The red light blinked off.
George, shoulder against the wall, waited for the last footstep to leave the platform and lifted the latch that secured it to the hollowed floor. 700 pounds of set glided across the wooden planks and rails, a low rumble from the hidden wheels. George, aided by a few local, nervous, and underfed crew, slid the quarter room set into its taped space off stage.
George habitually looked up to catch Abigail swish past. She gave a flick over her toe shoe in his direction.
He felt a surge of warmth in his chest and dashed to center stage to secure the next set piece. Actors had already jumped onto the set, confident of George’s ability to secure the stage no matter what circumstance.
Any night but this, guys.
The first night in a city was rough. With a capital F. The traveling crew had just finished loading the set from the previous town (14 hours was the time to beat now), slept on the bus to the next city, and had just enough time to unload into the new theater and bark orders at the new local crew exactly where they needed to be and when, before the curtain went up.
This load-in was especially rough. Baltimore’s famous Hippodrome was the pride and joy of a downtrodden downtown, and fittingly, boasted zero crossover space at the back of the stage. Which meant that every inch counted. In this dance of set pieces, crew, actors, and ballerinas, the backstage choreography was equally, no, more, important than the dance that happened on stage for the audience.
Two tons of set, twenty three semi-trucks of design, and wooden beams in the basement adding extra support to the stage for the unprecedented weight; all added up to equal, no, more, stress that George felt as the jittery new crew bumped into the actors and traveling crew backstage instead of following his commands.
Maestro at the front could hear George’s shouted orders over the orchestra’s interlude. First night in a new city, and no one in paid seats would notice anything out of place, so he didn’t mind. Maestro instead chuckled to himself. I see George is getting the same quality of treatment, he thought as he pointed at the lost oboist, mouthing the measure number. Holding the blended group of traveling and local musicians through the complex score, he felt a little like shouting, himself.
And truly, the audience didn’t notice. The deep shimmering red, gold, and blue set combined with priceless costumes would dazzle even a jaded and uncomfortable boyfriend brought against his will.
George shoved his shoulder deeper into the wall, now much heavier as three actors were standing on it. He reached down to drop the pin into the hole in the floor.
The set was two inches away from the intended mark. There was even glow-in-the-dark tape on the corresponding floor and set corner so any putz with eyes would know where the two lined up.
No time for frustration. George shoved all his weight into the wall, hooking his shoes into the iron rail circling the center stage.
The scene started and the actors began their staging, extra eager tonight for the possible reviewers present. George knew he had 90 seconds of scene to hold this herculean stance.
He reflexively looked up into the wings and saw Abigail watching the feat. Two giant thumbs up from her.
George, despite himself, smiled and gave a ‘what the heck’ eye roll, as his body shook with effort.
Abigail reached into her tutu pockets (yes, they came with pockets), and took out two tiny plastic dinosaurs. She started to make them dance. In fact, the t-rex and the stegosaurus were acting out the same movements of the actors on the same set that George was so desperately trying to hold still.
George almost dropped the position, and quickly dug his feet further into the railing. His heart was about ready to jump out of his chest.
Earlier, before the cast had arrived, George found Abigail’s station backstage and left her a small bag with a handful of toy dinosaurs. She’d mentioned in passing, three cities earlier, how she had an obsession with dinosaurs as a kid, and added sheepishly, that obsession had never waned.
Abigail continued the dance, even mimicking the actors running off the stage. It took George a second to register what that meant. He jerked back to reality and quickly heave-sprinted the set to the opposite side of the stage, returning it just in time.
He caught Abigail smiling as she slipped the figurines back into her skirt and bounded downstage for her entrance.
Any fatigue from the last 72 hours, impatience with the new local crew, or annoyance at the over-eager actors quickly floated away, like the dry ice that was beginning its crawl downstage at the first chords of the next song.
George high-fived a startled local, and skipped toward his next cue.