Twenty-two years ago, I first walked onto the backstage of a theater. I was there to drop off my then 7-year-old daughter for dress rehearsal. Her first performance. A summer recital. In a real theater.
It was dark backstage. And dusty. The air was a miasma of sweat and hairspray. Those smells and that dust drifted into my brain and my heart like a drug. A very addictive drug. I inhaled. I’ve been hooked since that very first day.
That December, my daughter danced in her first Nutcracker. She was a clown. (That reminds me of a line from “Love, Actually” – “I didn’t know there were lobsters at the first Christmas.”) My husband and I worked as part of the backstage crew. We still do. We’ll never stop. Not until our bodies are too decrepit or the director bars the door when she sees us shuffling up the sidewalk with our walkers.
The minute I hear the first strains of Tchaikovsky’s overture, I am swept into the vortex of the magic of the Nutcracker. I love the dancing and the performance on stage. We perform a completely different dance backstage. One with precise choreography and training, but out of necessity, allowing much more improvisation. I love that one, too.
These images float in and out of my psyche. With apologies for the raw verse:
Ropes, weights, lights, drops, sets, props
Cute little mouse
Listen to the music cues
Make sure you check their shoes
Can’t have any laces showing
Dancers on adrenaline
With butterflies in stomachs
Stretch and twist to loosen limbs
Check the pointe shows once again
Adjust the costume, pat the hair
Breathe in and out, remember how
Wait In the wings, cue says “go now”
Dressed in black from head to toe
Crew performs its silent show
With flashlights, glue guns, drills, and motors
See everything, hear everything, in the know
Always be a step ahead
We’re ready with a light when needed
Or a prop forgotten
Handle backstage crowd control
Make sure the stage is set
Collect guns and swords as they come off
Remember to keep track of props
Possessed candles blink on and off at will
Drumsticks disappear at every single show
How we do it, I’ll never know
Backstage, dancers hurry
Running across in the dark
They don’t collide
They have bat senses
Or quick reflexes
I don’t know which
Too tired to talk
Too tired to sleep
By the end of the week
Do I have to go to school?
Do I have to go to work?
Thank you, Ann, for the many years of joy. We’re not done.