Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
LJ Idol week 23: no man is a hero to his valet

I really don’t like Shakespeare.  This season, our one Willy play was Lear, so lots of angst and dead bodies.  The costumes didn’t make sense: corsets, full skirts, and overworked up-dos on the sisters, with nearly modern military garb on the men.  Worse yet, they were boring.   But my job isn’t to like the clothes, just to get the actors in and out of them looking like they’re supposed to look.

I arrived for tech and got my dressing track for the show; I was assigned to Cordelia.  The actress was crazy, by turns paranoid, ADHD, and flat-out malicious.  Her world was divided into two categories.  In one was audience to whom she was always gracious, sweet, and kind, much like her character.  The other category was co-workers.  From us she wanted three things:  attention, gifts, or a penis.  If you couldn’t supply all three you weren’t worth much, and if you weren’t approaching her with at least two items the best you could hope for was to be ignored.  The worst?  Well, two different actors were showing off bruises and she had made a PA cry in rehearsals.

It was the last show of the season, set for a short run because, well, most people don’t actually like seeing Shakespeare; they feel obligated to see Shakespeare.  Obligation does not equal big ticket sales.  All I wanted to do was survive and take my vacation.

By day three of tech I found a balance.  I brought Cordelia a small, sweet something every day (not much mind you, she was watching her figure).  I dropped everything when she called, and in her dressing room I agreed with everything she said, no matter how mean or bizarre.  She started to treat me like a trusted servant, which I realized was the best I was going to do.  Her primary paranoia was that people were messing with her dressing room when she wasn’t there – rearranging her makeup and using her very expensive, hand-ground, possibly made from baby birds eye cream.  I couldn’t lock the dressing room during a show, but I started meeting her when she arrived at the building.  She’d hand me the eye cream, and I’d carry it in my pocket for the whole day giving it to her whenever she wanted to use it.  I’d hand it back to her before she left at the end of the day.  As long as one of us was touching it at all times, she relaxed.  About that, at least.

She hated the ladies playing her sisters because they were competition, both as actors and as women. Onstage she threw fits about the color of her dress compared to theirs, or angled for more stage time, but those things were the director’s problem.  In my world Cordelia played vicious little practical jokes on the sisters throughout tech – things like delivering ex-lax chocolates to Regan, and putting itching powder in Goneril’s corset.  Luckily she needed to gloat about what she had done, and I was paying attention.  I managed to tell another dresser to have Goneril wear a t-shirt and got to Regan after she had eaten only one piece of the chocolate.

I thought things would get better once we were in previews; tech is particularly grueling for actors.  But I forgot how much of the show Cordelia is offstage, that much downtime was dangerous.  She hated being in a corset so by the second preview she had me undress her completely after her first scene and then hung out in a robe until we re-dressed her for Act IV.  She spent that night wandering backstage, half-naked, trying to distract people.  The stage manager told me it was my job to see that didn’t happen again.  I tried card games, crafts, books, telling stories and that got us through half of the next night.  She started leaving the theatre during the show to run and get a coffee or pick up a magazine.  I knew the SM would have my head if he found out, but she wasn’t bothering anyone, so I didn’t fight it. 

Opening night Cordelia came offstage after her first big scene, and we got her out of costume as usual.

“You know, Cordelia is really kind of a minor part in the show” she said.

“Oh, of course not, she’s the lynch pin that sets everything in motion.  The way you play her everyone is paying attention.”  Yes, I laid it on a little thick, but I needed the sane Cordelia tonight.  And she really was good onstage, heartbreaking in fact – so in love with her father and unable to express it, so willing to help him in his illness and to stand by him no matter what. 

“Right, but the reviews will still be all about the two older sisters, they have the meatier parts.”

“You can’t worry about the reviews.”  Personally I thought they’d be all about the gentleman playing Lear.  “Besides you’re young, you have lots of time left to play the other parts.”

“I suppose that’s true.  Would you mind making me some tea?  I want to spend some quiet time focusing on what happens to Cordelia before her next entrance.”

I didn’t think she was going to be focusing on acting while I was gone, but she hadn’t given me any reason to think she was up to no good.  I went and made her tea.  When I got back to the dressing room she was all smiles, and we got her dressed, earlier than usual, for the second half of the play. 

Cordelia only had one quick change in the show, getting her out of most of her clothes for her final entrance as a corpse.  Once she was standing in the wings in just her shift I turned to hang the rest of her clothes up while she fussed with the shoulders of the simple dress.  I was about to ask if something was wrongs when she handed me several safety pins and walked to stage.  I had no idea where they came from so I put them in my pocket. 

Lear carried her onstage and set her down, bemoaning his dead little girl.  The scene continued and then Lear kneeled down to pull Cordelia’s body into a hug, “This feather stirs; she lives!”  As he pulled her up she did a little shimmy that you wouldn’t have seen if you weren’t looking for it, and the shift she was wearing fell to her waist, leaving her topless.  The crowd gasped, and poor Lear had to just keep going with his line.  The play ended, but I’m not sure anyone heard much of the last page.

Cordelia came offstage in the blackout bouncing she was so happy.  “Now they’ll talk about me” she whispered while I pinned the shoulder seams of her shift back together with her safety pins so she wouldn’t bow naked.  Apparently while I made tea she had ripped out the seams.  At the after party no one in the cast spoke to Cordelia, but she didn’t seem to mind.  After all, she was surrounded by young, admiring men who were more than happy to get her anything she wanted.

The next day the SM found me when I walked in.  “Don’t bother fixing the shift; we’re keeping the naked Cordelia.”

“What?  It makes no sense, it distracts from everything else…”

“The director pointed out that it will be in all the reviews so people are now expecting naked Cordelia.  Besides he liked it, told me to keep the air conditioning turned up.”

“Ugh.”  Cordelia’s breasts were mentioned in every review, mostly as perky.  Our announced run sold out and the business people decided to extend, which meant I had to cancel my vacation.   It also put off the annual maintenance on the theatre by three weeks.

We don’t know that the maintenance delay was the reason for the fire closing weekend.  I was upstairs before most people were in the building pulling something out of storage when I noticed a strange smell, shortly after that the fire alarm sounded.  I walked down the stairs into a wall of white smoke, and got down on hands and knees to crawl across the green room to the back hallway and outside.  I was making slow progress when I heard Cordelia yelling for me.  I caught her hand and said “We have to get out.”

“Do you have it?!  Do you have the cream?”  She shook me.

“No, I gave it back to you last night.  We have to –“ Cordelia went past me further into the building.  I tried to grab her but she dodged.  I made my way outside and waited for her to come out so I could chew her out for being so stupid.  But she never did.

So yes; she ran into a burning building.  Yes, a few people had gotten turned around in the back hallway and her coming in the door gave them a point of focus to get out that same door.  Yes, we spoke briefly in the smoke.  I don’t want to speak ill of the dead but she didn’t run in to save her beloved dresser, no matter what everyone says.  She died for eye cream.

This week is a triple intersection.  My wonderful partners are:
lawchicky  (Regan) and the_vernacular  (Goneril). 
Our stories can be read in any order.  If you are a non-idol person reading this we're down to only 39 people which equals 13 trios to read.  That magic number is lucky for everyone who heads over to the topic post at therealljidol, there's some good stuff.

  • 1
Wow...what a character she was, huh? The topless bit? That's insane. She certainly must like all eyes on her. And the eye cream?!? Even crazier.

I've actually worked on a show where an actor 'forgot' to under-dress (essentially layering up so when you de-layer a new costume is revealed) a pair of pants and then went onstage in his boxers before letting anyone have a chance to find him pants.

The eye cream thing I made up. Or at least I hope I did.

I totally thought this was nonfiction until I got very close to the end and was like "NO WAI!" XD Awesome job; love this so hard! (Thank you for tagging it fiction though because I probably still would've assumed nonfic. LOL)

Heh. I have worked as a dresser for some people with strange demands but I kind of rolled them all into one to equal this chick. My favorite "oh no they didn't" that didn't make it into the entry - having to catch half-sucked cough drops in your hand as the actor makes an entrance.

Thanks - I had a lot of fun writing this.

I like all three stories in your intersection this week. How did the three of you decide on Lear?

We had discussed going for a theatre theme since no one else was likely to go that way, and the 'valet' topic screamed dresser to me. I think the_vernacular first suggested Lear, based on the fact of the three sisters. I am thrilled with the way all three entries came out.

Hey! I love Shakespeare! :p

This is great :D

I love Shakespeare as the written word. In production folks sometimes try to paste new interpretations on a show just to be new and fail miserably. Those are no fun.


... Maybe, but the best version of Romeo and Juliet I've ever seen is still the Baz (can't spell his surname) Luhrman? film version. The worst was an RSC "period" production that was boring as SIN.

And the best version of A Midsummer Night's Dream was the one that the RSC did in collaboration with an Indian Company (whose name I have forgotten) that was in several different Indian languages as well as English. That? That was AMAZING.

I think I know what you mean, though. A production of Shakespeare is either brilliant or BORRRIIINNGG, and as a theatre student, I've sat through lots of BORRRIIINNGG Shakespeare.
I once saw one (In Manchester, a few years ago... another Romeo and Juliet) where they all just rode around the stage on Vespas. I love Vespas, but even they didn't keep me entertained for two hours ^^

Yeah it's the brilliant or boring thing that I react to. Sometimes the new ideas work brilliantly and sometimes you just stare at the stage wondering who the hell thought whatever they're doing is a good idea.

I think that's the neat thing about Shakespeare, his stuff has been around so long and done so many ways that the plays themselves are indestructible.

I thought this was non-fiction until the very end. You created an incredibly vivid character in Cordelia. Loved this!

Thanks so much! I had some trouble finding the narrator's voice in this, if you thought it was non-fic I must have succeeded.

The producers of the show ruined it theatrically by allowing her to ruin a classic play with nudity to let herself shine. Just wrong.

What was that magic eye cream? that she was willing to die for it. Proves he was crazy.

Very well written. I had already voted for you but i wanted to come back nd read and comment on your entry. I know your are always good.

I have seen several idiotic decisions made in the name of ticket sales instead of the play.

Thanks so much for your kind words. At this point in the game we all 'know' everybody so it's fun to see what happens next.

(Also, I love your icon.)

I love naked Cordelia. I can totally see someone being enough of an attention whore to pull that kind of stunt too.

I was trying to figure out how she could mess with the play while she was a corpse, naked was the only thing I could think of. It would be such a brilliant disaster.

Talk about a prima donna... I can just imagine the frustration of working with someone like this! Great piece.

I've worked with some folks who are close to this, but luckily never anyone who was this over the top always. Sometimes the care and feeding of actors is incredibly tricky.

OMG seriously, that was just the most fantastic read!! What a nightmare she sounds... but believable ;)

Thank you so much! I tried to keep her within the realm of possibility, there's nothing she did (well other than the unscheduled nudity and running into a fire) that I haven't seen an actor do. I've just never seen someone do all of it.

That's awesome fun, combining a whole bunch of mad things into one person ;)


Seriously, I also took this to be something that was quite possibly real. Well done!

I was trying to think of something ridiculous for the eye cream, I like your version.

Heh, I took some of my least favorite things actors have done and rolled them all into one. Luckily I have not actually worked with a 'super'-actor like this myself.

I think some certain people expect to be bored with Shakespeare and some are even bothered when it is enjoyable. I've directed about ten of his plays (some with greater success than others) and the best compliment I've received for the best productions was "Wow, I really enjoyed that - that didn't seem like Shakespeare at all."

Shakespeare, of course, being synonymous for "tedious."

Anyhow, I like your fictional Cordelia actress. She seems like an amalgamation of every awful performer I've ever worked with!

Yeah, people walking into Shakespeare expecting to be confused and to not understand the words and are amazed when they see a good production that they can follow without a problem. It is a prime example of getting out of an experience what you put in.

That was the goal for Cordelia - roll every crazy thing up into one. Thanks.

I actually *LIKE* Shakespeare. Really.

Then again, I haven't seen LEAR yet.

Wow. Until I saw your tag, I thought this was all for real. lol... great writing, you really sucked me in. :-)

  • 1