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.