“The Scottish Play”, A creative piece in the style of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

Written by Esther Barth, Writer and Editor
Peer Reviewed: Ben Brooks, Senior Writer in Residence, Emerson College, Greater Boston

Callie Harrison was relieved that Madeleine was playing Lady Macbeth tonight, even if she did hate her guts. Madeleine generally was insufferable, and not even because she had a diva attitude. Oh, no. It was that Madeleine’s questions took, on average, thirty-two minutes of rehearsal time every day—Cal had taken to timing her, and had often considered formally recording Madeleine Time on the rehearsal reports she, as stage manager, would email to the director and the technical director every night. A four-hour rehearsal would be interrupted every ten minutes or so—not including the fifteen-minute break that Cal liked to pare down to thirteen minutes, since the actors would take one minute going to break and one minute coming back—and Madeleine would want to know some intimate detail of the inner workings of the mind of the Lady of the play, and Greg would have to spend one minute and fifteen seconds working out how the Lady was feeling in that moment. Of course it was the director’s job to aid the actors in enhancing their portrayal of the characters, but honestly, Cal sometimes wanted to grab the pig irons off of the fly system and hurl them at both of their heads.

Not that accidents weren’t happening on their own, without Cal’s help.

In addition to the eighteen scenes of blocking, break times, schedules, attendance sheets, contact sheets, rehearsal reports, one-hundred and fifty-six light cues, twenty-two sound cues, dozens of entrances and exits, prop list, costume list, costume change list, production notes, dramaturgy report, two full scripts, instructions for the fog machine, hazardous chemical analyses for the paint, varnish, bleach, and other things in the paint closet, eight sheets of college-ruled loose-leaf paper, one red pen, one black pen, one regular pencil and two mechanical pencils, now Cal had had to add to her binder a list of things that needed to be fixed as a result of all of the accidents.

The biggest one was the flood. Whenever anyone thinks about disaster in a theatre they always think of fire. Well, its opposite was disastrous too. Sixteen costumes, eleven props, two flashlights, a ridiculous amount of the actors’ makeup, one power drill, one table, thirteen yards of twine, two black curtains, nine pairs of shoes, two poster-board size schedules, a stack of lumber, the water cooler, and a mop had all been completely destroyed, with only four weeks and three days before opening night.

There had been an uproar. As the liaison between the technical and acting sides of the theatre, Cal had been called back and forth to every single person imaginable. She’d finally told all of the actors just to find her assistant stage manager with any issues they were having because Greg and Victor, the technical director, had her running from the stage to backstage at least twenty-four times. Cal was just glad that all of the lighting instruments and the sound equipment had made it, being high up in the stage manager’s booth, up in the catwalks behind all of the seats where she could see everything and everyone.

“Cal.” Sean was really a fantastic assistant stage manager, but sometimes he just had really terrible timing.

“What, Sean?” Cal didn’t stop scribbling notes on what Greg had told her concerning the changes he was going to have done to the new replacement swords, but she cocked an ear to him.

“Madeleine—”

“No.”

“But Cal, she—”

No.

Sean sighed, rolling his eyes and stamping his boot on the hollow stage. The noise made Cal look up in surprise, mid-scribble. “She can’t find her script,” he said flatly, his tilted head and downturned mouth more an invitation to commiserate than frustration with Cal’s shut-downs.

Cal groaned. “Fine, I’ll just add it to the list and see if one of Macduff’s soldiers has a clean enough copy for me to photocopy at some point. You’d think that eight weeks into a production that she’d be off book already—”

Sean shook his head, dark bangs swaying across his forehead. “It had all of her notes in it. You know. How to scream. How much crazy per scene. When to blink, for god’s sake.”

Cal looked at him blankly, then her eyes started to widen, her head finally dropping forward in defeat when she heard the first rumblings of the approaching panicstorm coming from the women’s dressing room.

“But what am I supposed to do?” came the wail, one that wouldn’t have sounded out of place as she hurled herself off of a Scottish tower and plummeted towards a barren moor.

Cal’s shoulders started to shake with laughter despite herself, and even with her head still down she could hear Sean covering his snickers with his hand.

“Two-hundred and sixty-five lines!” Madeleine’s dirty blonde hair whipped like a flag behind her as she burst onto the stage from the right wing. “Two-hundred and sixty-five lines with no emotion!”

Greg stood in the front row of the house, looking reluctantly impressed with the freak out his Lady was having. If she could bring this fervor to “Out damned spot,” then they would pack the house every night of the run. “Maddie, I don’t see why you can’t bring emotion to your performance without the notes. You’re doing a fine job right now.”

“It’s all in the details,” she protested. “The details are everything. Every line has a different shade of feeling. And I was close to finishing each one!”

“But—”

She straightened abruptly, hands rigidly at her sides and glare on one of the fourteen taped spike marks on the stage that showed the stage hands where to place the furniture in the dark. “No. I can’t do this.” And she fled back stage right.

“Maddie!”

“I could do it, Greg,” came a level voice from the left wing. All eyes swiveled to see Andrea, also known as Lady Macduff and owner of forty-one lines in the show, lingering behind the black curtain shielding the wing from the house’s view. “After working with this show for eight weeks I know all of her lines anyway.” She stepped downstage center and looked down at Greg, her already impressive height clearly making the short man feel shorter.

He looked at Cal, whose stage manager senses were tingling, waiting to document any change or even a suggestion, ready to set the proper wheels in motion to turn a minor character into a star. Andrea was quiet, watchful, and only needed to be told something once. She kept her things in order, was always on time. Never brought sloppy food like pizza or Chinese food into the theatre. Never screamed.

And they needed a Lady Macbeth who understood ambition.

“Well,” Greg hemmed. “I’ll have to talk to Maddie to see if she really doesn’t feel she can do it…”

“Evidently she can’t remember how she’s supposed to feel unless it’s written down for her,” Andrea said coolly. She started for the right wing, toward the women’s dressing room. “Just let me know.”

As the door to the dressing room hallway shut behind her Greg groaned and slumped into a seat. “Cal…”

“Yeah, I know, Greg. Sean, a chai tea latte, please.”

“You’re lucky that there’s actually a reason I should be getting that instead of you,” Sean grumbled as he left the theatre through the vom. Over the eight weeks they’d been working, Cal had only had to fetch three lattes. All forty-four of the others had been delegated to either Sean or, if she could grab one, one of the stage hands. Honestly, managing twenty-two actors, six stage hands, one costume director and her two assistants, one technical director and one ASM meant that leaving for nine minutes to get coffee was basically impossible.

*~*~*

“You’re convincing your husband to murder someone, Andrea,” Greg said, leaning forward in his seat in the second row. “We should be thinking about bloody, violent death, not regal royalty.”

“Lady Macbeth is regal,” Andrea argued from her place upstage. “She wants nothing more than to be queen.”

“Yes, but she has to kill someone to get it. Make us think of murder.”

Cal grit her teeth and said nothing, her rehearsal script open to the proper page in case anyone forgot their lines while they were trying to get emotional. Clearly Andrea was not having that problem. Her motions, her glances, her delivery of lines, her walks to and fro on the stage, her engagement with the other characters, her wielding of props, whether daggers or candlesticks or nightgowns, were…predictable. Even though Cal had all of the blocking in front of her in the script, Madeleine always had flowed organically from one spot to another. With Andrea, Cal could predict how the blocking was going to be altered. It was sad.

Madeleine sat next to Sean two seats away from Cal, sucking morosely on the straw of a juice box and pretending not to watch Andrea.

“Have you had enough yet?” Cal whispered to her as Andrea delivered her lines in the same haughty way for the third time.

Madeleine’s gray eyes gleamed over her juice box, riveted to Andrea’s dark hair and gesticulating hands. “Yeah.”

*~*~*

One; two; why, then ’tis time to do’t.

“Light cue one-twenty, stand by,” Cal whispered over her headset, receiving the even softer confirmation, “Lights,” from the operator at the other end of the booth.

Hell is murky,” Madeleine murmured under the spotlight on the stage. She and Cal had the house breathless.

Twelve weeks, six hours, twenty-two actors, six stage hands, one costume director and her two assistants, one technical director, one assistant stage manager, one-hundred and fifty-six light cues, twenty-two sound cues, a thousand hearts beating loudly in the packed house along with the two-hundred and fifty-six lines of a madwoman.

Here’s the smell of blood still,” the Lady wailed from center stage.

“Light cue one-twenty, go,” Cal breathed, and a reddish tint bathed the stage in a bloody glow.

To bed, to bed: there’s knocking at the gate.

“Blackout, stand by.” Cal’s eyes were pinned on the desperate queen, knowing it was the long hours, lack of sleep, constant takeout from the Chinese food place around the corner, lighting plots and set blueprints and one man toiling with a quill pen four hundred years ago that had driven her to this.

What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.

“Blackout go.”

Creative Commons License
Urban Wildcat by Esther Barth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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