Coopster Created Part 7 – Rehearsal

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version of the Cinderella story was the current production of YTU, in rehearsal for a January curtain. It was the first time since I met Angie and Lane three years ago that none of the three of us were in one of our theater company’s big musical productions. We were like alumnae now, moved on to other venues to pursue our continuing interests in theater. And with the departure of Robert this past fall, the theater company’s founder, and the recent untimely death of its musical director Tara, our youth theater group had acquired new adult leadership. YTU was now affiliated with the new Community High School, and CHS teachers Steve and Betsy, were playing the Robert and Tara roles. Beyond these two new adult overlords, most of the youth currently in the company were our friends and comrades.

It had been a year and a half since I’d been liberated from high school. Though I’d been back to the place a number of times over the past two summers for rehearsals for previous YTU musicals, it still felt strange when Lane drove us into the parking lot in her parent’s old Citroen. The place had always looked to me more like a government research facility than a stereotypical high school. And without the scruffy students milling about, it looked doubly so. Its separate but connected buildings, with their institutional brick exterior and glass and steel windows, were splayed across a huge campus. There was a big manicured grass lawn on the north side of the campus, the kind you might see in a corporate business park that no one ever plays or sits on. We entered through the pretentious array of ten doors at the main East entrance. Ten fucking doors that let you into a huge marble floored foyer, like you were entering the National Ministry of Propaganda in some dystopian sci-fi novel. The gymnasium was to the left and the little theater and big auditorium, the latter where the rehearsal was happening, to the right.

Lane opened one of the double doors and led Angie and I in. Even the clank of the latch was familiar. Memories came back into my head from the three years I had spent here in high school. This huge auditorium, the adjacent little theater, and the backstage area that connected the two, had been my sanctuary during those years. Sanctuary from the more conventional routines and riddances of high school, that played out in the rest of the campuses buildings and exterior football field, baseball diamonds, tennis courts and other such venues on the south side of the campus.

Down the aisle, on and in front of the big proscenium stage, a rehearsal was going on, looking pretty much like I remembered the ones I had been involved in. Eight older youth, mostly people I recognized including Max and Sadie, were up on stage with scripts in their hands. Another dozen or so were scattered about the place in clumps of two or three, with a few alone reading. Some slouched in seats with their legs draped over the seat in front of them, either watching what was going on on stage or otherwise in animated quiet conversation with each other. Three sat in a corner playing cards. A male and a female early teens in a different corner were curled up with each other and looking to be asleep, or at least very quiet and cozy. Others sitting on the lip of the stage dangling their feet. Still others engaged in hoisting stage lights by rope up to the high ceiling of the auditorium. Books, coats and jackets, a backpack here and there, were scattered about. In the center of the fray with his back to us was the one obvious young adult in the room, presumably Steve the director, calling out instructions to the youth on stage with scripts.

“I’m sure you all feel it”, he said, with a calm voice but that “I’m in charge here” director’s edge. Then continuing, “the scene is still too slow. You have to pick up your cues. Don’t rush, but keep up the pace and energy and really enjoy your characters. The Prince can be bored but not the audience. Right?”

Everyone on stage nodded. I knew and had history with most of them. My high school classmate Sadie was Cinderella, she and I had played Anne’s mom and dad in YTU’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, a year and a half ago. Max, a year younger than me, now a senior in high school, was the Prince. We had been in the cast together in several YTU shows, he usually playing a lead role to my supporting character. There was Brill, one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, who was now a classmate of my brother’s at Community High School. At the age of thirteen, three years younger than me, she had taught me how to do my own stage makeup, and had had a crush on my off and on. Bobbie was also a classmate of my brother’s at CHS, and more often backstage designing or building costumes, or running wardrobe during many of our shows. And of course there was the irrepressible and bigger than life Morgan playing the King, he now a junior at Pioneer. He and I became buddies during Lord of the Flies, where we played the henchmen of the bad guy Jack. Since then he had choreographed several musicals I was in, managing to get my left-footed feet to dance, at least to some degree.

Steve continued, “I know it will be easier when everyone gets off script. Hint, hint. Learn your lines folks!”

I chuckled to myself. It was basically the same speech I had heard so many times, particularly in big musicals like this one that were just deadly if the energy and pace lagged. Sometimes the speech was delivered by Robert, whether or not he was the director. But often it was delivered by a sixteen or seventeen year old wearing the director hat. I can remember giving a similar speech in the YTU children’s show that I directed.

Lane, Angie and I made our way down the aisle and took seats about eight rows back from the front. It was Morgan, always seemingly the sharpest and most perceptive person in any situation or group of people, that first noticed us.

“Oh my god!” he said with all his signature flamboyance, covering his mouth and nose with his hands in mock shock, then flinging his left arm up straight above him to do a sort of maniacal royal wave, then jerking it back down and sucking himself back into his King character like nothing had happened. You could see the eyes of everyone on stage change their focus to Morgan. Max stopped in the middle of his line, and turned his head slowly to look back at him, Morgan now doing his best guilty little kid imitation. Morgan could steal any scene in a play or real life at any time.

Both Lane and Angie mimicked Morgan’s arm thrust in the air royal wave and Lane laughed audibly. Steve turned around and looked back at us then turned his focus back to his actors on stage.

“We seem to have acquired a peanut gallery!” He recognized Lane and Angie at least, if not me. “But we need to get this scene working people. Once we’re done we’ll take a break. Okay? Then we’ll do it again with the chorus and music?” He looked at a youth with his back against the upright piano at the side of the stage reading a big hardcover book on the floor, who didn’t look up, but gave the thumbs up sign with his right hand.

Steve continued, “So start one more time from Cinderella’s entrance, and remember your pacing!” He snapped his fingers together several times quickly to demonstrate.

Morgan’s little outburst had alerted the various chorus members sitting and others around the auditorium that there were guests present that at least Morgan was excited to see.

Tanya came over and flopped down in the empty seat next to me. Her straight blonde hair was up in a single pigtail secured by several thick rubber bands and sticking straight up from the crown of her head, the individual hairs spilling out from the top. She was wearing old jeans and sneakers and a black turtleneck top. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, when she and several other young women in the company were the stage crew, dressed all in black, squirting turkey basters full of fake blood on us guys on stage during the scenes where our characters were fighting and stabbing each other with spears. Like Morgan, she had choreographed several musicals I had been in. She smelled sweaty but not unpleasantly so. She had little splotches of pink and purple paint on her hands and forearms and some sawdust in her hair. She studied me for a moment with dark gray serious eyes.

“Welcome back”, she whispered, “So you kept your Flahooley ‘fro!” She mussed my hair a little with her hand and then grimaced. “Hopefully the paint on my fingers is dry”, she continued as she examined my hair more closely, seeming to enjoy the exercise. I always enjoyed being touched.

Still in a low whisper, “You’ll get a kick out of my set!” She was apparently the set designer for the show, and also by default, the head of the crew building and painting it.

“Oh yeah?” I whispered in reply.

“Yeah”, she said with a proud grin, “It’s basically your Oliver set painted pink and purple, but with my own special fru fru touches.” She picked bits of sawdust out of her hair and flicked each onto the floor.

She put her hand on my shoulder to kind of put me on pause and anchor herself while she leaned forward and cast her gaze on my two companions on my right.

“Hey you two, how’s it going?” she said in a low but well enunciated voice, “Lane, I saw your showcase at East Quad, you were great!”

“Wow, thank you”, Lane replied in a sincere, totally straightforward delivery before flipping into her schtick, twisting her pointed index finger in her cheek like Shirley Temple and saying “gosh!” while she batted her eyelashes.

Angie snickered.

Lane shot a glance at Angie and rapped her on the upper arm with the back of her hand, then turning back to Tanya. “Ignore my entourage!”

Angie leaned forward to address Tanya directly. “So how’s senior year at the ‘ole education factory?”

“Ugh!” Tanya rolled her eyes, then scrunched her mouth and scratched her chin trying to compose a more wordy response, her right hand still on my shoulder, now kind of massaging it.

“Four AP classes. A shitload of college applications. My folks are getting divorced.” Then nodding toward the stage, “This thing.”

“Actually”, her serious eyes briefly met each of ours, “‘This thing’ is the only thing that keeps me semi fucking sane!”

I noted to myself that Tanya was pretty sexy when she swore, and her hand feeling up my shoulder was a nice touch (so to speak) as well. I didn’t remember her being so brazen. Angie, Lane and I nodded in complete understanding and solidarity.

“My mom and dad divorced when I was nine”, I volunteered. Lane and Angie’s parents were both still together, so I wanted to let Tanya know that I could commiserate and that her family situation was not unique.

Tanya’s dark eyes focused on mine, like she was reading a very troubling passage in a book. “I didn’t know that”, she said.

I nodded slowly and looked down. Lane and Angie were respectfully quiet to my right, so I held the floor and continued. “Yeah. When they told David and me, it felt like the worst thing that could possibly happen, like my family was falling apart.”

“I bet.” Tanya’s head nodding slowly matching mine.

“So my dad moved out. My mom went through some really rough times. But they both continued to be our parents. David and I saw our dad on weekends. Their relationship with each other had never been great. There had been a lot of tension between them for years.”

Tanya’s eyes were tracking mine as I continued. “Once they separated and got over the breakup they both were able to move on in their own lives and are a lot happier now.”

Though I was still looking down while I related my story I could feel her eyes on me. I turned my head to meet her gaze. “Now I have a better relationship with each of them. Though they aren’t married anymore they are still my mom and dad.”

“You don’t wish they were back together?” she asked.

I laughed. “At first I felt that way, but now I can’t imagine them being together. I can see how they’re better off leading their separate lives.”

“Wow!” she said, chewing on the fingernail of her left pinky and looking up at the ceiling, her mind processing it all in deep thought. The thumb of her right hand was gently and probably absentmindedly tracing the length of my left collarbone over and over. Her eyes refocused on mine and we looked into each other’s soul in one of those moments of profound intimacy that I craved.

“Okay”, Steve called out loudly to all points of the cavernous room, “Let’s take a fifteen minute break and then I want principals and chorus on stage… and music”, pointing at Hans, who gave the director another thumbs up as he continued to read the big tome on the floor in front of him.

Tanya snapped out of her thoughtspace. Her eyes looked tired. She patted my shoulder a couple more times and then finally relinquished it to my keeping. “I better check on my munchkins painting the set. They do good work but you can only leave twelve-year-olds with wet paint unsupervised for so long. And hey, I’m also in the chorus. Gotta fucking keep dancing. Your brother is my partner. The kid’s a good dancer.”

A better dancer than me, I figured was the subtext. I know I had struggled with some of her choreography back when.

She stood, stretching her arms to the ceiling and arching her back, thrusting her nice tits out towards me, not much more than a foot from my face, several vertebrae cracking audibly, causing her to moan, “Mmmmm”.

She looked at the three of us and grinned, totally comfortable in her own skin I thought, like most of my YTU comrades. “So if you are not otherwise engaged, Elliot and I would love to recruit you all to be grips for the show.”

My libido reminded me that Tanya certainly had put forward a very convincing argument. All three of us agreed to grip, happy to be given a way back into the active community beyond our alumnae status, and Tanya said she would follow up.

Her “TD”, my classmate Elliot, who like many of us worked in front of and behind the lights, was Technical Director for Cinderella. He and I were two of three leads in YTU’s production of The Reluctant Dragon. Tall Elliot played the title role, green face paint, tail and all, and me the full-of-himself but still affable knight St. George.

“Toodle oo, guys and gals! Gotta go!”, said Tanya with pasted on brightness, “Nice to check in, so glad you’ll grip, and thanks for the thoughts Coop!” And then after an additional moment of pause, “And welcome back from your journey. I’d love to hear about it sometime. In sumptuous detail even!” And with that last verbal flourish, and its potential connotations, she, her cute butt and her jerry rigged pigtail were off down the row of seats and then down the aisle back to the stage.

Wow, Tanya! My libido was percolating. Back in my hardcore YTU days two years ago she had been on the periphery of my circle of closer comrades and had been more tentative and less sure of herself, she maybe a year younger than I was. Now she swaggered like she owned the place. I recognized that swagger, I and my closer circle of YTU peers had all developed our own versions of it back then. It was a sense of agency that came from having accomplished various things of significance, either on stage or behind it, and having earned the respect of your company comrades. An agency that for me, had gotten me through my European odyssey, particularly after I had had to continue on my own without Angie.

Next it was Max who sauntered up into our airspace in row eight, walking down row seven from the opposite aisle, coming to a stop in front of Lane, hands on the seat back in front of her, striking a pose like he always did. I pondered the fact that since Leo had left the company (visiting occasionally and retaining of course alumnae status like Lane, Angie and me), Max was now the alpha male of the group, exuding his signature confidence and babyfaced charm, his own version of that swagger that Tanya had acquired in the past two years.

Of course Max, who was Tanya’s age, both now seniors in high school, and a year younger than me, had had that swagger even two years ago. He was so handsome, charismatic and gregarious, I had always been jealous of him. Particularly because he always used to hit on all the young women of my class, reminding me of how timid I was. Particularly Natasha, who was my classmate and a year older than me even, and she seemed to enjoy his attention, while I had a total crush on her but was mostly too shy to tell her. Natasha was off in California now, in her second year at Berkeley.

It was weird, but I guess not unexpected, how after so many years of age segregated grades and classes, your school grade level – tenth, eleventh, twelfth – was a ranking of critical importance to your standing in the pecking order and who were your “peers” you were supposed to be interacting with. Someone two grades below you was considered seriously your junior. When I was in twelfth grade Max had been in tenth, so I felt he had no business hitting on the other twelfth grade young women that I was attracted to.

Watching Max now, with his greatest of apparent ease, flipping on his masculine charms for Lane and Angie, I took some solace that, at least back two years ago, though Leo and Max were the showy roosters, the “cocks” so to speak, it was the hens that ran the hen house and kept YTU on the tracks and on schedule. Two years ago it had been sisters Priscilla and Kate, the former my classmate and her sister a year older, who either directed or starred in many of YTU’s productions. Also Maggie, who had directed or produced several shows that year, and had served as the President of YTU’s non-profit board, who was Kate’s age. Now it was probably Tanya and Jo, and overlord Betsy, who made YTU tick.

So here was Max, leaning forward on the seat back in front of Lane, her feet draped over either side of that same seat back, him literally between her legs. You could tell they both got the very sexual symbolism of their relative positions, Lane grinning mischievously and Max grinning incoragebly right back at her, his eyes drawn down several times to her crotch. Neither of them flinched.

He brought his eyes back up to eye level and opened with a “Hello ladies!”, intentional irony I figured, given Lane’s very unladylike pose. When he said “ladies”, I recalled Leo’s rendition of Captain Hook in YTU’s Peter Pan, my first show with the company back three years ago. That great scene where Peter lures the Captain into the woods, pretending to be a mysterious woman, Hook taking the bait, saying, “Ooh, it’s a ‘lady’”. Max finally acknowledged that I was there too, and with every bit of his charm, “Hey Cooper my man, welcome back!” Sticking out his hand for a manly hand grasp and shake.

“Oh Maxy Max”, Lane cooed, “We were hoping to see you smoochy smooching with Sadie!” You could see his cheeks get a little rosy with just the briefest endearing (of course) flash of self-consciousness.

Angie, playing Lane’s sidekick for the moment, added in all measured mock sincerity, “That’s certainly what convinced me to tag along!”

Max quickly recovered his swagger, looking towards me with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye and firing his question obviously to me, man to man.

“You know these two heathens?”

I wondered if my new Coopster persona should have had some pithy retort of its own, but trying to one up these three seemed pointless and definitely trying too hard. Plus anything put to me “man to man” I had a problem with. So I just gave Max my biggest shiteating Coopster smile, trying to stay as comfortable in my own skin as the three of them appeared to be in theirs.

Max was basking in the repartee and attention. In the grade-ranked world we lived in from our long shared “school daze”, we still were of higher “rank” than he was and thus should command at least some small modicum of “elder” status relative to him. Not that something like that ever stopped alpha Max from engaging with anyone and anything on his own terms.

His eyes got more thoughtful, as I watched the sharp mind behind them process and compose.

“You know we are coalescing, that is YTU is coalescing”, using that four-syllable word twice for good measure, “Around another musical in the May-June time frame that you guys might enjoy trying out for, if you’re available.” He looked at each of the three of us from his standing position against the seat in front of Lane. She had not moved her legs, still draped over either side of the seat back, so still essentially between her legs, and at some level I’m sure he was still enjoying the whole body language thing of it. “The Board”, he said the last word making quote symbols with his fingers, “Should come to a decision pretty soon”, he reported, flaunting his alpha status in my opinion.

When YTU’s founder Robert was still running things, at least as far as I understood it, he basically decided which of the dozen or so plays we did each year. Not that he didn’t take suggestions from some of the key youth in the company or seek their thoughts, but it was basically his decision. Once the play was decided on, it was the youth filling the key creative roles for the production – director, choreographer (if a musical), set designer, costume designer – that really made most of the rest of the artistic decisions that gave each production its unique look and feel. Unless Robert was directing the play himself, and he did several a year while I had been in the company, he generally sat back and let his youth artistic team do their thing and make their vision a reality.

Since YTU was a non-profit organization, it had a board of directors, with some youth on it even, and some parents. But while Robert was in charge the Board was pretty much a rubber stamp I think. I didn’t know who was on the Board now, post-Robert, or what kind of role they played in the selection of shows. Max using the air quotes seemed to indicate the Board might be trying to play more of a role, but possibly not.

Lane, Angie, Max and I were all veterans of any number of YTU productions over the past three or four years, including all having our fair share of opportunities to play lead type roles in the company’s musicals, as well as its “straight” (non-musical) plays. Lane in fact had been Ophelia to Max’s Hamlet. Angie played Rose to his Herbie in Gypsy. And I had been Mr. Rich to Max’s Potemkin in Celebration. And in productions where we didn’t have a major role onstage, we often played key positions offstage. In several plays where I had been in charge of running lights, Angie had been the stage manager, calling out my lighting cues over the intercom system. Angie and I were pretty much jacks, or jills, of all theater trades. Max and Lane were more focused on acting, though Max had actually directed one of the four big musicals the summer before last, and Lane also designed, pasted up, and printed many of the YTU programs, leveraging her family’s printing business.

When Max had finished his pitch for the upcoming show, and was ready to move on and maybe hit on Tanya, or chat up the newest hot babe in the cast or crew, he finally could no longer resist a comment about Lane’s legs spread in front of him in his parting remarks.

“So Angie and Cooper, welcome back! And Lane”, his eyes focusing on her jean clad crotch between spread legs, “We should do ‘this’ more often!” Then he flashed his killer smile.

Lane sniggered and coughed and pulled her legs back and placed her boot covered feet on his stomach and gently pushed him away from her, saying, “Run along young man!”. Angie laughed, a bit nervously I thought. I grudgingly acknowledged, to myself at least, that there was a chemistry between Max and Lane. I wondered if the two of them had had a romantic relationship at some point, had sex even, particularly during the last year and a half when I’d been away in Kalamazoo or Europe. He was all about charm and chemistry, that was a key part of what made Max Max.

Appearing next before our eighth row “panel” was the inimitable Morgan, who had made the scene on stage when he saw the three of us come into the auditorium. I had first met him three years ago, as a gangly thirteen year old choreographing YTU’s production of Peter Pan. Half a year later we were on stage together, nearly naked with spears, in YTU’s production of Lord of the Flies, which I had actually adapted from the book to the stage. Morgan and I had played Roger and Maurice, the chief henchmen of Jack, the main bad guy of the story, played by none other than Max. Morgan’s portrayal of the sullen sadistic Roger was terrifying, even though Morgan was in real life about the kindest, sweetest, and good energy person you could possibly imagine.

He parked himself in front of us, standing in about the same spot where Max had been before him, though Lane’s legs were now more modestly back on her side of the seat back between them. He struck a pose, left hand on his waist elbow out, right hand covering his mouth, shifting his weight back and forth between one skinny leg and the the other, a plaintiff look in his eyes as they scanned the three of us.

“God, I miss you guys!”, he said, removing his hand from his mouth long enough to moan the words, then slapping it back on and flashing even sadder more concerned eyes. He threw open his long arms, signalling he wanted hugs. Angie stood and leaned toward him over the seat back between them. He took her head in his hands and kissed each cheek, followed by a brief peck, his lips on hers. Then it was Lane, rising and cooing as they coordinated kissing each other’s cheeks, European style, followed by a brief smooch on the lips.

Then he turned to me, arms still out. Potential scenarios shot through my brain. Would he try to kiss me on each cheek. Was I okay with that. Would he then try to kiss me on the lips. Was I okay with that. Morgan was just the sweetest, unguarded, affectionate guy. The thought of reducing him to a handshake or even a more “manly” clasp of a hug, awkward as it might be across the seat back between us, just seemed kind of lame compared to how my female comrades had just affectionately engaged with him, in such a deliciously intimate way. I did not want to be excluded from this fun bit of playful intimacy because I was a guy, it would not be Coopster at all. I had on my heels, but what sort of “low spark” would I have in them!

His eyes caught mine and I could see that slight bit of uncertainty behind them. I flaired my eyes a little and grinned in what I hoped came off in a knowing, I’m good with this, way. He maybe got my message, or else it was a damn the torpedoes sort of thing.

“Ah, what the hell!” he said, mugging, his face moving in toward mine.

Okay let’s do this, I thought. I’m an actor, I’ve had to kiss people on stage I would not be comfortable kissing in real life. And this was Morgan after all, not some stereotypical “guy”. And presumably Angie and Lane would not be uncomfortable seeing me do this with him, and might even make me seem cooler in their eyes.

My face moved towards his, me favoring to the right for that initial cheek kiss. More thoughts quickly ricocheted through my brain. I remembered Steve asking if he could climb in bed with me in our hotel room in Granada, and me almost saying yes. I remembered playing naked with the other boys when I was eight and the electric thrill of our bodies touching.

His protruding lips touched my left cheek, and then I immediately rolled my head just a bit left so my lips engaged his left cheek in the same way. His skin was soft with a tiny taste of saltiness. I was already anticipating the last step, the kiss on the lips. We pulled away and our heads maneuvered to kiss the other cheek in a similar fashion. My anticipation grew as we centered our faces across from each other and moved in for the third and final time. I saw his lips relax and part. I let mine do the same, and I could see in the flair in his eyes that he saw that I was into it, at least for the quick kiss.

His lips engaged mine. But perhaps even more provocative, was the way his eyes engaged mine, daring me to be okay with it, to be all in. It suddenly became a wild impromptu fantasy. My first kisses had been on stage, part of the script, with Holly and Claire in the musical Oklahoma. Holly playing my character’s girlfriend, and Claire Holly’s rival trying to steal me away. Both kisses had been rehearsed several times and each iteration had been memorable, at least for me. Of course none more so than when Claire stuck her tongue in my mouth during the kiss in the performance. My first unscripted kiss was after that, the one with Lane, and it had been electric, too electric, and scared the shit out of me. My second had been last year in college, with the young woman I was dancing with at a kegger where we all had drunk too much beer.

It was less than a second, our lips touching, nothing more than that. He pulled away with a big grin. I felt suddenly way out of my comfort zone, and the only thing I could think to do wss to start to laugh. I saw flashes of thought in Morgan’s eyes and then he started to laugh too.

“What”, he said, “I didn’t do it right?” Then with a look of mock consternation, “Don’t make me do it again!”

I chuckled again. Morgan was a very funny guy.

For once a clever retort came to me before the moment had passed.

“That’s the best kiss I’ve had to date with another guy!”

“Ah”, he responded, his eyes twinkling, “Humor? Or a glimpse into a hidden side of Cooper Zale!”

I grinned. I think before my trip to Europe I would have felt the need to at least hint it was just humor, and not some homosexual tendencies. But post Europe, in this new era of the Coopster, I was proud of myself for playing it differently.

“I don’t kiss and tell!”

Morgan burst out laughing, pretending to stagger to keep his footing.

“Not even the person you’re kissing?” he said, in his best wail and grimace, throwing his open hands out in front of him in a plaintive gesture for emphasis.

Angie laughed. Lane put on the mock seriousness, hands on her hips, elbows out.

“Excuse me… I kissed you too. What am I, chopped liver?”

Morgan swung his body toward her, putting out his hand as if to deliver a heartfelt explanation.

“You’re…”, he said, stopping as if not knowing how to finish the sentence. Then gesturing to me, “He’s…”, again stopping. Then “I’m…”, stopping a third time, waiting just long enough with his impeccable comic timing, and then burying his head in his hands and moaning, “Life is way too complicated! I’m only a teenager! Just let me rehearse the fucking play!”

The volume and annunciation of Morgan’s theater trained voice cut through the mostly quiet in the big auditorium. People on stage or sitting in seats across the way or in the corners all looked in Morgan’s direction, though the snoozing and cuddling couple in the far corner did not stir. When everyone else saw it was only Morgan, they went back to what they were doing.

Morgan shifted down into normal human being gear.

“So I’m lobbying the Board to do The Apple Tree as our May musical. Three one acts by Bock and Hardin, you know, the Fiddler guys.” He pantomimed tracing out a marquee. “Mark Twain’s The Diary of Adam and Eve, some other nineteenth century humorous guy’s The Lady and the Tiger, and Jules Feiffer’s Passionella.”

He surveyed the three of us. “And I hope you three will try out! We miss you!”, then in underplayed voice, “Don’t make me beg, because I will and it will be embarrassing for everyone, believe me!”

“Make him beg!”, it was a clearly enunciated, well modulated female voice. Sadie came down the aisle of seats toward Morgan, looking at him with her big brown eyes and slender nose. She was a year older than Angie, Lane and I, but had graduated Pioneer the same year I had.

Morgan looked at us, put his hand to the side of his mouth to hide it from her, and said in a loud stage whisper that she could hear, “It’s the star. She’s such a primadonna. Compliment her on her nose!”

“You little shit”, Sadie scowled, and then to us, “Max and Morgan have been teasing me mercilessly about my nose”. Then back to Morgan, “You two are giving a girl a complex! I have a nice nose!” She proceeded to punch Morgan in the shoulder.

“Ow”, he said, then pantomimed to us that her action was making the case she was a primadonna.

“I’d die for that nose”, Lane said, showing her own comic timing.

“Me too”, said Angie, “Just make sure I have an open coffin at the funeral!”

“Oh my god”, said Sadie, now turning her mock scowl on them, “Don’t you two start!”

Sadie looked at me. She and I had played opposite each other as Anne’s mom and dad in The Diary of Anne Frank a couple years back.

“You have a beautiful nose!” I said.

“Thank you!” she replied, taking my hand in hers. Then to the others, “See… Cooper is a gentleman.”

Lane started to say something but Sadie quickly pointed a finger at her and vocalized a “shhh” to cut her off. Then the same for Morgan when he tried to say something. Then with her biggest showy smile to Angie, Lane and I.

“So welcome guys to Cinderella rehearsal! It’s always a pleasure to see you.” And then back at Morgan, “And listen Mr. King, I’m going to marry your son and be the daughter-in-law from hell!”

Morgan went into his stuffy King character and said, “Harumph!”

“Harumph indeed”, said Sadie. She put her hand on his head and mussed up his mop of strawberry blonde hair.

“Harumph indeed indeed”, it was Max, coming down the aisle behind Sadie, drawn back into the conversation, probably by Morgan’s outburst, sidling up behind her. Without looking at him she reached back and touched his cheek.

“My handsome prince”, Sadie mewed with a full dose of sarcasm.

And finally it was Tanya, returning down the aisle I was sitting in, spattered with even more pink and purple paint, plopping again down in the seat next to me.

“Those munchkins can sure paint!”

Everyone stopped talking and there was a moment of silent connection between the seven of us. I could tell that it felt good to all of us that we still had this shared space, our camaraderie, and sense of community.

That great King Harvest anthem from last year came into my mind’s jukebox…

Everybody here is out of sight
They don’t bark, and they don’t bite
They keep things loose, they keep things alight
Everybody was dancing in the moonlight

We like our fun and we never fight
You can’t dance and stay uptight
It’s a supernatural delight
Everybody was dancing in the moonlight

Tears came to my eyes. I’m sure some of my comrades saw the tears, but no one broke the silence. We were thespians, theater folk. Passion was our fuel. We had all performed together, danced and sang together in one or another YTU musical, had each other’s backs as stage crew, worked together to make the shows go on. If there had been moonlight, and music, I’m sure we’d all be dancing!

“Okay my droogies!” It was Steve’s voice from the front of the stage. “I’d like principals and chorus on stage for the top of Act Two, with music, from beginning to end, with no stops. You miss a cue or screw up a line, mess up your choreography, just keep going as if it’s a performance. And lots of energy!” Hans closed his big tome and took his position on the bench facing the upright piano. Tanya, Morgan, Sadie and Max, my brother David, and the rest of the talented teenage cast took their places on stage, most partnered up ready to dance.

On the director’s cue, Hans began to pound out the “Gavotte” on the keyboard and everyone on stage started to move. My brother David, playing the Steward, bringing each young woman for their brief dance with the prince. Sadie making her upstage entrance as Cinderella, and catching the fancy of Max as the Prince. The two dancing together with others dancing around them. Their first duet number, “Ten Minutes Ago”, as they fall for each other. Brill and Irene the spurned stepsisters singing their “Stepsister’s Lament”. The big chorus waltz number, Tanya dancing with my brother. And finally, Sadie and Max alone in the courtyard singing “Do I Love You Because You Are Beautiful” including the much anticipated kiss.

Maybe due to the whole discussion with Lane and Angie, Max played the kiss way more passionate than an innocent first kiss. Angie “woohooed” and Lane whistled from our seats in the eighth row. Between the amped up kiss and the catcalls you could see Sadie break character and start to laugh.

“Keep going!”, Steve called out from behind Hans, “Performance conditions, stay in character!”. Sadie wiped off her mouth with her hand and began singing her post kiss half of their second duet.

“Clock starts to ring twelve times”, Steve called out.

Sadie immediately gave a look of abject fear. “Oh no!” she wailed, backing away from Max.

Max cried out, “Wait!”.

Sadie looked at Steve, “We haven’t really blocked this!”

“You’re right. So you run through the set, which hopefully we will have tomorrow”, Steve replied.

“You’ll have it!” Tanya called out from off stage left somewhere.

“And then down the stairs stage right and up the aisle and out the auditorium doors”, he continued, “Prince, you are in shock and just stand there at first, wait until she’s about halfway up the aisle and then you run after her. We’ll do it tomorrow, with the set!”

“We love you Tanya!” Steve called out into the wings.

“And the munchkins!” she replied from somewhere back stage.

“We love you munchkins!”

There was a buzz of a dozen different conversations going on at the same time.

Steve’s voice boomed out, “Okay everyone, find a seat for notes. I need all principals and chorus.”

He turned to Angie, Lane and I. “And peanut gallery, we love you, and we are so happy you brought your good energy to share with us today. But I’d like the cast to have their privacy for notes. That’s just my thing, no offense.”

“Well!” Angie yelled out in her best Monty Python, in mock offense, “I’m outta here!”

There were copious waves and goodbyes from the assembling cast as Angie led Lane and me up the aisle and out of the auditorium. Lane waved and blew kisses behind her as she followed Angie up the aisle.

I was never one to try to outdo or compete with my comrades’ schtick. But hey, I was the Coopster now, atop my two-inch heels, so what would he do? It should be something besides just slinking out behind them. The waves and goodbyes continuing when I got to the door, and I decided in contrast to my over the top comrades, I’d go for something more buttoned down. I turned around, saluted them all, and then added loudly pointing at them, “As you were!”

Kind of lame, I thought as I exited, but better than the shy nothing!

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