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Backstage at the Passion
part 2
by Feech

        Eppie is right up front, narrating something to another, taller cast member with her face held aloft to look at them. The position of her face changes her voice, more so than with others, perhaps because of the length of her neck. "Ep? May I interrupt?"
        "Sure, Feechy, what is it?"
        Soon the little mule's muzzle is in my face, tickling with feelers. She is something, I tell you, even just to have her standing near you. It remains to be seen what an outside audience will think of her as Mary Magdalene, but German had no doubts. In her teen age, it's hard to place a real human age on her if you don't know her, and that innocence just makes the Passion seem that much more current and immediate. Besides the voice. The voice nearly destroys me. She whispers, "whut-is-it?"
        "It's Dan. He's in a little..."
        "Oh, of course," she breaks in knowingly. "Dan. It's all right, Feech, we can handle him. Don't worry. Dan knows me." Her hoof-nailed hand pats the back of mine.
        "You sure?"
        "_Yes_. And I don't see there being much choice here, Feechy. Let me handle him. We'll be fine."
        "Good, well, then, that's good then. Let me just talk to the others."
        "You do that. But Daniel and I will be fine. You let the others know."
        "Thank you. I will."
        "What's up, Eppie?" It's Michael, licking his canine lips after taking a sip of something. "Feech?"
        I keep my voice low, just to tell those with direct physical contact with Dan on stage. The worst thing for morale right now would be to give some entire-cast speech on keeping a fellow actor in line. We don't need anyone to be _subdued_, here. I could kill all the energy in an instant. "Dan's a bit uptight, just so you know. Don't hold anything in, just watch him a bit. Don't do anything lightly. Let him know you're _there_."
        "Sure, can do."
        Michael Bix is portraying Simon, and I don't have to coach him beyond what I've said. He's the last one I'd want to stifle. Heck, this is the first time German has been able to say, finally, "Michael-- (and Michael said, 'Yes?')-- Michael, just do it." So Michael did, with a vengeance. No need to reel in Simon any at all. "Just do your thing. And don't let Daniel forget you're doing it. Or the rest of us, for that matter."
        "Right! You got it. Water?"
        "No, thank you. I'm looking for Pilate."
        "Wandering around in the back monitoring booth, last I saw him."
        "Thank you..." Why is he back there? What a night.
        "No problems." I can hear the tall Dal-man's tail swishing excitedly.
        "Break a leg, Bix. And you, Hepzibah."
        Eppie has a grin in her voice. "You know what they say about horses and--"
        "Yes," I nod and grin, moving away with my cane out amongst the toes and paws, "I know."
        Eppie giggles and I shoulder my way through a number of familiar body-scents layered over with costume materials and "Norm" or SCAB make-up.
        There is no monitor in the Box Office, since it's open to the Lobby, so a monitor was set up in one of the small closet-like rooms where costumes are usually hung; the Stage and House Managers can get back here through the backstage area, and pretty much get all that's going on, with easy access back to the actors. I slide in through the open doorway, and feel Kent's robe-sleeve swish against me, then his hand grasps my elbow. "Feech. I need to talk to you. Or someone."
        Kent turns right back into the small room, urging me in with him. His voice is uncomfortably close to my ear-- uncomfortably, because Kent is a good six foot six and he doesn't tend to lean over like this when he's in a good mood. Which is almost all the time. So why now... "Listen, Kent, I wanted to talk to you quick about Daniel. You're dressed and made up, I notice. That's good at least. What's wrong? Everyone else is backstage-- the orchestra'll be getting set now."
        "I think I'm going to have a seizure."
        Did I say there was nothing I had to do during the show itself? Where the heck is the Stage Manager?
        "Kent, are you _sure_?"
        "I don't know, I don't _know_ but I feel like it and if I have one on _stage_..."
        Kent has long fingers and thin wrists. He feels fragile when I try to calm him by folding my fingers into his palm. "Okay. Listen, don't kill yourself here, you're understudied, but-- listen, Dan is in no frame of mind to be doing this part with anyone he's barely rehearsed with."
        "I think I'm going to be sick."
        "You feel frightened to me, but you don't feel like you're anything _but_ frightened. What are you feeling? Really feeling. How can we get you calmed down?"
        There is a long pause, in which he wraps his hand tighter up around mine, but mostly is trying to catch his breath. This is just lovely. If I was sure they hadn't opened the house, I'd yell out backstage to get the dang Stage Manager in here, but I'm not sure there isn't the sound of audience entering, piped through here on the monitor (which mainly concentrates on the stage area).
        "Tell someone to get the other Pilate dressed and then come back," he says. Fine. That's what I needed, a release.
        I poke my head out into the general backstage area and get someone to get Kent's understudy ready. Thanks be, Pilate isn't on for a few numbers. But still. Then there's the question of Dan, who's probably being further bucked up and calmed down by Angelo, right now. If he gets messed up as to who he's working with, it'll take just as much adjustment to get him back into working with Kent.
        Kent touches me on the arm and I follow him back to the chair he sinks into, for the second time. "Kent, what's wrong? I know a seizure, you said that. How do you know? You need anything?"
        "No." He has his hands covering his mouth, now. "Normally I'd be fine. I just can't go on and I can't not."
        "_If_ you are having a seizure, you are not going on. You are understudied for a reason."
        "I _know_ but... I _know_..."
        "You're shaking like a leaf. But I don't recall that being part of any of this, in the past."
        "No." He draws in a long, teeth-gritting breath. "Um... Larry and Francis came back from the coast and-- Francis had one."
        "Had what?"
        "A seizure. I don't know. I saw him with Larry carrying him up by his shirtfront and it made me just about keel over. I really feel like if I go out there again I'll just turn into my wolf, and I can't."
        I didn't know Francis had a seizure transform condition. Of course, I didn't know _Kent_ had one until well after I'd moved out here, and we went to college together for a couple of years. I bite back the urge to ask what it is Francis turns into. If this has really triggered one in Kent, Dan has to be prepared to interact with another performer as Pilate, and it's probably the most intense physical interaction he has to engage in in this production.
        "Listen. We've got a few minutes until Dan is done in make-up. He had to go get Angelo's help. He had to have some additions made to his basic. There's been sort of an incident."
        "Talk to me about it. Anything while I sort of get back in stride, here. I feel strange."
        "I know." I hope my voice is gentle. It's hard to maintain any kind of peace in a pre-show atmosphere. The orchestra is warming up, with odd bits of shrill harmony in the disjointed bits and pieces and scales. There will be plenty of people in the seats, by now.
        "Is Francis out there?"
        "I... don't know. I didn't hear Larry or Francis."
        "Oh-- sorry. I'm afraid to go out there, you know. Until I know what I'll be feeling."
        "All right. Settle down. With Dan... Well, he's shaken up, a bit."
        "How so? How much?"
        "Well... Quite a bit, actually. Had a run-in with some troublemakers on the way here. It's put him on his guard."
        "Oh..." Kent gives a sort of groan and his voice drops into his hands again. "And he already hates me. He's nervous around me as it is."
        What is with this Group tonight? I knew this was an emotional show, but this is a bit much, even for people I'm used to seeing keyed-up and shy, like Kent and Dan. Oh, well, great. There goes the Overture.
        It freezes me, for a moment. There's no way it won't. And... the ensemble falls in with the instrumental... This is a _show_. And a half. No, and three-quarters. I can almost sense it pressing outward onto the guests. Now if Kent would just be _ready_, we'd all be _ready_, and for once they could get some real praise for this thing. If they'd once get through it, I know the audience response can uplift them for the rest of the run. They just don't know how _good_ they are.
        "Kent, _Darling_ Only Kent, Daniel does not hate you. Daniel is-- 'twitchy'. Around nearly everyone. For Heaven's sake, inhale once. _Slowly_. You're going to make yourself faint whether you have a seizure or not."
        He tries to regulate his breathing, while I nod approvingly. "Okay," he says finally. "I think-- I'm not going to shift. I feel-- ill though." He straightens with his back making dry costume-robe noises against the chair. "I've got... a moment... I'll... Yeah, I'll go on. I don't know if I'll do it _right_, but I'll go on."
        I listen to the opening of the show with him, marking off sequences to his initial cue. "I'll try to get out front and keep Larry posted on this. Would that help?"
        "Yeah. That'd be good. So I know where the rabbit is."
        "Yeah. Oh. Yeah, I'm sorry. If I'm forgetting names _now_, what about when--"
        "None of that. You'll be dazzling on stage. You will also keep Daniel sane. Got that?"
        "Just do it the way you rehearsed it. And don't make any false gestures. Just _do_ it. If you don't, you could spook him. Follow through and you'll be fine."
        "Just do it like Pilate."
        "Naturally. Aren't you feeling any better? Want to get a swallow of water?"
        He must shake his head, because there's no verbal answer to that before he says, "Gabe's family."
        Ah ha. I knew there was something else. "What about them?"
        "Have you ever _seen_-- I mean met-- the Reverend Carter?"
        "I can't say that I have..."
        "Feech, I think I'll faint before I go out there. I've never once met him in person. Only over the phone. He and his wife, Gabe's stepmother, _and_ his brother _and_ his grandmother are in the house tonight."
        "What, does Gabe's father scare you? I can't say I've met him, as I said. Gabe talked about him once or twice at school, but I don't know much about him."
        "Oh he's-- it's hard to explain. I can't screw up. I can't. He's--"
        I wait.
        I believe Kent tilts his head to face me. "You remember Gabe from before he settled into the 'beest form."
        "Of course. You mean the human look, when he-- well, whenever he had one."
        "Yeah. Well, the Reverend is like-- more than that. More voice, more everything. And he's the gentlest person you could know. I mean it. You think I'm exaggerating. I'm not."
        I crouch down near the chair, and Kent leans to put one of my hands on his knee, knowing what I want to do is make some friendly contact. I'm beginning to get a bit shook up, myself. Josh, our Judas, has taken the stage. And I do mean taken-- he has a sort of intense-lazy drawl to his speaking voice, and you'd never know it to hear him sing, but when you know how he talks you know where that rolling intensity comes from. They're all good, really. German is good at this. I wouldn't have envisioned what he's managed to do with Herod, for example, but when presented with his version it becomes clear how appropriate it is for a SCABS/"Norm" production. Put in the outrageous bits where everyone expects them anyway, and pretend like the rest isn't even unusual. He found an actor who's been morphed into a woman, but has retained a lot of what would be considered masculine traits. The man has been having the time of his life, knowing full well that he's going to turn even a typically overboard piece on its ear. He's had us all cracked up at one time or another.
        "I don't think you're exaggerating." Poor Kent. Opening Night, Francis nearly triggering a seizure in him by pure chance, and meeting his partner's family for the first time. "But you know you can do this show. Won't that make a good impression? Think about it."
        He sighs, fidgeting with his robe. He's one of the few cast members to wear one; costumes were designed on an individual character basis rather than a period scheme. "I'm afraid. I hate to say it, but I am."
        "I don't think I can explain. You'd have to meet him, even over the phone he's-- I mean, he's so..."
        His hands stop moving on his knees, so I imagine he rapidly shakes his head. "No. _Good_. Nice. Other things of that nature. There's just nothing I can do to make him mad. He thinks I'm the greatest thing ever to happen to his son. He _said_ so. He _said_ so, Feech. I can't go out there but I have to because I know I'm not wonderful at all but I can't possibly not do the show when he expects it and just thinks it's another wonderful thing about me."
        "You can do it, Kent. Get used to people liking you, okay? Lots of people like you." I pat his knee lightly.
        "I know but.
        "Gabe is going to be out there being Caiaphas and he's not even afraid. And he grew up living with this man in his house, Reverend Carter raised him and is his father and you know what he said? Gabe, I mean? He got ticked off because they were coming out here. He doesn't want them getting all supportive of him. His own parents. Feech... wait, what part are they at now?"
        We both listen. "It's okay. Take a moment and get back into yourself. There are a few numbers before your first one."
        "I can hear that, now. I just forgot... I just sort of zoned out... I hope Gabe doesn't get too mad at them for coming out here. I mean, he wasn't going to stop them or anything. But he's been so hard on himself for being just who he is and they get in the way of that, I guess. If I could just be what they think I am."
        "Kent... We don't have a lot of time for questions like this, I know, but... Where are your own parents? Do you see them often?"
        "No. Never."
        "Feel a little shy around them?"
        "Well... always did. Help me keep an ear on the monitor. I'm going to mess up."
        "No, you're not. You're fine. I'm helping you listen, yes. Did your parents give you a hard time?"
        "They didn't really ever get around to that."
        "I see..."
        "Feech, I've missed them so much. They don't want to talk to me. I've tried telling them about Gabe and Jezalyn and they never answered."
        Maybe I opened up a bigger topic than I can safely cover, here. Still, it begins to explain a lot about his near panic, something I just don't see in him out of all the times we've worked on shows. "There you go, Jezalyn will be out there watching. Keep your mind on her, on the ones who make you feel calm. If you can't relax and do a show for the Carters, do it for your daughter. She'll be so pleased."
        "I'll try. Feech, he's such a-- the Reverend-- he's so-- I'm sorry..."
        "No, that's all right, get it out of your system whether I understand it or not. We can talk more about it later, if you have to. I get the feeling you'll be fine with him, though. From the sounds of it, he really likes you."
        "He loves me. That's just it. I tried to be a good kid, I really did. You have a sister and your parents are like Gabe's, so you don't know what I'm talking about. There's just nothing... and then the Reverend. I mean he's so... _embracing_. I'll just die on the spot if I do anything wrong in front of him."
        "Kent, I think it's admirable that you're so concerned about making him pleased. But it _doesn't_ sound like you need to _make_ him pleased. Give him a chance to be as accepting as you say he is. He's Gabe's father, so he's yours too. Now please get ready to take your cue and put on a show for your Dad."
        He chuckles, slightly. "I guess, maybe... I guess he is sort of, at that."
        "There, you see, then it's only natural that he's so taken with you. So is the rest of this Group, and I'd be willing to wager the rest of the _audience_ would love to see you out there too, or there'll be a bit of a gap in the Passion."
        "Aren't I understudied?"
        "Yes, but, ideally, no. Now don't play any games with Daniel, out there. Play a _part_, but no games. Sing your heart out, here, how's your make-up?"
        "I'll check it."
        "Good. And Kent?"
        "Yes." He stands up and smoothes out his robes.
        "I agree with the Reverend Carter, and I hope I get to meet him after the show. I think you're a great person to 'happen' to Gabe."
        I think the quick huff I get in reply is enough of a smile-chuckle to count.
        "Okay, now, if you could engage in one transformation into Pilate, and leave the wolf where she is for now, we'd all be very pleased indeed."
        "I think she'll stay put. I'm human for the time being. Okay, I'm on. Catch you after."
        "You bet. Knock 'em dead."
        "Let's hope not."
        "What is it with you people and theatre phrases? Can't I have one cliche taken seriously tonight?"
        "No." He grabs my hand and kisses the back of it. "Wish me bad luck."
        "Break a leg."
        He hurriedly exits to the backstage area.
        I sit on the floor. For almost an entire song, I cool my head against the doorjamb, letting the scuffles and forced, waiting silence of those backstage sort of drift around and past me. Finally the Stage Manager pulls me up and asks me if I'm all right.
        "Sure," I tell her, in the midst of other whispers. "Thanks."
        It's Josh, in a pause within his performance. I put a hand out to touch him, find the front curve of his shoulder, and move to adjust. He's not one who minds being approached physically. The Stage Manager dashes to replace a prop that got set on the wrong table on the wrong side of the backstage. Propmaster must be on the far side with _another_ crisis...
        "Yes? Josh?"
        He whispers, not wanting to go into the room with the monitor lest he be not able to be easily grabbed and panicked at when it's close to his next cue. "Dan seems..."
        "Yes. I was going to talk to you about that. There's the matter of the kiss. He ought to be fine, but keep aware."
        "Okay, thanks. I was just wondering. The audience is eating up every _note_, but next to him I could feel something."
        "Yes he... got into a bit of a fight. Don't let it worry you right now. Just let him know it's business as usual."
        "Only it's not," Josh whispers. "This is wild. I didn't know you could pack so much audience into so small a space."
        "Good house, huh?"
        "I'd say. Great. Well, I guess I understand now. Just let me know if there's anything else I should do out there. I want to be able to cover for him if anything goes wrong."
        "No. You'll be okay. Maybe you could take hold of his hand, anything solid before you kiss him. Even when he's good and ready for it, the light touch might make him jump..."
        "Would that bother anyone else out there?"
        I think, trying to work out the blocking of people in my head... "I'm not sure it would... I don't know for certain..."
        "Well, it wouldn't bother me. I'll kiss him without the hand-hold first, if you don't mind. I'd like to get him to jump. Makes my part all that more effective. I mean, I _am_ supposed to be his best friend, or one of them anyway, giving him away like that."
        "True... But Josh, don't mess with him too much. He still has the rest of the show to go after that."
        "Don't worry." He pats me on the shoulder. "You worry too much."
        "Oh do I, now."
        "You know you do." He leans in, one breath on my cheek, kisses me, and steps away before I can snag him with my hand again. "See? You can barely feel it."
        "Go on, Josh. And _behave yourself_. I mean it. He's been through a lot."
        His next whisper is sober, and I have to listen hard to hear it, since he's a few steps away. "I understand. You been listening on the monitor? How've I been doing?"
        "You rock, as usual."
        "Oh good. Well, here I go."
        "Break something."
        "I will."
        I make my way back out to the audience space, where the air feels powerfully different, breaths and cosmetics and Spring-wind-blown theatre-going clothes all shifting the scent and atmosphere from players to audience. Daniel is singing. He sounds good.

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