Just as I reached for my make-up case I remembered that I forgot to replace the red blood cake that I needed for Act III. I turned to Milton, the youngest actor after myself, who had appointed himself my mentor when I first joined the company.
"Milt. Can I borrow some red cake?"
He shook his head in mild rebuke.
"Will you ever learn to always take care of your basics? How do you expect to succeed on stage if you're not prepared?"
I suppressed a laugh of derision. I knew the future of the company was doubtful at best, even if the old timers refused to admit it. Milton, in his mid-fifties, was still considered a youngster by the rest of the company, all of whom were in their sixties. But he had been helpful from the beginning, following my audition six years ago, at the age of thirty-five. So I listened politely to his usual lecture, then thanked him for lending me his make-up.
It wasn't his fault that I had made a disastrous choice of working in live theater, instead of film or tv, which every practical actor was doing. How was I to know that live performing arts would disappear almost overnight. At first I didn't notice when opera went because of diminishing audiences and rising production costs. I didn't like ballet which was next, followed by classical music. I wondered if all those longhairs would be playing rock or country. It was no surprise that Broadway musical theater producers held out the longest. After all, musicals were the most accessible of the performing arts. The producers blamed the unions for their failure, claiming extravagant salaries and benefits that made production impossible. But nobody believed them. It wasn't labor's fault, or even greedy producers. The audiences were gone.
I still found it hard to believe that an aging population, with reduced incomes, preferred to watch large screen tv, rather than performances, even though they couldn't compete with film's sophisticated technology. Theater's more primitive efforts in trying to be hi-tech couldn't compare to dazzling cinema computer effects, and audiences were no longer very excited by new musicals, many of which sounded alike. I guess the only reason museums survived was that visitors could zip through quickly, take some photos, then be on their way after a short, painless dose of culture.
So why didn't I have my head examined before I chose live theater? Because I loved it and I was too dumb to recognize that its day was over. As my company's audiences got smaller and smaller, their unenthusiastic heads got greyer and greyer. I had started a lottery to guess the age of the youngest member of the audience by the color of their hair. This outraged the sensibilities of my fellow performers, whose original hair color was long past its heyday. But we were doing it a few weeks later and Milton was the first winner, picking a full crop of black hair on a well-preserved 50 year-old.
Our biggest problem, besides our looming demise, was play selection that our dwindling subscription audience would accept. They were adamantly opposed to young love, romantic comedy, high tragedy, social issues or anything emotionally disturbing. This eliminated most of the classics, so we did a lot of Moliere, Restoration comedy and this season we were daringly presenting Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, our current production. As the youngest male, I was type cast as Marc Anthony and I had actually noticed a few nods that might have been approval for my performance among the dozing heads. I didn't expect much more. We were not getting the love from our audience that actors crave.
I don't know what I'll do when the company folds. Gretchen, the venerable artistic director, who always babbled about the struggles of Stanislavski during the Russian Revolution, promised us one more season. I doubt that. For the last two weeks we had very small houses at every performance, even Saturday nights, less than half a house, once the height of choice of theater goer's excursions. I'm probably too old, at 41, to break into any meaningful tv roles. I don't even have an agent. I don't have any marketable skills, not even bartending. My only shot at making a living on tv would be doing commercials, if I had an agent. If I got jobs.
I'll probably spend the rest of my life as a waiter, as long as there are half decent restaurants, and I'm fit enough to carry a tray. I can't blame anyone for my poor career choice, so I'll do the best I can to survive. And I must confess, even though I don't dare say it to the rest of the company, I still get a thrill going on stage, even if the audience doesn't.
copyright © 2014
Beck came, Beck saw, Beck wrote.