Monday, January 18, 2010

Standby, Mackenzie - Chapter 1

This story will be published in 12 installments in the Grinder Productions newsletter in 2010, as well as here on the blog:

“Pipe comin’ in!”

Mackenzie was in the dressing room finishing her costume preset when LLG’s trademark innuendo reverberated through the theatre. By now the joke had gotten so old that she barely rolled her eyes – in fact she thought it a bit odd that LLG still even thought it was funny.

Just then a loud crash and the sound of shattering glassware rang out on stage. Mackenzie ran down the dressing room stairs and out on deck.

“Pipe’s in.”

Juan stood before her with a piece of aircraft cable in his hand. A large metal pipe lay across the heavy oak table that Mackenzie had just finished pre-setting, with the broken remnants of a 6-plate dinner setting scattered about the set. Little Cheese burst through the auditorium doors, with Marlene and Trudy following close behind.

“What the – oh $*&@!” cried Steven.

“Is everyone okay?” asked Marlene.

“What the *%^*! were you doing!” asked Steven, not waiting for an answer from either of them.

“I was just finishing my dressing room preset when I heard a crash,” Mackenzie quickly offered, hoping to defuse any rage Steven might be building up towards here.

Juan sheepishly raised his hand.

“I was preppin’ the cyc pipe for the turnover. I think I saddled a dead horse when I was doing the rigging.”

A long line of expletives came out of Steven’s mouth.

“Juan you’re not supposed to be doing any rigging! What have I told you about rigging – a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! You’re only to be working with stuff that can kill actors under my supervision! And Mackenzie, you should have known better than to do your preset while Juan was working on deck. A freakin’ gel frame would be enough to break one of those glasses.”

“But I waited as long as I could,” Mackenzie protested. “We’re almost at the half now.”

Steven glanced down at his watch and let out another string of profanity, just as the stage door opened and the cast hurried back in from dinner. The two actors stopped their infatuated giggling from their budding showmance when they saw the stage.

“Oh that’s not good,” said Devin.

“Uh - I’m going to go to my dressing room now,” said Cynthia.

Before they could move the house doors opened and a gaggle of ushers sashayed in, gossiping and laughing as they moved to the large stack of programs that needed stuffed with promotional flyers. Though they were too pre-occupied with the House Manager’s latest joke to take much notice, their guffawing snapped Steven back to reality.

“Okay, I’ll take this up with Big Cheese later. Juan, get that pipe out of here and then start cleaning up the deck. Sweep, vacuum, mop, scrub, lick it with your *&^#@!ing tongue, just make sure that there’s no pieces of broken anything on it – we have actors in barefoot. Mackenzie you go out to the props shop and get another set of dishes – don’t worry if they don’t match, just make sure we have something for everyone. I’ll bring the main rag in and we can open the house. I’ll go give the cast the half.”

“What happened to Marvin?” Mackenzie asked. Marvin was the stage manager – gay as a three-dollar-bill and a crusty, well-seasoned veteran of the theatre.”

“He quit,” said Marlene. “Nervous Breakdown. Now we’d all better get to work.”

And with no more explanation than that everyone did get to work.

Mackenzie ran to the props shop and quickly began filling a box with dishes, wine glasses and cutlery. She searched in vain for a floral centrepiece, finally settling for Hurricane lantern with a ceramic base that she thought might match the colour of the tablecloth.

What an insane three weeks it had been. The message was waiting for Mackenzie when she got home from writing her last-ever high-school exam: the Summer Theatre in town was looking for an Assistant Stage Manager for their first show. They had gotten her name from the Player’s Guild – would she be interested in getting some professional experience? Mackenzie wasn’t really looking for professional experience – after all she had only worked on about a half a dozen plays between school and the Guild – but she was looking for a summer job, and what better summer job could there be than working in a theatre?

When everyone else but her got a pay check at the end of her first week Mackenzie realized that she’d signed up for a summer of volunteering, or more specifically being “volun-told” that she didn’t know the first thing about theatre. But still Mackenzie wasn’t a quitter, and she knew enough about theatre that abandoning any show, amateur or professional, was one of the worst things you could do, so she had stuck it out for the entire run of the play, which in about twenty minutes would be going up for its final performance.

Mackenzie ran back through the stage door with her box of props in hand. She could hear the sounds of the pre-show music in the auditorium, mixed with the low-murmur of a Saturday night crowd that was just beginning to filter in. Loud guffaws from the coterie of ushers punctuated the noise.

The scene onstage was still one of chaos, with Juan, Marlene and Trudy all scouring the floor, carpet and furniture for any remnants of broken dinnerware, and Steven lying underneath the table, where a large and dangerous-looking crack had formed.

Mackenzie got to work setting the table, almost enjoying the rare chance to watch the others frantically working, too busy to critique her efforts or carry on their conversations in “theatre-speak” a language they knew full well she couldn’t understand them.

Juan, the House Tech, was better known around the theatre as LLG – the Latin Love God. It was a self-styled title that he’d come up with on his own, but it did suit him up to a point, if you counted one-nighters with inebriated college friends of the cast as “love.” He certainly looked Latino, and he certainly acted Latino, more Che Guevara than Ricky Martin. Between his political views, his mild-chocolate complexion and his disarming charisma Mackenzie couldn’t blame the three girls he’d been with in the past three weeks for being fooled. But after three weeks of seeing Juan’s true self – selfish, vain and just a little too creepy by half – she wasn’t about to let herself become conquest number four.

Marlene brushed past her with a dustpan full of broken china. She was the company’s General Manager, though she spent most of her time slaving away in the box office taking orders. She was one of those skinny old ladies with skin like boot leather that you wouldn’t dare cross in a million years. Right behind her, as always, was Trudy, the Marketing Manager. Trudy spent as much time in the box office as Marlene, but somehow just never seemed to handle the pressures of the job quite as well. Where Marlene would just step out for a smoke every 90 minutes or so Trudy was given to biting the skin off her lip, so much so that it would flake and bleed. To cover it up she was always liberally smattering on the lip balm, and Mackenzie often thought she smelled like a fruit stand.

Another epithet erupted from under the table as Steven rammed the drill bit into his finger. Steven was the Technical Director for the theatre, and the one who was ultimately in charge of getting this show up on time. Unlike LLG, Steven’s nick-name – Little Cheese – wasn’t one of his own choosing, and it was only ever used behind his back. He was little – just over five feet in height, and easily “cheesed,” or made angry. He was a career techie who’d already seen and done it all by the age of 25. He’d been a roadie for Our Lady Peace. He’d been a truss-spot op at the Oscars. He helped build the set for Titanic and he’d designed, built, lit, or been a grunt on more shows in the past ten years than most people do in a life-time. Somehow, though, all that experience hadn’t translated into a lot of skill, at least not enough to fix a broken table without resulting in swear words and a few drops of blood.

Despite the drama at the half everything was ready and the show did go up on schedule at 8pm, with Steven calling the show cold from Marvin’s prompt book. Everything went reasonably well, all things considered, and any closing night antics anyone had planned were quickly and mercifully forgotten. At intermission Mackenzie was able to finish her preset in record time, and had just completed double checking it when Steven showed up backstage.

“Big Cheese wants to see you outside,” he said.

The Big Cheese. Frank. Frank was the Artistic Director and the undisputed head of the company. Marlene might have got stuck with all the dirty work but it was Frank who called the shots. Like Steven no one dared call Frank “Big Cheese” to his face. In addition to being quite sensitive about his ongoing weight problems Frank could be an absolute monster at times, and anyone who got on his bad side wasn’t going to last long – either in the company or on the planet. Mackenzie had made a point of staying out of his way as much as she could for the last few weeks. Tonight, after the strike, when she was planning to tell Steven and Marlene that she wasn’t interested in helping out with the next show, she was really, really, really hoping that Frank would be out partying with the cast.

“Hi Macky,” Frank said, surprisingly affable. “How’s the show going?”

“Good,” she replied, unsure if Frank was aware of the pre-show excitement.

“I guess you heard about Marvin.”

“Yeah – that’s too bad. Marvin was so nice.”

“Yeah, he was, wasn’t he? I really wish we could have had him all summer. Now I know you have to get back before the second half starts, but I need to ask you a question: are you interested in making a little money and working for us for the rest of the summer?”

Mackenzie’s heart skipped a beat.

“You want to offer me a job?”

“Yeah – we need a stage manager for the next show. I can clear it with the union. We’ll pay you union rates – works out to about a grand a week.”

“A grand a week?”

“Hey – actors and directors starve and struggle. Stage Managers get rich and drive BMW’s. If you’re interested I need to know by the end of the show.”

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