A satisfying silence

Although I'd given up stage appearances for ages, I still had acting dreams. Well, one particular dream. A nightmare.

Now that I've relaunched myself into the theatrical cosmos - if only into the low orbit of amateurism - the nightmare has ceased.

Anyway, here is the dream and no interpretation thereof: I am in a play. Waiting for my entrance. I have absolutely no recollection of my words. Neither the first words, nor the second, nor any words following thereafter.

I panic. Rush off to find my book. It is in a dressing room at least a mile from the stage. When I get there it has vanished. My entrance is any minute now.

I career back and ask anyone, everyone, in the wings for a glance at their book. They all refuse. Some turn away. Some laugh. Some say they never had a book. Liars.

The one thing I do recall is the cue for my entrance. The actor onstage is starting to say it, mouthing the knell that tolls my fatal entrance....

Then, of course, as one does when dreams haven't any idea what to do next, I wake up.

No actual event is at the back of this dream. But when I was asked to prompt for a production of "The Odd Couple (Female Version)," my erstwhile night thoughts must have been subliminally in mind when I considered the awesome responsibility of the job. I immediately wrote all over the front cover of the play book:


Arriving at the theater on the night of the first performance, I marched across the parking area and found myself in step with a fellow member I had met while working backstage in the previous production. I had not seen him since.

"You onstage tonight?" he asked. "I'm in the audience."

"Well - in the wings," I replied. And with the correctly sheepish grin of one who has let himself knowingly be landed a mug's job, I admitted I was prompting.

"Ah," he said.

When we parted in the entrance hall, he said: "Well, here's wishing you an evening of total silence!"

I have to say that such a wish is not something I am accustomed to, and under other circumstances it might have seemed an unduly pointed and personal remark. But of course I agreed wholeheartedly. "Here's hoping," I said.

The first performance went by without a prompt. The second, the third....

After each performance the generous actors thanked me profusely. I was having to grow used to being thanked for doing nothing. "But we know you're there!" they said. "In case." They didn't need me, though.

If they were not word-perfect, they were very good at covering for each other and leaping in when anyone faltered even slightly and threatened the free and rapid flow of the play. One actress in particular found that if she was not quick enough, she was deprived completely of some of her best lines. As the week went on, she speeded up noticeably.

WE ARRIVED at the Saturday matinee. Still my voice was unheard. Thank goodness! I would probably have prompted far too loudly and spoiled everything, or too softly and had a spotlit actor beseeching with her eyes for a second prompt.

And then the final performance. My confidence by now meant I actually watched most of the play for the first time, with only half an eye on the text.

And then it was over.

For the first time in my life, I received a kiss from an entire cast (except for the manly handshake from one of the two males, and nothing from the other).

A golden silence, it seems, has its rewards. I like actors. Female version.

*A weekly series.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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