Oops, I thought I was raising the curtain

With Venetian blinds you pull down on the string, and the blinds go up. But I learned that's not how it works with a stage curtain.

There was only time for cursory instructions - in backstage whispers. Nobody had realized thatScott, who was in charge of raising and lowering the curtain, couldn't be in two places at once. He should be on stage with all the other actors for the final bow. After all, he said more than one line as Second Removal Man. And he was responsible for carrying off significant sections of Granny's bed.

So it was realized by our stage manager, Lisa, that at the curtain call someone else would have to raise and lower the curtain.

"Would you do it?" she asked me.

This was not exactly a matter of being the right man in the right place at the right time. More accurately, I was the only man in the place who wouldn't be onstage.

The first night I did the job fine. But overconfidence may have set in. On the second night I stood by to take over the rope from Scott, donned the headset, and on hearing the word from Lisa ("Christopher, curtain up now!") I pulled the rope hard down.

Why I did it differently from the night before, I have no idea. Later I thought it might have had something to do with pulling up the Venetian blinds in our bathroom. There, you pull down on the string, and the blinds go up.

But I had just learned that's not how it works with a stage curtain. The curtain, already down, had started to descend even more - and vigorously. There was a great fluttering backstage. Its basic message was "No! The other way!"

I am not sure how far the curtain actually descended before I reversed my technique. One of the theater management team afterward told me he had once seen it brought down lower - so low, in fact, that the actors' heads could be seen above the bar. But mine was low enough for the large contingent of schoolchildren in the audience to whom laughter came easily and loudly. I'm glad it made them happy.

Eventually I set the curtain rising properly.

But after the bow, when Lisa said, "Christopher, curtain down now," I was still rattled and followed orders too enthusiastically. The curtain went down - and down. It slumped like melted wax into a conglomeration of unkempt folds. I had to raise it yet again before it looked normal. It was a comedy.

Later that night, I woke up periodically trying to work out which way the rope should go.

The next evening I arrived at the theater early. Andy, from the theater crew, was in attendance. I asked him for curtain lessons.

"It is very simple," he said. He is a friendly bloke, but when people say something is "very simple" I have the same kind of distrust that I feel when people, giving directions to a destination, say, "You can't miss it."

"No, it really is simple," Andy said. "People get it wrong because they think it's difficult."

He was right. It transpired that you move the rope up to make the curtain go up, and down to make the curtain go down. Up - up; down - down. I tried it several times, and it worked.

Before the play began that night, Margaret, the club chairman, gently told me she'd arranged for someone else to raise and lower the curtain at the curtain call.

"No!" I cried. "It's OK. I've had lessons." So she bravely left me at my post.

Each night thereafter my curtain raising and lowering was masterly - precise and stylish. But I still felt it was against the grain. I visualized the rope going over a pulley way up there in the heights. But it is more ingenious than that, involving counterweights and mechanisms that are beyond my ken.

On the last night the actors were to be allowed a treat: two ovations. The curtain was to go up and, after two bows, it was to go down. Then, like a ball bouncing, it was to be immediately raised again before it would be lowered for a final time.

I was told all this and was confident. But shortly thereafter it was proposed that Andy would do it. "Is that OK?" Lisa asked me.

Duly humble, I said I'd very much like to do it. So I was allowed to perform that ultimate theatrical ritual. It went well. People were pleased - but none was so pleased as I.

Now I'm prepared for Shakespeare, Moliere, and even Shaw's "The Man of Destiny, whose concluding direction reads, "The curtain steals down and hides them."

Now that's curtain-downing as an art form.

I am even prepared, I believe, for Neil Simon's "California Suite," which is actually our next play. The playwright gives a touching direction at the end of Act I: "(Her tears and the curtain fall.)" Oh yes, I'm sure I could do a weepy curtain. No problem.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.