took sharp breaths. He was a nervous actor. 

On stage, the girl glowed under bright lights. She had boobs and wore a dress that showed them. The skirt was puffy, but its hem stopped just above the stage floor. It was tailored to her specific measurements because she was the star. Her hair was blonde and had taken two sophomores thirty minutes to do. Because the dress hid the movement of her legs, she appeared to hover around the stage like an angel. The boy was enraptured by her beauty. He stared at her with nervous lust as his heel tapped on the foothold of the stool, and his hands sweat as if they were just out of warm gloves. 

There were other people as well. Of course, there was the audience; there wouldn’t be a show without the eighty of them. The majority were supportive parents and fidgety family members. The rest were classmates, sober or otherwise, who wanted to see their friends perform. Also, there was Mrs. Dunham, the theater teacher, and her helpers Mr. Malloy, and Mrs. Farris. They were the puppet masters who worked to keep the cast organized and ensure no one missed their cue. The cast was made up of students from Drama Three and Drama Four, who had practiced for the last three months for this very moment. 

The actors whose scene was next stood near the curtain across from the boy, their eyes darting back and forth from each other’s excited faces and the allure of the stage. Mr. Malloy held his hand out in front of them like a crossing guard at a four-way stop. All three of them were dressed as brown chickens. The costumes they were in shaped their torsos like giant spheres, and they wore painted helmets with yellow foam beaks and paper mache eyes glued on. Their legs were covered with yellow tights. A minute after they’d arrived near the stool, Mr. Malloy ushered them on stage, and they flocked towards the girl loudly, squawking as the audience laughed and applauded. 

The noise sent shivers down the boy’s spine that jolted him out of his chair like an electric shock. He was shaking as he stood in front of the stool. Mr. Malloy looked down at some notes on his clipboard and then up at the boy. 

“You’re on in five.”

The boy smiled and nodded too many times, then Mr. Malloy looked back to the stage as if he was standing on the front of a ship, looking for land. The boy felt an urge to move around. He was a bundle of nerves. Although he had no reason to, he felt a significant amount of shame for being so transfixed on the girl. The last time he’d felt this way was after his mother caught him masturbating when she slammed the door to his room and hurried away. 

The boy walked left Mr. Malloy and walked to the classroom connected to the back of the theater. His eyes were used to the lights of the stage, so in the dark, he had to squint to see where he was going, and he hunched as he cautiously walked. The crew members that he passed appeared to him as faceless caricatures emitting energy so different than his own that communication seemed impossible. 

When he reached the classroom and grabbed the door handle, the door opened and nearly hit him in the face. It was Mrs. Farris who was wearing a headset. She looked at the boy’s eyes and mouthed sorry, then squeezed her way by him and walked towards the stage. The classroom’s fluorescent lighting assaulted the boy's senses, and without thinking, he retreated from the door. His insides felt like they were being cut with pinking shears. 

He practiced box breathing, the calming technique Mrs. Dunham instructed the class to follow should they ever encounter stage fright, in a pitch-black corner fifty feet away from the stool where the shaking began. He inhaled for a count of four, held his breath for a count of four, exhaled for a count of four, held his breath for a count of four, and that was one set. He intended to slow the frog that was trying to jump out of his chest, and as he continued his sets, the vibrations that had rattled him dulled. Even the sounds of the girl saying her lines on stage were muffled as he slowed his racing mind and focused on his breath. It only lasted a moment.

A hand on his shoulder snapped the boy from his meditative state and caused him to inhale violently. His whole body jumped. He spun around to see an apologetic Mr. Malloy, mouthing and miming that the boy was on in one minute. He tried to swallow, but his tongue on the roof of his mouth felt like sandpaper. The back of his throat felt as dry as the desert, and, for an unknown reason, his jaw bone started to ache right by the back of his teeth. He blinked several times, and when Mr. Malloy turned back to the wing of the stage, the boy shook out his arms and hands like he was an instrument being played staccato. 

His eyes sparkled as he watched the scene before his end. There was no question the girl had carried the show up to that point. She had risen to the occasion as soon as she set foot on stage, and as the story progressed, she surpassed any audience members' expectation of talent. The boy hoped he could hold his own; doing so might impress her and allow him to take their relationship to the next level.

Suddenly, Mr. Malloy was pointing to the stage, craning his neck in the boy's direction to express to him that it was time to go on. The boy took a gulp that went at a snail's pace past the middle of his throat and told himself that he’d practiced for this moment a dozen times before, then he walked on stage. 

He looked out to the crowd and felt his knees buckle. The girl was talking to him, and there was a chill in the air as he reached his mark and stood with his arms on his waist, looking at the girl, then out at the audience. He heard her finish her line, and then he said his. 

He moved around the stage and said his dialogue just like they had rehearsed. The nerves were still there, but he managed to go on autopilot and get through his monologues. The disassociation allowed him to indulge in the girl’s ability. She made the things he said sound better just by being on stage, and when the scene came to its crescendo, and she came close enough to him so that he could see a bit of sweat on her upper lip, he thought of how lucky he was to be in a scene later on where they’d share a kiss. 

When the boy was off stage again, a Drama Three student dressed as a badger passed and told the boy that he’d done an excellent job. The compliment made the boy feel at ease, and his next breath was a big one that filled him with confidence. He replayed the time he shared with the girl in his mind to audit the validity of the compliment and didn’t find any reason not to accept it. He excited himself by thinking that if he could keep performing like this, perhaps the girl would date him.

The next time he was on stage, she was not there, and without her in the scene, the play had no spark. As he recited his lines, he had a strange feeling that he was forcing the audience to watch him, and as soon as he became conscious that he was thinking instead of acting, he dropped one of his lines. A silence came over the auditorium as empty as the blackness of space. He looked out to the audience and adjusted his sweaty pirate hat. From the wing, Mrs. Dunham whisper-yelled his line, and before she was finished with the sentence, he’d picked it up and continued the scene. How long the whole fiasco lasted, he couldn’t be sure. 

The evening continued like this. When he shared the stage with the girl, he felt that he was in the presence of greatness, and he was loose and comfortable as she pushed the scene forward. However, when she wasn’t on stage, he was hesitant to say his lines, and the other cast members didn’t have as much truth in the words they spoke. The conflicting dichotomy of his performance made him worry he’d lost any chance of going out with the girl. He stressed that if he blew it on opening night, he’d never be able to recover. 

The rumor was that Mrs. Dunham had written an entirely different play but then got wine drunk one night and changed around plot lines and characters; it seemed accurate. The play centered around a town overrun by wildlife like chickens and badgers who captured a pretty girl. It seems like she’ll be trapped forever, relegated to eat whatever the badgers are willing to share, but then a rogue pirate becomes her prison mate, and they make a daring escape. The play culminates with them kissing in front of the boy’s shipmates after he reveals that she is the only treasure he desires. 

Mr. Malloy and Mrs. Farris had read both versions of the play and liked the original, which didn’t involve wildlife taking over a town. Still, neither felt they could offer their critique because Mrs. Dunham had an MFA in Theatre Education from Emerson College. 

Then it happened. The boy was on stage in front of his shipmates, giving his final monologue. He had been too busy thinking about everything else to consider focusing on acting until this point. However, as he spoke his lines to the other pirates at that crucial moment in the play, he was fully invested in the art for the first time. When he finished telling his shipmates that he wouldn’t be setting sail with them ever again because he’d found the love of his life on land, he gave the most convincing, “Arrrr!” he’d ever done. He felt like he’d redeemed himself. He knew what was next and knew the girl did too. 

He turned to her, and she took a step toward him. They embraced, but instead of breaking away before the kiss as they’d done in all the rehearsals, their lips touched. He felt the sweat droplets on her philtrum and the suppleness of her lips. It felt so good, and as the audience clapped and she pulled back, he tricked himself into thinking he deserved to be the lead pirate in Mrs. Dunham’s play. 

When the curtains closed, the cast all beamed at each other with gratifying accomplishment. The boy tried to share his enthusiasm with the girl, but she was no longer by his side. He heard the other cast members showering her with compliments, all the things that he wanted to say. Some people were coming up to him as well, saying “Arrrr!” and telling him he was fantastic, and he smiled and told them that they were great, but all he wanted to hear was what the girl thought. He was making his way to her when Mrs. Dunham shouted that there would be a curtain call. She went to the center of the stage, and the students fell in line on both sides of her. Everyone held hands, but the boy was not next to the girl.

The crowd jeered, and there were two bouquets given to the girl. When the clapping had finally finished, the boy watched as the girl walked down the stage’s stairs to her adoring fans. Soon, he heard his name being shouted and saw his mom, dad, and two brothers. His mom looked ecstatic, and his brothers looked like they had a lot of jokes. His dad was probably pissed because he missed the game, but he hid it well.

The boy patiently mingled with them and the rest of the audience that talked to him, and then, after he’d told his parents he’d meet them in the parking lot, he made his way backstage once more to change out of his costume. 

He passed the black stool and recalled how nervous he was to go on stage. It seemed silly ever to feel that jittery, but then at the door of the classroom, he saw the girl standing alone and felt his heart thump. She saw that he was coming her way and waited for him. He couldn’t believe it. As he approached, she told him he did a good job. He felt his cheeks warming as he said to her that she was terrific. She smiled and thanked him like she’d done everyone else, but the boy thought it was special. 

When he got close to the door, and they were standing side by side, nearly as close as they had been when they’d embraced on stage, the boy felt the urge to kiss her. The girl was still smiling at him, and because she didn’t say anything, he thought he had the green light, so he leaned in for a kiss. 

She backed away. He was humiliated and embarrassed. 

He took a step back from her and apologized. He tried to explain himself and said, “I thought,” when she cut him off.

 She told him it was just acting and that she wasn’t into him like that, then opened the door and disappeared. 

He stood in silence, watching the door close shut as his surroundings returned to black. He’d go back to the stool and take a moment to himself. This wasn’t how he wanted the story to end, but maybe he should have seen it coming. 

December 10, 2021 23:27

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9 comments

Cookie Carla🍪
14:56 Dec 13, 2021

Hi Scott!! I came after stalking Francis and your comments😁 You give some good advice and feedback on stories. Could you possibly read my story "Day 99" and tell me what you think?

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Francis Daisy
04:43 Dec 12, 2021

"He knew what was next and the girl did too..." ah, the sweet awkwardness of the teenage years! You captured it beautifully in this story. Well done!

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Scott Skinner
14:34 Dec 12, 2021

Thank you!

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Shea West
05:14 Dec 11, 2021

Scott, yet another piece where we the reader can feel ourselves warped back to that tender time of high school. You have a finesse about your writing that feels so relatable and with a complete understanding of how one feels in these moments. The details were so great I pictured myself with the young man, following him each step of the way. Watching his win and his loss felt very real.

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Scott Skinner
15:08 Dec 11, 2021

Thank you!

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A.Dot Ram
02:20 Dec 11, 2021

I like the play with the animals and pirate. How funny. This experience is so familiar and relatable. Were you ever in drama for real?

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Scott Skinner
14:59 Dec 11, 2021

Thanks! Yup, I was in theater pretty heavy in middle school. I think my best performance was wind in the willows. I want to say I played Badger. Could be way off tho.

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A.Dot Ram
18:06 Dec 11, 2021

Nice 🙂. I made it up to Drama 3 in high school, and a lot in your story felt authentic and familiar. There was one line that stuck out to me--it was about the star's "virgin lips". Your narrator really speaks for the pirate boy, and I don't think that would be his thought as he kissed her. First, it's too presumptuous (how would he know who she's kissed?) and it takes me outside the immediate moment, as it seems to look at her in a broader social context. You might be saying those lips are unexplored territory for the male character. That wo...

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Scott Skinner
13:55 Dec 12, 2021

Updated - Thank you for the feedback!

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