Authors: Lawrence Watt-Evans
Tags: #fantasy, #magic, #theater, #rebirth, #wonder
Copyright Lawrence Watt Evans 1992
Smashwords Edition 2012
All rights reserved
Cover art by Ruth Evans
In memory of Jack Wells
Cue 84: Grandmaster slow fade, count of ten,
to black. Count five, and wait for the curtains to close
completely; then bring up the curtain-warmer on Dimmer #3 for
No problem. Art Dunham took a final glance at
the cue sheet clipped to the cord of his work light, just to be
sure he wasn't missing anything. Reassured, he turned his attention
back to the stage, keeping his right hand closed firmly on the
black knob of the largest lever.
Jamie was alone on the stage, giving the
closing speech, and he'd gotten himself off-center, off his mark,
so the pink light was all on the near side, and his other side was
washed in blue. That was something to mention, last performance or
not; Jamie meant well, and he could act, but he was so damn sloppy
about the details sometimes!
...If we be
That was the cue. Still watching the stage,
Art gripped the big lever more tightly and began pulling it down,
slowly and steadily. It took some muscle; the controls were old and
stiff, and there were half a dozen dimmers mastered on – not with
electronics, like some modern boards, but with old-fashioned
Jamie said with an appropriate bow and flourish, “shall restore
That was the last line; Art continued the
fade. Either his count was off tonight or Jamie, eager to be done
with the show, had rushed his delivery; there was an awkward
half-second before the lights were completely down when Jamie was
standing alone on the stage, silent and motionless. That hadn't
happened in any of the previous performances or rehearsals.
Please, Art thought, don't move, Jamie. Don't
look over here to see what's taking so long. Don't run offstage. It
would ruin the effect.
Then the lights were out, and as he reached
up with his left hand for the #3 dimmer he heard Jamie scampering
off the far side of the stage.
The curtains were closing, which was good;
Marilyn was slow getting started, sometimes. She wasn't really big
and strong enough to be working the ropes alone, but the actors had
never settled on who should help her when, so Marilyn had to make
do. Typical of actors, Art thought.
Applause was welling up from the audience,
the first tentative patter turning into a spilling roar, like a
summer thunderstorm breaking.
The curtain was completely closed, so far as
Art could see from his place at the board, and he'd counted his
five; he unceremoniously shoved the #3 dimmer to the top. With
rustles and whispers and uneven footsteps the players slipped
through the curtains at stage right and walked out to take their
For perhaps the hundredth
time, Art wished that the theater had proper footlights and
overhead strips. The curtain-warmer he'd rigged, despite his best
efforts, still left shadows where no shadows should be. He couldn't
see them from backstage, of course, but he knew they were there.
With the curtains closed and no strip lighting out front, just a
couple of Fresnels, there wasn't a thing he could do about it – but
he still resented it. It was his job not just to do the best he
could with what was available, but to do the lighting
He promised himself, as he had a dozen times
before, that somehow, somewhere, he would scrounge up the materials
and build himself some new strips, first chance he had.
Which might be fairly soon, he thought with a
rather grim satisfaction – this was the last show of the summer,
and it was only the second of August.
The applause faded away, and the actors came
running off the stage, smiling broadly. Art could hear the more
impatient members of the audience getting up to go, their voices
and the rustle of their clothing increasingly audible over the
The actors, too, were talking as he pulled
the #3 dimmer back down on a count of five. As it passed the
halfway mark in its slot he reached up above the lighting board to
the dimmer knob at the end of the bank of switches on the wall, and
turned it, bringing up the houselights. He heard Anne and Susan
giggling, and Jamie babbling happily about something.
When he had the houselights all the way up he
slid his hand over an inch or two and flicked the ordinary toggle
switch that turned on the backstage work lights, then reached up
and tugged the chain that turned off his own little work light.
He left the stage unlit, though of course the
backstage lights kept it merely dim instead of dark; any brighter
light there might show through the curtain.
Besides, the onstage work lights had been
gelled over as rudimentary strips, as usual, and they were patched
through a dimmer at the moment, which was another reason to leave
them off. It was time to shut down the board.
Somebody on the other side
of the stage was opening a bottle of champagne; Art wished that
whoever it was had waited until the last of the audience was out of
the theater. That was sloppy showmanship; the popping cork must
have been audible clear out to the lobby. That violated what Art
considered a basic theatrical principle: that the audience out
there should never be reminded that there
The pop was followed by laughter and
high-pitched voices – released tension at work, now that the show
was over, not just for tonight, but for good.
Hey, Art!” someone
called. “Come and get it!”
Just a minute,” Art
answered. “I've got to reset the board!”
You can do that
I'll do it now,”
Art replied. “I don't want to forget.”
He wasn't likely to forget, really; he just
hated leaving anything hanging.
He began systematically turning the knobs
that uncoupled the individual dimmers from the masters, and the
masters from the grandmaster, checking to be sure that each lever
was pushed all the way down to zero. When he had checked everything
to his satisfaction he reached up and ripped the cue sheets from
the clamp that held them, then dropped them neatly into the
wastebasket beside the lighting board.
Then he reached over and threw the master
switch, cutting all power to and from the main board.
After a final glance around the curtain, out
at the empty house, he crossed the stage toward the clustered
actors and crew.
As he drew near someone patted him on the
back; when he turned around to see who it was a plastic cup of
champagne was thrust into his hand. He caught it awkwardly,
slopping a little onto his fingers.
It went just fine
tonight, didn't it?” someone asked.
Pretty well, I
guess,” Art answered absentmindedly. He caught sight of Jamie,
still in costume but with his makeup smeared and half gone, and
called, “You were off-center for your final speech, kid, halfway
out of the light!”
I was?” Jamie
laughed. “Oh, well, maybe next year I'll get it
What about next
?” an unidentified female voice
asked. “Has anyone heard anything?”
No one's booked the
theater,” Art answered. “No one's even asked Dad about it, so far
as I know.”
I didn't want to do
a second show this year anyway,” Jamie said. “I'm going out to
California for a couple of weeks.”
Yeah, that's fine for you,” Susan said. She had
removed most of her costume and was wearing only a black leotard,
without any of Titania's fairy splendor. “Some of us aren't
I'd love to do
another show, if anyone's planning one,” someone
There was a general chorus of agreement,
followed by a few dissenting voices.
I guess,” Art said,
“that if anyone were planning one, he'd have no trouble finding a
And no trouble
getting a tech crew, either – you come with the theater, don't you,
Art?” It was Marilyn's voice; Art looked for her, and spotted her
off to one side, near the ropes.
When I get paid, I
do,” Art agreed. “Not that I'm an entire crew.”
Oh, don't talk
about money!” Susan protested.
Why not? Just
because you don't have any?” Jamie joked back.
That's one good
reason,” Marilyn said.
Well, hey, Marilyn,
you could probably talk your way into a share of the profits if you
wanted to get paid to work here,” someone
profits?” half a dozen voices
Anne's voice overrode the laughter,
demanding, “Has anyone counted tonight's take yet?”
George's voice called from the men's dressing
room, “I'm counting it now!”
If there's any
left, I vote we give it to Marilyn,” someone
No, it's gonna pay
for the cast party!”
mean if there's any left
More laughter ensued, continuing until George
appeared in the dressing room door, cashbox in hand.
gentlemen!” he shouted above the hubbub. “I have an
The cheerful babble faded momentarily into
Our proceeds tonight have exceeded my expectations,
and we will
have to take up a collection! In fact, after
setting aside the balance of what we owe Art and his father, and
covering all other necessary expenses, I find we have a surplus
totaling seventeen dollars and fifty cents with which we are free
The babbling surged anew, and someone
proposed a toast.
To George,” he
called, “our director and producer, who kept the lot of us safely
off the streets for the past six weeks!”
Two dozen plastic glasses were raised in
salute, and cheap champagne was drunk or spilled. Art sipped his
carefully, avoiding outthrust elbows, listening to the shouted
Hey, if we didn't
have to pay Art, we'd have lots of money left!”
Yeah, but we
wouldn't have a theater or anyone to run lights.”
But maybe we could
hire a new director.”
Ha!” Art said.
“You'll never find a director who works as cheap as I
You love it, Art,
and you know it.”
You don't care
about the money!”
Yes, I love it,”
Art agreed, “but yes, I care about the money,
George, do you
really have to go?” Marilyn asked.
Yes, I really do,”
George replied. “You know I do. My folks have been planning this
Yeah, poor George!
He has to go to Europe while all the rest of us get to sit around
and do nothing for a month!”
I don't see why
someone else can't direct,” said a peevish voice.
D'you want to try
nothing. We've got the theater right here, and it hardly takes any