When I closed the curtain on the last Aeterno Elementum show for the year, it was the conclusion of the most stressful, intense, and downright scary experience I’ve had in years. It was also the most enriching, and downright fun experience I’ve had in years. Paradoxical? Yes. Would you expect any less from me?
First of all some background for those of you not reading my blog regularly: Back in August when I wrote the review of Aeterno Elementum, I was contacted by Ara’kus Productions and asked to help them out writing their newsletter as well as possibly helping out with their script, a task I was only too happy to help them with. Then they mentioned they needed a stagehand, a job which was described to me as mostly doing curtain cues and maybe moving some props. Sounds easy right? That’s what I thought too and agreed without hesitation, which is unusual for me since I’m usually conflicted in even the most simple of decisions.
So last Wednesday I was asked to help out with building the set, and it was there I learned my first, very painful lesson about being a stagehand: building a set is hard fucking work. And if there’s one thing my big flabby body doesn’t like, it’s hard work (and leafy greens.) I didn’t even really build it, the Ara’Kus carpenter/creepy effin monk Steve did most of that, all I did was help lug the pieces up the stairs (a lot of stairs). After a couple of hours of that every muscle in my body, which for years had lain dormant and unknown to me, were screaming in outrage at this sudden burst of physical activity. Fortunately I’ve been going to the gym the past couple of months, otherwise I have a feeling my body would have just refused to work any longer, leaving me flopping on the ground like a dying fish. Though if this burst of activity taught me anything, it’s that I’m clearly not doing enough at the gym, since even now I’m still feeling pain in muscles that clearly haven’t seen use in years. My muscles did not suffer in vain, however, because the stage was completed after a few hours and we all began a rough run through of Aeterno Elementum.
The second thing I learned about being a stagehand: It was a lot more complicated than I thought. Not only was I going to operating the curtain, I was going to be pulling props on and off the stage, operating the smoke machine, and actually appearing in the play as a member of the legions of the damned. Luckily it was a non-speaking role otherwise I would probably have descended into a jabbering, stuttering mess of an actor that would have made Elmer Fudd look downright eloquent. Still, the idea of me, a shy reclusive writer, going on stage in front of dozens of people was a daunting one. Scarier still, however, was just how important I was to the overall production. I wasn’t the lynchpin of the operation by any stretch of the imagination, but if I screwed up something it would leave a noticeable effect on the rest of the show and that alone was enough to put the pressure on me. I certainly didn’t want to be the one to turn a magnificent show into a show of amateurish failure. After that first run-through I thought that was exactly what was going to happen, every mistake that could be made, I made it. It’s a good thing I wasn’t handling any of the pyrotechnics that run through or I would have managed to burn down the entire city block.
I forgot my cues, which were difficult to follow since we weren’t working with the full cast, so it was sort of like trying to read a book where every other paragraph is missing. I also kept getting in the way of our sound engineer, no matter where the poor guy went I seemed to be there, knee deep in the wires he was trying so hard to tape down for the show. Finally, I had to engage that curtain in vicious hand-to-rope combat every time I opened or closed the curtain. I know, leave it to me to screw up something as simple as a curtain cue, but I’m telling you that damn rope had it in for me! You see, instead of one solid piece of rope for the curtain, it was actually two ropes tied together, meaning there was this giant baseball sized knot in the rope and every time I pulled the curtain, that knot would get stuck at the pulley. It was like trying to wrestle an anaconda who had just swallowed a moose. Luckily it was something I could solve with brute force, I just pulled on that rope like I was trying to rip it out of the ceiling and never gave that knot a chance to get stuck. It was a small victory, but at that point I was clinging onto whatever victories I could get.
The second run through, the next day, went a lot better and yet I couldn’t see past my own frustrations enough to notice. You get so caught up in your own troubles, sometimes you can miss what’s going on around you, and that almost happened to me. I would criticize myself for not doing something faster, or give myself a hard time over even small problems. I felt like the entire cast was carrying my dead weight. Sounds pretty miserable right, what could I have possibly gotten out of this experience?
What I got out the experience was one of the most amazing, and enriching experiences of my life, because I had the chance to work with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Whenever I felt the stress getting to me, all I had to do was look around me: the Seattle Knights practicing their fights, Jeremiah and Randy playing with the rest of the band, BJ practicing his speech, the entire cast working together to put on the absolute best show they could. Whenever I saw that, my stress transformed into a calm determination, because I too wanted to make this the best production I could and I wasn’t about to let something like a crippling fear of appearing on stage stop me. More importantly I wasn’t about to disappoint all the great people that made this show possible.
And that was truly the best part of the whole thing, the people and the memories. Jeremiah handing out fist bumps before the show. Richard flitting around the stage making me laugh. A reassuring handshake from Karl the Archbishop. Chatting with Susan while she applied my makeup. Watching Randy kick ass in his classical guitar solo.
It would take another entire blog post to list all the great memories I have of those two amazing nights, but let me just send out a huge thanks to everyone there, because you are all amazing people. And I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing me to be a part of it.