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Backstage at the Passion
by Feech
Feech -- all rights reserved
 

The Kelly Theatre is rather a small place to be putting on Jesus Christ Superstar. Long before the house has opened, when the orchestra is arriving and putting together instruments and making last-minute time adjustments with German, the atmosphere in the dressing and make-up area is stifling with anticipation, noise and close crowding. We have a cast of the Group and then some, and this particular show fills a space and flows over into the people present, even before it's begun. For some of the numbers, German has blocked it out so that singers will be offstage as well as on, to avoid overwhelming the audience. The stage is so close to the audience, it makes the opera as intimate as it really should be, but then you don't need to throw it in their faces. It's already there.

Being Publicist and Assistant Director, I don't have anything I really have to do right now. It's been an intense several weeks, what with the already controversial nature of 'Superstar' and the resultant anxieties of the multi-denominational and multi-species cast and crew. Of course, German planned it that way. He didn't get into theatre to avoid challenges, and neither did Larry. They intend to make a point to the public, and I believe that this time German wanted to extend that to the Firehouse Group as well. Prove what it really is to want the stage. We've had to want it to put up with some of the reactions we've already gotten, and this just now being opening night.

I wander out to the short hall that serves mainly as a required fire exit and find the bar that unlatches the door to push it open. I've got my cane, but I don't use it-- everyone is crowded into the dressing areas for make-up call, or out front manning the Box Office. I usually only employ the cane when I might run into someone else going the other way.

A chill blast of Spring night air cuts in around the opening side of the door. It's not really Spring yet, I know, but at least it's not February anymore. The weather seems to change constantly. I decide to sit outside anyway. The air will be charged so strongly inside all night that I might as well nab a break now, before we all get jostled around the reception afterwards.

I shove the door the rest of the way open and promptly step out, and right into the back of a person seated on the cement step. Damn. I should have used my cane. At least then it wouldn't seem like I was kicking the person.

Whoever it is turns around so violently that it has to be Dan. What the heck is he doing out here?

"Dan?"

No answer, just a short gasp and, I think, a lot of fast headshaking while he brushes at his face. I can hear his sleeves brushing against each other and the soft sound of palms on facial skin. I pull myself back against the brick wall on this side of the theatre. We're between the theatre and the bookstore next door. There'd be room to sit down on the step if Daniel moves over, but I don't know yet that he wants me to. This is just great. And he was doing so well, too.

"Yeah, 's me." He's controlling his voice with extraordinary care. Still, if he doesn't want to say anything, no point in pressing him for explanations. One problem is obvious, however.

"What are you doing out here? They'll be going mad looking for you. It's well past your make-up call."

More face-rubbing. "I know."

I sigh, hopefully not in a way that sounds overly impatient. I tap my cane idly back against the wall behind me, pressing my lips together thoughtfully. "Er... may I?"

"You may as well."

I sit down as smoothly as possible. I try to keep my arms to myself. He's obviously nervous. "Why aren't you inside?"

"I can't go inside. I can't."

There doesn't seem to be much answer to that except for: You're called fifteen minutes ago, you'd damn well better get in there, there is no such thing as can't, so I don't say it. I just sort of flick an ear without thinking about it and then reach up to feel the ear, because I don't have anything else to do with my fingers.

Dan sighs a long, shuddery sigh and breathes outwards, toward the sidewalk, for a time.

"Is it about the crowd scenes? About Kent? Anything like that?"

He sighs, a short one this time. "Sort of like that."

"Dan, there is no time for 'sort of', even though I'd like to let you sit here as long as you damn well please. What can I do to get you ready to go inside?"

"I... can't. I just didn't-- wasn't--"

There is a long pause wherein several leaves make their way down the sidewalk in the direction of the visitors' door, gusted by the wet wind. I brush a finger across the front of my nose. It always feels odd to me, to touch an ear and then my nose. I feel so asymmetrical. Others say I don't look it, but to me I feel that way. As if it's not balanced out, somehow, with only the ears changed. But they changed evenly on each side, fur-dusted with extended tips. I don't know. What am I supposed to think? If I saw me, maybe I'd know. But the rest of this sort of came with the package.

"I didn't think anything would happen. I thought I was ready."

"What happened?"

He lowers his head into his arms, if the sounds of his movement and breathing serve me right. His forearms would be across his knees. "I wish I didn't have to talk about it."

I'm glad he realizes he has to talk about it, at least. I'll get him in for his call yet. It wouldn't do any good to go bother anyone else to coax or order him in, not when he's in his touchy, vulnerable mood. We'd only drive him further into whatever's scaring him.

"How fast can you put on your make-up?"

"Oh... fast. Damn, I have to go in, don't I. Of course, I know I do. Don't listen to me."

"Too late. But I'll disregard what you just said. Tell me something else. Talk to me about what happened?"

"Shh..." He's still talking into his folded arms.

I wait. The party of leaves has moved on and there don't seem to be any more. Someone pulls a car up in front of the glass visitors' door and a number of people in hard-soled shoes, at least one set high-heeled, emerge and tap to the doorway. They're talking animatedly, but it doesn't sound negative. That's a good sign, anyway. I think most people here tonight will really be here to enjoy a good night of theatre. The creeps who've been badgering us all during production wouldn't bother to sit through the show.

A nasty thought comes to me and I turn my head towards Dan, wanting to reach out with a hand to make contact before asking him anything, but knowing I shouldn't until invited. If he lashed out at me now, he'd be so upset with himself I'd never get him to respond reasonably. "Daniel? Don't tell me anyone--"

He makes a sound, not vocal, as though he is nodding against the undersides of his arms, then remembers and mutters, "They did."

"Shit."

"Tell me about it."

"Come on, you've got to get inside. You're just letting them win if you don't put on the show of your life, now, you know."

"I can't. I'm shaking. I can't do it. It's half my fault anyway. I kind of threw the first punch."

I almost have to sit on my hands to keep from touching him to assess the damage. "Well, how are you? Do you need a doctor?"

"No, no, nothing like that. I think my eye is swelling up, though. Here... feel."

He takes my left hand and places it under his right eye. "There's a lump, yeah," I admit. "I'm sure Angelo can take care of it, though. He can fix anything, or so I hear."

"Damn, Feech, I can't go in there for Opening Night looking like this. And I can't-- I can't--"

"But we've worked on this for weeks. You're the best. You're perfect. No reason why you can't do it again. Trust me."

He sighs. I think he frowns-- his voice sounds like it. "I'm afraid I'll screw up, hurt someone, and since I'm scared it makes it worse... I'm more scared... I'm more..."

"I know, Dan. We've been over this."

"I know. Come on, tell me what I need to hear. I don't know what it is, but time is running out before someone like German will come out here screaming at me and I'll have to start all over again."

"German won't come out screaming. He knows you better than that."

"I just don't know."

"Okay. Well." I take my hand from beneath his eye, and run my fingers over the top of his head before putting my hand in my lap. It seems like he doesn't have anything else wrong with his face, and his breathing, except for the nerves, is normal. Maybe he can go on with a minimum of fuss, if he can get himself in there and onstage. Just getting through the rest of the cast and into his costume will be difficult enough, but then maybe he'll be ready as ever. My hand does come away with a few flecks of something dry-soft on it, though. "You shedding, Daniel? That's all you need."

"I know. I know, damnit, everything happens at once, doesn't it. I tried to soak all the skin off before I started out tonight but some of it wasn't ready to go. Now I'll look like I have the world's worst dandruff. Jesus, with dandruff. How do you like that."

"It's snakeskin, not dandruff. Don't let what others might see bother you so much." I know I don't necessarily practice what I preach, but this is an emergency, he has to be onstage or else, and besides, ideally I would worry less about what others think.

"Are you kidding? Onstage? What else matters besides what they see?"

"What you want them to see. You know that. Why are you scared to go in? I'd think it'd be out of your system after you already had a fight. What happened?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Fine, take your time."

"Damn! There is no time. All right. I'll tell you. But you can't tell anyone else."

"Why not? I won't, but why not?"

"Because. They all hate me anyway."

"Daniel... They do not."

"Just listen."

I nod. "I'm listening."

"Okay." He takes a deep breath and the sound faces out towards the street before he begins again. I wonder what he's seeing across the pavement, if anything.

"Is it very dark?"

"Not too bad. The alleys are black. The streetlamps are on strong."

"I can hear that."

There's a pause, so he's probably nodding. "It's dark, cloudy, but the wind is keeping the sky clear just above the lamps and on down. Anyway..."

I wait. He's breathing more slowly, more like when he's in acting mode and keeping his nervous impulses down to where he has a handle on them.

"I was messing with my hair, like I told you. Trying to get the damn skin off."

Daniel has scales for hair, only you'd never know it to look at him; everyone says so, anyway. They feel different from hair to touch them. They just never grow past a medium length and of course are never cut, and once in awhile they shed their skin, which seems to be useless to Dan since his skull and scales never grow nor change. Just an outward manifestation of the small, rear-fanged snake SCABS made him on several levels on the inside.

"Look at it this way-- by the end of this weekend's shows, you'll look better than ever, having just gotten the stuff off and having all fresh skin showing. Alan's always at his best after a molt."

"Either way, it looks cruddy now."

I can't argue that one anymore. Might as well cede the point by staying silent.

"So," he continues, his voice falling back into the steadier manifestation it takes on stage. He'll make it in in time. If he doesn't, we'll cope, but-- well, many 'buts'. He'll make it in. Period. If everything else goes smoothly, once his mood is back in control he'll be good to go for the night. That seems to be his pattern, once we can just settle him into it. I worked with him privately many times during the course of rehearsal, getting him used to the pulling and brushing of hands against all sides of his person for the healing scene. Often German would send us and the ensemble off the mainstage just to get Daniel desensitized to the sensations while German worked other soloists, or the Apostles. It's all been a test, in a number of ways. German knew what he was doing. I just don't know how much of this he expected.

"It got to be time to head down here, so I grabbed my kit and left. So far so good."

"Right."

"Lindy said she'd be coming down for the show tonight. Won't be until later, though, since there's so long between call and the house opening, so I walked alone, and I guess it was stupid to use the usual route. I ought to stagger it more often. I had a run-in with some anti-SCABbers a year or so ago, because of Lindy, and... Well, just about the same thing happened. I never learn, though. I just never learn. For all I know, I'll hit or bite someone on stage, tonight."

"You won't."

"I hope not," he replies, with feeling. "I just-- I don't know. I have a knack for making everything worse. That's why I don't want you telling anyone. They all know they are more tolerant, everything, just better at this than I am."

I shift a little on the cement, but don't say anything. He knows I admire his work and that I like him. He's tried to chalk that up to his reminding me of Alan, but Alan told him it wasn't true. I love Alan, our Burmese python Technical Director, and I like Daniel for completely different reasons. He can say whatever he wants about the others, and he knows I won't agree with that, either. He's just venting. Anything to get him inside.

"You're a good Publicist, Feech. Word of this show is all over the City."

"That's the idea. Somehow, I don't think I should take that as a compliment, though."

"Oh, I don't know... I mean you are good at it. I've spoken to a couple of folks who really liked the posters. Your crew is good. But there are those who don't care for the parallels we're drawing here and a lot of them don't know anything about the show. They just want something to-- you know-- well--"

"Right. Your eye."

"Yeah. Well, you know, I told German I don't know the first thing about the Bible, but he just asked me wasn't I an actor."

I nod. The same thing happened with a lot of the Group members, when faced with their parts for 'Superstar'. You could feel the need in the room, the tight breaths and hopefulness, but also an immense hesitation. There weren't many who really went into this with a lot of confidence. Alexander had to remind everyone that Webber and Rice weren't Christian, either. And some of us Christians have been talking up the non-Christian stars throughout production, reminding them that these are people they're playing, same as with any other show. But they know better-- they know that there are those in the public watching them for the slightest slip-up. Of course, for some, it's bad enough that we are doing it. Theatre and SCABS is one thing, a volatile combination in itself, for some. Then there's the perpetually controversial state of Jesus Christ Superstar, which manages somehow to evoke outrage decades after its first showing. It's amazing what people will pick out to complain about. Put SCABS and Theatre and Jesus Christ Superstar together and you have an interesting challenge indeed, whether anyone even says a word about its possibly objectionable qualities. You can just think of too many of the outraged comments, yourself. You don't even need any help. It does test your desire, I must admit.

Daniel, it seems, had help driving those doubts home. It would have to be him, too, of the whole cast. We've each been accosted verbally or in writing at one time or another, and Gabe Carter has taken it upon himself to look up computer sites on this opera and read off what people have called blasphemous about it. German told him to knock it off. It had done its work, though. Made everyone that much more uptight. At the same time, this show makes us work closely with each other, physically and emotionally, I really think more so than most other pieces.

I'm not sure it was altogether bad, either. There are some genuinely interested and expectant theatre-goers entering through that front door. The tension and drive we've had to put into this is going to give the people who like it the show of their lives. Then the cast will see. They'll see what they can do with something they thought was so mysterious to them.

People. Just people. "So you think German was wrong?"

Dan grips my hand, maybe as a substitute for shooting me a frustrated glance. "He cast me as Jesus, for crying out loud."

"Yup, I know."

He lets my hand go. "So I'm nervous enough, you know, going along on the street to come here and be for these people someone they've known forever, and I've never even known him."

"Maybe you have and maybe you haven't."

"I don't know. I haven't known him like Lindy or the other Christians in the Group, not like anyone else seems to. So I'm--"

"But you haven't known other people you've portrayed."

"But the whole audience-- I mean-- I mean, there they are, you know, and if it was anybody else I could be them and make the part. I kind of can't do that with Christ."

"Yes you can. I've seen you do it. What happened next?"

He shuffles his feet on the step. "There were two guys coming out from one of the sidestreets where there are three or four bars on that one block-- you know?"

"Yes."

"I don't think they were really drunk. Just a little tipsy; still early in the evening."

I can't help reminding him a little. "Why yes, the theatre-goers are still dressing and getting in their cars. A few are milling around in the lobby but--"

"I know there's no time."

I brush a bit of windblown dust from my eyelash. "I know."

"It was early."

"It still is. It's just that..."

"Yes. So they weren't real drunk. Just tipsy. Two guys, one bigger than I am, the other not so much."

I nod. Daniel continues, talking with his hands, too, I'm almost certain, but I can't tell for sure whether he's rubbing one fist in the opposite palm or rubbing them both against his knees.

"They wouldn't know I was a SCAB-- but they've seen me go that way before, I'm almost certain. They must know I'm with this theatre, and seen me with Lindy-- I don't know. They know me, but of the guys I've seen in those sidestreets I wouldn't have been able to pick them out. They were looking for trouble. Someone must have said something about this show, and with the posters and stuff. You know."

"If they know you, are you-- in danger? I mean, really, if--"

"No. They wanted a fight and they got one. I'm such a damned fool, but maybe it'll keep them off my back in the future-- I mean, they provoked me and then pretty much won, so unless they're looking for the same game over again I'm all right. They've probably got their own worries concerning the law and such, anyway. If I'd been thinking, I wouldn't have done it. But you know..."

"Well, as long as you're sure. And you should let someone drive you home tonight."

"I will."

More people exit a car, clunking the door shut, and clack in their dress shoes to the front door. This group isn't saying anything, but that may be because it's chilly. Or maybe they're the kind that don't say anything until they've experienced the show. I shrug to myself. Who knows. Daniel is still and quiet. I find myself wondering if I should go and get Angelo. But he'll be better ready to handle Dan when he's got anyone else he's helping out of the way, and Dan will need special treatment for that eye. I'd better just stay and let him get his worries out, then hope Angelo is ready for him.

"So these guys came up to me."

"Did you move to avoid them?"

"Of course. Heck, I ran, but I tried to do it-- you know-- casual-like. Walk-ran for aways. They kept up, just wanted me I guess, or there weren't any other targets around. I suppose since they knew I was the snake-man from here, or something. Thought they might hit a nerve."

"Seems they did."

"Yes..." He pauses. "Damn, Feech, this eye hurts. Is it worse?"

"Messing with it will make it worse. You could be in and getting it iced, you know."

"Not yet. Don't make me go in yet."

"I won't. Just mentioning."

"Please, how bad is it?"

I give him my hand, to place himself. It'd be just like me to give him another black eye in the process, out of sheer clumsiness.

"There. How bad is it?"

"Well, it's what you feel, yourself. I don't know why you think my hands are any better at judging this than yours are."

"I want a second opinion, other than my own. What, precisely, am I showing Angelo? Is he going to throw a fit?"

"Oh, Daniel, he won't throw a fit. You sound like someone here beat you up."

"I just can't--"

He cuts off quickly, but there's a long pause, so I murmur, "Well, it's swollen. Mostly below the eye. I really think he can make it pale enough that it won't show. Your eyelid feels about normal."

"Thank you."

"Tell me what happened, then we'll get inside and get some ice on this."

"Well, they stopped me. I kind of had to turn to face them. Then... I don't know. There may have been a time I could have run, but they weren't that drunk that they didn't see how to block me off, with two of them. So then they asked me if I thought I was Christ.

"I said heck no, leave me alone." His voice takes on a mocking tone, imitating the other man: "'I suppose you think Christ was a gay man.' You know, that stuff. And the one who wasn't talking laughed because he was too stupid to come up with anything else to say."

I press my lips together and listen. Dan seems to pull a sleeve along his mouth, then there's silence except for scuttering sounds and vague motor vibrations from this street and beyond. Three or four cars go by at once, then, and Dan has the same thoughts I do of preparation time slipping away, because he abruptly continues: "I told you not to tell anyone. I mean don't tell Gabe. I came that close to denying being gay again tonight. Because I'm not, you know, but I know it shouldn't matter. But I was biting my tongue to keep from saying it. I almost hit the guys then, for implying that. I really think that's why I hit the one in the long run, anyway. And I feel so stupid about it."

He doesn't really pause, but his breath keens just slightly and I fear he is crying. Well, no reason to stop him. If he has to, he has to, and the make-up is going to have to cover the effects of that too, if it's necessary. At least, I think to myself, this is Jesus of Nazareth we're talking about here, in the last week of His life. Maybe Dan's face and voice will be better than before, this way. But that doesn't mean I like to hear anyone cry because they think they're stupid.

I shake my head. "Come on, Dan, you're fine. You're under stress anyway and they hit a sore spot. Don't let Gabe fool you. There've been times he's been as upset as you over just this sort of thing. I think maybe he actually gets angry because he doesn't want to see you doing to yourself what he did to himself, even though you and Lindy are in a different situation than he has been. It's not a matter of anyone being 'better' at this."

Dan coughs a little around his words. "Last year, when I had the other fight, it was the same thing. I said it was because I was defending Lindy's honor, you know, standing up for her because they were making accusations about us and she wasn't there to say anything, and that just proves that it's all in me. If I thought about it, I don't think I could honestly say she'd be too upset about being called gay. I don't know why the heck it bothers me so much. My best friends are gay. I'm so-- something."

"You're okay. Honestly."

"No-- I'm not. It's like saying I don't want to be with her, if you think about it. So I almost hit him, and then I was mad because I almost did, but I said: 'How do you know Jesus wasn't gay? He was a human being.'

"The guy said, 'Better than they can say for you, SCAB boy.' So I hit him."

"Well, you were doing pretty well, up until then," I say. "Maybe you should tell Gabe what you said. He'd be pleased."

"No. He'll know why I hit them, and he'll know when he sees me that I started another fight. So will they all. I have to go in, but I wish I hadn't done it."

"So do the other guys, I would imagine."

There's a pause where he probably shakes his head. "No, they landed a few on me, the result of the worst one you've already seen, but I hardly damaged 'em, really. They'll be saying they beat up a SCAB, and so what."

"If you're sure they won't go after you again."

"Not soon, I don't think. Probably not anytime. But I can tell you I'll be careful. So don't worry."

"I can't promise I won't worry, but okay."

"Feech, press on my shoulders a bit, massage my temples, anything. Make it pretty firm pressure."

"You got it." I take a tight hold on his closest wrist, and he offers me the other to massage as well-- then I find my way to his shoulders by his arms and work my fingers in as hard as I can in the pits before and in back of his shoulders. "Tell me how long."

"Not long. We-- I-- can't stay out here. Damn, someone would have come screaming for me and I don't know what I would have done."

"Well," I say, increasing the pressure, working out his nerves, "you would have gone in and put on a good show. Now, break a leg or two, why don't you. You are going in, so what-ifs are as of now irrelevant, until you want to tell horror stories afterwards."

"I could make-- that's good, tighter please-- a pun of some sort concerning the irony of snakes and legs and such, but I won't. But I could."

"You have legs, break them."

"Yes."

"Is that good?"

"Thanks. Yeah." He shakes a little and stands up. I follow him. "Okay, here we go."

"Just do what you did at Dress last night-- it was phenomenal. Listen, I'll take some of the cast aside and ask them to be aware of your mindset. How's that?"

"Would you?"

"Sure. Let it be, I'll take care of it. Just get your make-up on, for crying out loud."

"Okay. Thanks."

"Just get in there and no thanks are needed!" I give him a little shove towards the door. He opens it and ushers me in, and I feel him shudder. "It's okay," I say quietly. "Hundreds of times you've felt this way. We all know you. You'll be wonderful."

"Feech..."

We wait in the hall. The Lobby chatter reaches us along the smooth walls, some of it soaked up by carpeting. "Yes? What?"

"I don't... You don't think I'm anti-gay, do you?"

Not now, Daniel. But never mind, there's still time, if only a minimal amount at best. "No, of course not. You're just confused and late for your call."

"I don't think I'd be any happier if Lindy were a woman instead of the frog she is now. It shouldn't make any difference."

I don't know quite what to say to that. "Of course it makes a difference, to you. Something about it bothers you. But that that bothers you makes me think you're just working it out on your own, you're not anti-gay. You just don't want to be called gay when you're not."

"No, I think I'm a bigot."

"Daniel, please go inside."

"If she weren't male, people wouldn't say this, they'd just attack me for being a SCAB. I wonder if I'd even get mad then."

"Dan?"

"Yeah?" His voice is a bit shaky.

"Shut up."

He does.

"Listen to me. I admire you for being concerned about this. I hate to tell you to stop talking about it. But isn't Lindy coming to the show tonight? What are you going to tell her if you're not on the stage? Please bring this up with me later. Please. I know you have many gay friends and you're upset with yourself. Many of those friends are dressed and made up right now and might have more than one nitpick with your behavior if you don't get in there now."

"Yes."

"Okay?"

He takes a deep breath. "Okay."

"I'll tell Lindy, when I see her, that you're the bravest man in the cast. Now get in there and throw yourself on the mercy of Angelo. You okay with him?"

"Angelo's fine. Yes, thank you. Great. Okay. I'm going."

"Good. Good." I would pat him on the shoulder, but I fear undoing what I already did with the massage.

"Good. See you later."

"Yes. Move."

He does, finally. I slide my cane along the wall and slip into the still unopened audience space. Eager patrons are socializing happily in the Lobby, but the empty house is cool and electric-calm, almost seeming to draw the audience and cast towards it, some empty well of a production. I can't hear anything at first, just the vigorous silence, but then above the sound of my own shoes moving down the carpeted ramp I can make out crew members sliding some set piece on stage. I keep to the side they seem to be furthest from, and step to the backstage area. The orchestra members are having a quick pre-show break to drink something and stand and loosen up. Behind them are the regular cast members, by now ideally in their full dress. I can smell the dusky tang of make-up and now I can again hear voices.

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?"

"C'mere."

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."

"What?"

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."

"Francis?"

"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?"

"How?"

"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."

"Why."

"I don't think I can explain. You'd have to meet him, even over the phone he's-- I mean, he's so..."

"Intimidating?"

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."

"Feech?"

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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