We’re in the theater rehearsing our winter play. It’s a delightful comedy.

She misses a cue. This is the girl who is so involved, so passionate about so many things. Constantly under pressure, using theater to escape. Despite her reasons, she’s a great actress. Just not in that moment.

She breaks down. Crouching down on the stage to hide her tears, her character melts away. The all-seeing eyes of the director suffocate her, squeezing the tears out. She picks up the pieces of her composure––a mosaic of distress, sorrow, and defeat.

It was never supposed to happen; it was a mistake. But as I passively observed her breakdown in the theater she was more herself than I had ever seen before.

True story.

The Prop House

On the winding gravel roads, gothic iron fences surround a sick old building once full of life.  To the onlooker, the building is a simple church.  To the one that steps inside, the illusion melts away and the theater takes its place.  Renovations in the early 1900s had transformed the place.  Alter to stage, pews to auditorium seats.  The most curious part of its design is that other than the traits necessary to be called a theater, the building is obviously a place of worship.  Saint Michael still acts as a sentinel at the entrance, inviting theater patrons to enjoy the historic architecture.

The audience sees what they see on stage because of what happens behind the scenes.  They never question where the majestic melodies of the opera come from, or how the blank canvas of the backdrop became a stunning landscape of snow.  No, what is seen can’t compare with what exists out of view.

Though the theater is for the public to see, many rooms, unseen to common folk, only reveal themselves to the performer.  Golden stars mark the territory of greatness.  Labels mark the useful rooms.  The unmarked rooms rest undisturbed.

On every wall electric cords snake along like veins connecting every light, keeping the area alive-stage lights, lamps, the lighted makeup mirror-buzzing quietly.  Decrepit tables, chairs, and other miscellaneous pieces of furniture breathe in and out, covering everything with dust and perfume, exposed by the glow of the cheap overhanging fluorescents.  It never settles.  The constant hustle and bustle doesn’t allow it.  In every corner sits something to be touched, used, or dealt with.

The makeup mirror, large and menacing, frames magazine clippings and images, creating the perfect face.  Eyes by Allure, lips by Vogue.  Infinite kisses stamp the its surface.  A palette for colors like Blonde Venus, Russian Doll, and Manhurt.  Stage-face wet.  Lips caked.  Eyelashes fake.  Flawless.  Appearance means everything.  With the right mask an actor can pull off anything-from a simple minimalist to an outrageous extraterrestrial.

Hiding in the rows of racks costumes sleep, untouched for some time.  Wizard robes, shining armor, Victorian gowns, and tailcoats.  Shoved behind the togas lie twin Superman outfits, and everything else under the sun made from cotton, polyester, spandex.  The shoes come in obscene numbers.  Ballet toe shoes, one lace missing.  Lumberjack boots, sturdy and covered with mud.  Glinda’s magic red heels, forgotten in a corner.  There’s no place like home.

Behind the red velvet curtains, just beyond the gargantuan oak doors, stands a graveyard.  The sword Excalibur, still wedged in the stone, sleeps there forever.  Tiny Tim’s crutch leans against the far wall, having seen its last Christmas.  The wolf-man’s head keeps its eternal snarl, even in storage.  The ivy covering Juliet’s balcony has died long ago.  Rocky’s gloves were put down for the last time.  Smells of must and sorrow drift throughout the room and immerse anyone who enters.

The prop-house bears many scars and screams a thousand stories, an enigmatic raconteur of stone.