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A Lesson Learned
By Calliope Njo
“No. No. No,” Mr. Scabbard yelled each time he reacted. His eyes and the top of his head turned red, which contrasted with his white hair and beard. “You read that script as if it was solely a piece of paper. Put heart into your character. You have expectations, desires, and other emotions, so express them as you see fit.”
The man talked with his hands so much, surprised nothing got knocked over or that he didn’t hit anyone.
“Mr. Scabbard, I did.” What was his problem? I did put feeling into the character. It’s not as if I didn’t put any effort into it.
“Everyone, leave for the night. It’s eight o’clock. Remember to practice your role as if that person existed. Not merely as this script reads. This is a play full of meaning and feeling, for God’s sake. These are not mathematical equations, so stop treating them as such.”
Everybody filed out the door as I almost did when I realized my keys were missing. A short jog back on stage and they shined under the light. They somehow managed to lie next to a violin.
A musical instrument of some sort made a noise four times. “OK, this is not The Bells Tolls. It’s the Lover’s Bell. This one doesn’t have music.” It repeated, and I ignored it. A thorough search back and forth, up and down, nobody around to do anything.
I stood on stage and looked out toward the empty chairs. Row upon row of seats to be filled with people who paid to watch me perform. All those pairs of eyes on me.
I memorized and practiced my dialogue, but Mr. Scabbard kept yelling at me to put more soul into it. Damn it all to hell. The old man needed to retire.
What a fool I was to think this would work. This little company created some of the biggest stars and he was responsible for it. Maybe I should quit and admit everybody was right while I was wrong.
Somewhere a violin played. It couldn’t be. Instruments were inanimate objects and needed us humans to get them to make noise. Despair, empathy, or desire didn’t exist within them. They didn’t have a soul. How could it?
I watched it and right before my eyes it floated in midair and played. I wished I knew the tune. So beautiful, the notes conjured images of couples in old gowns dancing around the room.
I felt a hand grab mine. I opened my eyes, and he smiled at me. Taller than me with ebony hair. His closed eyes didn’t allow me to see them. He bowed to me, and I bowed to him. We danced with everybody else, as clumsy as it was.
A constant pulse went through me when we moved around the room. It became a part of my thoughts, so much so, I thought in the same rhythm it played.
From corner to corner and back again, we stepped and twirled around. My legs had a mind of their own. It didn’t matter if I thought it was time for a break or not; they kept going, as if they wanted to prove me wrong.
What was going on? I controlled my intentions and feelings. Not some musical instrument. “Stop!”
It didn’t. The instruments kept playing, and everyone continued dancing. A look around while we danced, and it wasn’t the stage. It was someplace else with an enormous area and a humongous chandelier overhead. Candles floated high up. So while nobody bumped them they made for a sight to behold.
Wake up, you idiot. This was no time to dream. “I said wake up.”
Nothing again. “Listen, let me go. There’s someplace I have to be.”
“Shh,” the man said. “Words heard in silence. The heart beats loudly in its own rhythm. Only the two can meet when all is well.”
What? What did that mean? “I have to leave. Now if you would let me leave.” I struggled to wiggle my hand out of his grasp, but it wouldn’t loosen. He put his head on my shoulder, and we continued dancing.
An attempt to steer him toward the door failed as couple after couple blocked the way. What was this? Why was this happening?
“Will somebody please call 9-1-1?”
Not that I expected anybody to, but I had to try something. Somehow, we danced our way back to the middle of the room. There had to be a way to get out of here. Forget about through the roof; without anything to climb on, the ceiling was a lengthy way up.
One door in and out, and no luck the first time I tried. No windows, and I didn’t think anyone would help me to clamber through them. Nothing around to break them with, anyway.
“You continue to search,” he said. “All efforts have failed. Instead, listen to the sound. It vibrates through you. There will be your answer.”
I wished he offered me his name so I could tell him off. All this talk about listening and feeling. I’ve been doing that and not—wait. Granted, the music had a weird beat to it, almost like the heart, but that didn’t have to do with anything. Did it?
OK, fine. I gave up. No clock in the room either, yet one chimed eleven times from somewhere. A deep breath inhale… and I let it all out because that didn’t help.
In math, a problem is presented, and through a series of steps the answer is found. I should’ve stuck with becoming a teacher instead of acting. Math was much more logical and there was an answer. Most times.
Kept dancing and kept dancing, around and around. “Stop. I had enough.” Of course, nobody listened.
“You seek an answer. Yet, the answer is there. You fail to feel. You fail to listen.”
“What are you talking about? You are making no sense whatsoever.”
“Darling Stephanie, do you not hear?”
“Yes. I hear you rattling on about nonsense.”
He laughed. The bastard laughed at my misery. “The one thing you never learned to listen to is giving you the conclusion you seek, my dear. Without that, the triad within you cannot exist.”
“You see. More nonsense.”
He stopped moving. I took that as my opportunity to wiggle out from him but it didn’t do any good.
“Knowledge and logic is in the mind. Understanding and suffering is in the heart. Processing is in the liver. That is the triad within everyone.” He continued to dance.
It sounded like something that philosophical studies would teach. I growled and grunted as I followed him around. Continuing around the room gave me a chance to think about that.
Knowledge is in the mind. Feeling is in the heart. The beat to the music resembled the heart beat. “Of course. Unless I stopped to feel the music, I wouldn’t hear it. I would follow along without hearing the music. Ha.” I laughed at myself as I stopped to listen.
He had been out of pace since this started and I didn’t notice. He opened his eyes and showed dark, empty pools of nothing. I stopped our progress and started again in beat with the music. Even if I screamed, nothing would happen.
The surroundings faded, and I was back on stage with that script in my hand.
I didn’t memorize the lines. I learned them as I became the character. Her thoughts and feelings became clear the more I spoke. A character was much more than a name. A character could become as real as we wanted them to be. Her in my case. We made them real with feelings.
I spent the next two days in the heart and mind of my character until the night of our opening. When I got stuck, all I had to do was picture that violin and it would all come back. Standing ovations the three nights of our performance. The critics even loved it.
The closing night, a violin sat in the open. “Thank you. You taught me a lot. You also reminded me of something very simple. For that, I thank you.”
Mr. Scabbard walked on stage towards me and bowed. “You see, all you had to do was listen with your heart and not your head.” He laughed as he disappeared.
The violin remained on that chair. The bow moved enough to make noise but not enough to produce music. Then it too disappeared.
There had to be a story about this theater, but I ran out of there too quickly to find out. Maybe another time, because at that moment all I wanted to do was go to the local bar and get drunk. It wouldn’t solve anything, but it gave me a ready answer to what happened.
Please visit Calliope on her blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/