I had worked for weeks and weeks for this night. I had set aside an hour of my time each night to learn my lines and stage directions to be a part of this. I was the secondary lead, the supporting actor, and I was in the dim backstage of the theatre with a lone blue light to aid me with revising my script. I could hear the audience gathering. The rustle of clothing, the creak of the metal folding chairs as the expectant spectators sat down in them, the low and hushed conversations beginning to emerge from the sprinklings of people gathered at the far side of the auditorium. It was half-an-hour until curtain-rise and it felt like I had an assembly of slithery and fluttery creatures amassing in my innards. I needed to deal with this quickly or I would surely faint. I remembered the severe criticism of my director and the gentle reassurances from my family and found a happy average between the two. My breathing slowed, the animals fled, yet there was a swelling uneasiness in my gullet. It was my 7th play with the troupe but I still had trouble controlling my crippling nerves. My older brother told me “Nerves are natural and normal and with public performance comes nerves.” I thought to myself that demonic nerves such as these could not possibly be normal, or how could any production be made at all?
Fifteen minutes to go. The stagehands were rushing around me touching up makeup, tweaking our costumes with such meticulous eyes that I thought quietly to myself that they would panic if they saw the lead actor had a speck of dust on his pristine bow tie. The audience was gathering at an increased rate now, the low hum of conversation had become a mighty roar of laughter and greetings. Our director came backstage to give us last minute ideas and notes. As she spoke the eyes of all the cast lit up with pride and confidence — that is all the cast but me. As I stood there in the dim backstage with my lone blue light I was worried. Worried that I would let everyone down, that I would be the weak link, that I could single handedly destroy all that these people had worked so hard to build. The director said her final words of encouragement and left to climb up the ladder to the light board to begin the show. And as she exited I felt abandoned. I heard the co-director shout “Three minutes until Showtime people! Get Ready!”
The cavalcade of animals in my stomach returned and brought with them many of their friends. I felt sick. I dropped my script and whirled around looking for a chair to sit down on, but I saw none. I closed my eyes and I fell. I waited to feel the hard embrace of the cold stone floor, but to my surprise I waited in vain. I was caught not by any stagehand or director or any other form of authority, but by the lead actor, my partner in crime, my friend. “One minute!” He quietly reinforced the miniscule thought that needed reinforcing most. He told me that I was going to be brilliant, that I was going to steal the show, that I was going to be a star! He did it in a way no-one but a friend could, his compassion could not be matched by any supervisor or teacher. I stood up strongly and without any question in my mind about how the performance was going to go. I was empowered by his words. We walked on stage and to our marks, gave each other a look, and suddenly the curtain went up. It took me a second to register everything, the blinding stage lights, the sea of faces before me. Everything was silent except for a small cough from the audience. I took some deep breaths and opened the show without any fear in my voice. I was strong. I was confident. I was ready.