Sunday, 25 April 2010
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT By Michael S. Collins
And then the scene changed. The audience turned silent, in expectation, and started to shimmer out of mind’s existence, replaced by trees on either side. The sound of thunder played throughout the Hall, not from the rinky CD player in the janitors’ closet, but from the air itself. The extra to my side was no schoolchild grumbling over his one line only part and waving to his parents, but an actual servant, real dust came up from his brush. The walls were no longer painted cardboard but actual Cyclopean structure. The lighting came no longer from the lighting box, complete with strobe effects, but from the small cracks in the oak door in front of us. The smoke machine had transformed into a proper Scottish mist, choking and freezing. There was no stifling heating, with only rags to put over the normal clothes to keep warm.
And I was no child anymore. I was Brett Stamerton, and I was knocking on the door to the castle of Professor Death, for real!
The real oak door loudly echoed as the knocker hit it. The sound reverberated throughout the uneasy silence. I turned to my manservant, who muttered under his breath and shivered and held on to my suitcases.
Footsteps. Slowly. One at a time, as if walking down a large corridor. The door creaked open halfway, and I was face to face with a grotesque facsimile of a face, which appeared between the crack.
It belonged to the butler, I assumed.
“Good evening” he said, “You must be Mr Stamerton.”
“Indeed I am”, I said, “And you must be the Butler.”
“Indeed I am” he said, and shivered in the mist.
“May I come in?” I inquired.
He turned his almost decaying head inwards, as if looking for a cue, before opening the door wide, and motioned for me to come inside. I walked in. No electric central heating inside either, but at least they had a few thousand candles burning to compensate. The butler turned to my manservant.
“I’m awfully sorry, young man, but you are not to be invited in.”
The man began to close the door on the poor servant.
“Baws.” Said the Servant who continued to freeze. His one line. The door was barely closed when he screamed, and blood began to flow under the door.
“Got to be careful of the wolves in this part of Scotland, I’m afraid.” Said the Butler. “The Professor will give you compensation in the morning.”
And we walked off. The servant’s dying screams ignored. He was only an extra, after all.
We walked up a long, steep, uncomfortable flight of stairs. My character had a hereditary weak ankle; I had seen it in the explanatory notes, so it made sense to me that I now had a limp to go along with my walk, even if I had no such weaknesses beforehand. This is show business, I guess.
The butler walked down an even longer corridor, opening a smaller door at the end of it. I followed him as fast as a man can on a newly acquired limp.
The new room was vast. On every side of the room stood portraits of great men and statues of every former Prime Minister, and all of them life sized and fitting in the room. Not cardboard and paper mache, but life sized and made out of stone.
In the midst of the room stood a large dining table. Hundreds of seats lined around the table, at each seat, a sumptuous feast. Chicken pie. I never liked chicken before, but had read that the character had, so it didn’t surprise me that I suddenly had a longing for the poultry.
And at the head of the table, sat the Professor.
“Aha, Mr Stamerton, I have been expecting you” He said triumphantly.
“Scene Five” said the Butler, helpfully.
“Professor Death!” I exclaimed. “You can’t succeed!”
He smiled, and showed off his fangs. Not made up. Real fangs.
“You look most delicious, dear boy” he said. “And I can’t have you ruining my plans, so I’m afraid I’ll have to have supper now. Have you eaten?”
“No” I said.
“Good. Me neither.”
And he rose from the table and into the air. No hooks and cords. Just flying.
It suddenly came to my attention, that if this was no longer the school play, and I was really Brett Stamerton, then Professor Death was probably a real vampire.
“I shall rest at last” said the Professor, “Once I have drunk your blood!”
And he prepared to swoop.
“No!” I screamed.
And the curtain fell. At least, it would have, had we still been in the play.
The scene stayed still for a second or two.
“Uh, Professor”, I said.
“The scene ended there. I don’t have anything left to do.”
The vampire growled at the back of his throat.
“But this isn’t the school play anymore, you fool. This is reality.”
“The stage is the life and the life is a stage” I said.
“Something along those lines” he added. “You got into character so well, I am as alive as you and more so. “
“But the scene ended here! So did the play!” I said.
He sized me up.
“I don’t care” said the Professor. “That was only in the play. There are no cliff-hangers in real life!”
And he pounced, and presumably drunk my blood, as the Curtain rose, and the lights came up.
Everybody clapped. The audience, no longer trees, came to life with applause. The extras were on stage, smiling at their mums in the crowd. The director was on stage, taking as much pride and credit as possible.
I excused myself, to go to the bathroom. I washed my neck, and rubbed my hands around my aching ankle. Then, I checked my newly won fangs in the mirror.
Reality and performance, it’s a very thin line, I think you’ll find.
So, until tomorrow, I’m off to practice.