I love being in the theater before anyone else gets there, when the dressing room doors are still locked and the security guard has to fish through his massive collection of keys to find the one that fits my door. Before the stagehands arrive to their dark dungeon of a room, littering foul smells and foul language throughout the backstage area, yelling at each other, cheering for some game on television.
The house is lit and the work lights cast comforting shadows over the empty red velvet seats. Nothing moves; everything is silent. The enormous space, at once welcoming and daunting, swallows me.
And there are no mirrors! What a relief, after weeks or months of constant self-criticism, to be free from my own image! I can simply walk out onto the stage and gaze into a sea of darkness rather than being forced to stare at my own reflection. Onstage, I’m not consumed with my fluctuating size or unchangeable proportions. I immerse myself in the artistry of the movement and react to inner impulses as opposed to outside images. I become a less inhibited woman.
This is ironic, given that on average there are 2,500 sets of eyes watching from the audience. But something inexplicable happens when the house lights go down and the sound of the orchestra swells. My heart beats a little faster and my mind battles itself to stay calm. My legs feel weighted and weak, threatening to buckle. My stomach turns in spite of the two or three Tums I just chewed in the dressing room. I convince myself that I’m ready. I jab the toe of each shoe into the ground in an effort to reassure myself that the floor is still there. I kiss my partner and wish him “merde.” Delicious anticipation!
At the end of the night, I walk across the stage on my way out of the theater. A single, naked light bulb is positioned like a beacon at the foot of the stage. It shines against the black void of house lights, commanding my attention and beckoning my return. The space that was just flooded with the sound of music and applause is now quiet and abandoned. It too needs some rest.
I listen to the sound of my New Balance sneakers squeaking against the marley and relish these few moments of solitude. Not often can I experience the stage without some other presence in the wings, in the house, or in the lighting booth.
I take a deep breath and smile. I’m already home.