In the Wings

     Norma hesitantly entered the theater. Like every other theater she had been in, it was quite dim with the exception of the stage. A pair of spotlights beamed across each other, casting a soft glow across the stage which was empty. She looked sideways at Rick, and shrugged. 
     “I guess we’re early,” she said softly, and stepped inside letting the doors thud shut behind her. The sound of the doors closing echoed through the deserted theater and she reached out to take Rick’s hand. Her younger brother was apparently nervous, since his hand was damp and warm. Usually, Rick’s hands were quite cool and dry. Norma squeezed his hand in reassurance and led the way down the center aisle.
     The theater was in the standard royal red, although somewhat frayed around the edges. Here and there, she could see pieces of popcorn and candy wrappers. The cleaning crew either hadn’t been in or were lax in their duties. The heavy velvet curtains were tied back with black rope, so tattered on the ends it rather reminded Norma of a bushy tail.
     “Where do you suppose he is?” Rick whispered.
     Norma pulled Rick down into a seat beside her and patted him on the knee.
     “He’ll be here,” she replied. “Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”
     “I don’t know, Norma,” Rick said anxiously. “He’s supposed to be one of the toughest casting directors around. What if I forget my monologue? And where’s Nancy?” Rick stared anxiously around looking for the woman who would accompany him when he sang his show piece.
     “You’ll be fine, Rick,” Norma said soothingly.
     The doors opened and closed behind them, and a group of chattering young people filed in. Stopping, they stared at Rick and Norma as one, before a slender brunette girl detached herself and stepped a few paces toward them.
     “I’m Katrina,” she said. “Who are you?” There was no smile on her face or warmth in her eyes.
     Norma felt Rick freeze into place, and she bent her head slightly to the girl before answering coolly, “This is my brother, Rick. I’m Norma. He’s here to audition.”
     “Norma,” the girl replied. “His mother or his nanny?” Norma felt like scratching the girl’s eyes out but forced herself to calmly reply as she stood up to face the girl head on. “I’m his sister.”
     The girl looked Rick over, and said sullenly, “Dave might like you. I think there’s one or two parts for little kids in the show . . . or maybe a midget. But, the first thing is . . . he has to like you. And he’s tough to please. He knows talent when he sees it. And he knows  . . .” Katrina paused delicately, and allowed a scornful grin cross her face, “ . . . he knows when it is lacking.”
     Katrina turned to rejoin her group and tossed a final comment over her shoulder. “Good luck – you’ll probably need it. Dave usually doesn’t like working with small children.” She and her companions moved off towards the far side of the theater and disappeared behind the curtains.
     Rick stared after them, listening to their chatter and laughter.
     “I’ve heard that before, Norma,” he whispered. “The man does not like directing children, and I’m only eleven.” 
     “Rick,” Norma patiently replied, “you’ll be fine.”
     The doors swung open again and Nancy strode in, her guitar in hand. “Rick, Norma!” She waved at them and sat in a seat across the aisle, taking her guitar out of the case and tuning it. “All ready, Rick?”
     “I don’t think I should do this, Nancy,” Rick responded glumly. “Everything I have heard about this director says he can’t stand children, he had a horrid temper, and looks like a complete devil with blazing red hair and bulging eyes and bushy eyebrows. He’s sounds awful!”
     “I wouldn’t know, Rick,” Nancy answered cheerfully, strumming an Am chord and then modulating to an E7. “I’ve never met the man.”
     Rick clenched his hands anxiously and said, “Marianne at school said she overheard her mom and the neighbor talking about him. She said he had a horrible temper and was known for breaking things and shouting and . . . ”
     The theater doors banged open and they all jumped, turning to look at the newcomer. A very large man stood in the doorway, a dark shadow to their eyes with brilliant outdoor light backlighting him. He stomped down the aisle, barely glancing at them and vaulted onto the stage, disappearing behind the curtains. Rick stiffened as he heard the man bellow and then the shrieks of the youth he had seen earlier. He watched wide-eyed as the group fled out of the wings and scattered into the theater sitting in apart from each other, stifling their giggles and whispers into silence.
     The man strode downstage and paused in the center, the gold glints in his unruly red hair flashing as he looked around the theater. In a quiet voice, he said, “Auditions will begin in fifteen minutes. You will have exactly five minutes in which to share your monologue and perform your song. When I say you are done, go back to your seat and stay until dismissed. If your performance pleases me,” the man paused and scowled ferociously out at the small group of eager young actors, “I will ask you to read from the script. Questions?”
     Silence answered him. “Good. Get ready.”
     He disappeared back behind the curtains and Rick gulped and looked at Norma and then at Nancy. “I guess he’s only a little frightening,” Rick said softly.
     “He’s just an actor  — like you are, or want to be,” Norma said softly. “I guess he feels like he can be himself only when he’s off stage, in the wings.”