I was going to write a brilliant post about artistry, but I ran out of time, so instead here’s the opening of a new Young Adult novel. This is ultra-super-beta version, so no criticism, please. Praise will be tolerated. Laura Stratford, Copyright 2011, et cetera.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Tam said to himself through gritted teeth as he tried to keep from collapsing. His knees were bent at a ninety-degree angle, his hands were clenched by his sides, and it was taking all of his strength to stay frozen until Rae said that the apprentices could move.
Lina, the pretty girl who crouched next to him, didn’t seem to hear. Her brown eyes were glazed, staring at the clock on the rehearsal room’s wall as if it were her personal lord and savior.
Tam had never been the praying type, but for this apprenticeship he had appealed to any and every power he could think of. He’d wished as hard as he could. Whoever you are out there, he’d thought and later said into his pillow, whatever you might be, please. Please let me do this.
He bet that his fellow apprentices now struggling to keep their poses on either side of him had wished as hard as he had. The Lightcastle Theatre Company’s Summer Apprenticeship was one of the most highly renowned training programs for young actors in the country. He’d heard that this year five thousand high school and college students had applied, and yet only twenty had earned the privilege to sweat and curse their summer away behind the dry moat of the Chicago Light Works Building.
“And move,” his instructor Rae said, striking a long prop sword against the rehearsal room’s concrete floor. It was naturally cool in the theatre’s basement, but still sweat dripped into Rae’s face from under the bandana that held back her curly brown hair. And she’s just standing there, Tam thought. He shifted his weight to the right and raised his stance to give his knees a bit of relief. His T-shirt was already soaked.
It was hard to believe that he was in the same building that had intimidated him so much before his audition. Up until the day he was scheduled to try out for the program, he’d been glad that his home in Oak Park was close enough to the city to come to Lightcastle’s in-person interviews and auditions. Ms. Klein, his drama teacher, had been adamant that a live audition was best. “You need to see your words striking their chests,” she’d said. But as he’d approached the mock drawbridge of the Light Works Building, he’d wished that he had just filmed an audition and sent it in. That way, he could have recorded it until it was perfect. He wouldn’t have had to storm any ramparts just for the honor of being judged by some of the most celebrated artists in the city.
“Relax,” Rae called, mopping the sweat off of her forehead. Tam groaned happily with the rest of the apprentices as he straightened his legs. He looked again at Lina, who this time was ready with a sympathetic smile. “I thought I was going to die,” she said, bouncing on the balls of her feet to relieve her sore joints.
“Me too,” Tam said, sending back one of his patented lopsided grins. He liked standing next to Lina during training. She was one of the only apprentices that he recognized from auditions, and she had actually wished him luck when it had been his turn to face the dread card table that held the directors of the apprenticeship program. Plus, she had a nice smile and beautiful waist-long black hair.
The apprentices crowed around the water fountain to fill their water bottles. Samantha, a tall girl with spiky blonde hair, bounded over to Tam and Lina. “Did you hear?” she asked, slowing to fall into line with them. “The cast list for ‘Pan’ gets posted after lunch.”
“I bet you’ll be Bella,” Lina said with a friendly catch at Sam’s hand. “I always imagined her to be tall and strong. I’ll be lucky if I’m not just Young Girl Number Three.”
“Oh no, I bet they give you Bella, or maybe Winnie, with that great speech in the second act,” Sam protested, and the girls started their compliment competition. Tam only smiled. Along with every girl there, they both wanted to play Bella, the great god Pan’s human sidekick and anti-heroine of the play. It was a great part, with a juicy betrayal in Act 4 that, if done well, could put the actress playing Bella on the Chicago theatre scene’s radar. The apprentices would all have parts in “Pan,” of course—one of the major draws of the Lightcastle Company’s summer program was that each apprentice had a part in the mainstage’s summer production, alongside the company ensemble members. Most years the parts were small, a spoken line here or there for the lucky few apprentices, but this year it was different. This year the company was premiering a new work about to god Pan, a capricious forest spirit who kidnapped young mortals and forced them to entertain him by making them play sadistic games. And the company had decided that nearly all of the major roles would go to the young apprentices.
Tam felt a tug on his arm. “Who do you want to play?” Lina asked, smiling up at him.
He blinked. “Like you say, anyone but Young Girl Number Three.” Actually, he didn’t care which of the young men he played. The boys that Pan abducted had much less distinctly developed characters than the girls. He supposed that it meant an opportunity to shine, to make a dull part his own and show what he could do. Tam tried be excited for the opportunity to play studious Jon or shy Mikhal, but truth be told, he was more eager to get into scene studies where he might get to be Iago or Stanley Kowalski, even if just for a few minutes. The only interesting male characters in “Pan” were Pan himself and the part-satyr, part-human Petyr, who tricked the god into freeing his hostages. Those parts had real meat to them. They had already been cast with two ensemble members.
It was finally his turn at the water fountain. He took a mouthful of cold, metallic water and splashed some onto his face before filling his bottle. Then he got out of the way to let Lina have a drink.
From the sidelines, the rehearsal room didn’t look like much. As ornate as the façade of the Light Works Building was, the inside had an industrial feel left over from when it had actually housed equipment for lighting downtown Chicago. Lightcastle had kept the concrete floors, huge steel doors, and pillar spaces. This basement room was nothing more than a concrete box with a false wall that hid a vast storage space. The theatre upstairs had more furnishings. It boasted several moveable seat-carts along with a square balcony that looked down on the stage from every side and extensive catwalks from which the company could hang lights, speakers, and even occasionally actors. Even so, it too had a salvaged feel to it, as though a group of children had broken into a storeroom and created a place to play.
The aesthetic was deliberate, Tom reminded himself as he watched Rae put away her sword and shuffle some papers. Lightcastle had gotten their start as an experimental group that shied away from traditional proscenium staging in which the audience was removed from the action. They had long been known for pushing the limits of the fourth wall, that boundary between the audience and the actors. That was one of the reasons that Tam had been so excited to work with them. He loved being close enough to see the look on the audience’s faces when it came time for him to die a dramatic death.
Rae clapped her hands. “All right. Good work with the statue exercise. I know it’s not easy, but that’s the kind of strength, energy, and focus we at Lightcastle expect from our actors. If it helps, you guys held that last one longer than any other group of apprentices has managed in Week One.”
A boy with wavy red hair caught Tam’s eye and winked at that. Tam smiled back, wondering if the wink had been flirtatious. He couldn’t quite tell, but he suspected that of the five male apprentices, he was the only one interested in girls.
“Anyway, we believe in rewarding people for work well done,” Rae continued. “So you’ve got a break until lunch. This afternoon, we start where we left off and bring in some text from ‘Pan.’ You’re free to do what you want for the next half hour,” she added, looking over each of them in turn, “but I would suggest you walk by the Green Room at some point.” She wasn’t trying very hard to hold back her smile.
The apprentices looked at each other, and then almost as one they broke into a run for the hallway. Tam was far from the door and saw that it was unlikely that he’d squeeze by anyone. He sighed and slowed to a walk as fifteen girls and four boys in yoga pants fought their way down the narrow hallway.