In college I worked on a student matinee for the first time. I didn’t have a backstage job on Romeo and Juliet, but since my class schedule was clear the day of the brat mat (clever, weren’t we?) I was roped into ushering. Before the show I took tickets and directed kids into seats, feeling oh so superior despite the fact that I was barely a year older than some of them.
The house lights went down, and the show began.
At intermission I opened doors and directed people to the bathrooms. The show was going well – though it lacked a little oomph. The early morning start had been a little painful for everyone, but the cast had been steadily shaking the cobwebs off.
Once we got the audience back in and seated for the second act my job was done, but I decided to stay and watch through the window in one of the side doors. The show picked up steam and the student audience seemed to be getting into it.
Romeo got to the graveyard and found Paris. They fought; Paris died. Romeo climbed down the stairs into the crypt and spoke with passion and sadness. He moved to Juliet’s bier to drink the poison. He leaned over to kiss her one last time. I noticed he lingered over the kiss for a few beats longer than usual, which seemed a bit odd. Then he died.
O O O O O
Romeo had been in the bathroom right before the tomb scene. He ran to stage a little later than usual to make his entrance and have the fight with Paris. As he turned to Juliet’s body to start his soliloquy he realized he didn’t have the dagger in his belt. He kept talking while he tried to figure out if there was any way he could get offstage to retrieve the prop or signal someone, but the stairs meant either option would be ugly. Romeo said, “Thus with a kiss, I die.” He leaned over to kiss Juliet and then moved his mouth to her ear to whisper, “I forgot the dagger; I’m sorry.” And he died.
This left Juliet stuck. Friar Lawrence and Balthasar had their short scene while she frantically tried to figure out how she was going to die without a dagger. Juliet waived Friar Lawrence away and leaned over Romeo’s body. She began to speak her few lines about the poison and as she said “drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after?” she realized that she could have faked some poison still in the vial. But she had the only blood pack in the show (to make her death all the more horrifying), so she needed to bleed. She kissed Romeo.
The next words were supposed to be “O happy dagger!” but that wasn’t going to work. What to do?
O O O O O
I had been mouthing the words along with Juliet and was wondering why she had stopped. Juliet raised her head and stretched out her arms, as though beseeching the heavens. She made a noise that started as a low wail and rose to a bloodcurdling scream. Then…
She convulsively brought her hands to her chest, digging her nails in (to the blood pack). She clawed at her chest, and then looked at her blood-stained hands as if confused as to how they got that way. Juliet fell over Romeo, dead. The audience was deathly quiet, stunned by what they had seen.
Many things happened after that day. The entire department got a lecture about treating every performance the same, no matter who the audience or how early the call. ‘Juliet’ was a hero, and is probably still drinking for free on the basis of this story. ‘Romeo’ never went onstage without a dagger for the rest of his time at college, no matter what the show.**
Oh, and there’s an auditorium’s worth of former high school students in Indiana who still believe that Juliet dies by ripping her own heart out.
I’m not sure William Shakespeare would approve.
**Senior year ‘Romeo’ walked up right before the closing performance of our last show, I was stage managing, bragging that no one had given him a dagger this time. I asked him for his handkerchief, and then pointed out the small embroidery in the corner. Heh.This is my entry for week 16 of Lj Idol,and is one of my favorite theatre stories of all time. You can find the other entries for this week here.