Backstage: the only place in the world where you can simultaneously hear the phrase, “Dancers,
please put your boobs back in your corsets,” and see a man sitting on his maybe-boyfriend’s lap,
pulling whimsical (and slightly provocative) faces behind his back on stage left.
You can also see other extraordinary things:
An actor skidding so close to the edge of the stage they almost fall on the cello in the orchestra pit.
70% of words being replaced by 3 numeral and/or letter combinations whispered in hushed tones
Black out being the most stressfully blessed part of rapid fire stage changes.
A terrifying amount of ropes and levers that you can pull and shift according to the director’s wants
— and if one of them is wrong, everything comes crashing down.
And, of course, a props table as long as the river Nile, consisting of an absurd amount of feather
The people are also an interesting sight. The ones I remember the best are the crew: a collection
of fierce individuals that couldn’t be more different. I’ll try my best to describe them, but don’t put all
your hopes on me — I have a reputation for being disreputable. But I suppose I can leave you to
There was the Stage Manager: Lachie, who was constantly smirking, making smart-ass dirty jokes.
He was a past prima ballerina, now stage manager of various events — namely our theatre, today.
In his possession was a pathetic scruff of a moustache, coffee runs, dominoes pizza, and what we
all called ‘diabetes in a cup’.
I remember how he’d be pulling faces at us as we sat, stage left, gesturing to his maybeboyfriend’s
ass as he sits on his lap, making the most obscene jokes.
The maybe-boyfriend was more serious, constantly clicking his fingers for our attention, constantly
checking that everything’s going smoothly. He was our Sound Manager. A law grad turned
accountant— methodical to his very core. His name was Jared, I think. Or maybe Jacob.
I smile at their jokes, and he mouths, ‘He takes up so much room in the bed”, rolling his eyes.
It was obvious he wasn’t being serious — it was too over the top, too overflowing with sarcasm.
The soft spoken, deep accent of Mr G, the hardly seen ghost of a man with a toothbrush
moustache, that could control all the lights with a touch of a button. He looked like the chair of
some obscure soviet committee from the seventies.
An incredibly lean girl, with a slightly posh voice that was oddly comforting, who always had her
hands in her pockets. Riley danced backstage in between changes, when the music sped up and
the beat kicked in, easy and carefree and wonderful. And through osmosis of seeing her in that
jovial fashion, we all started dancing. Laughing. Being gloriously ridiculous in every single way.
A black shirt that said, ‘NO.” — this person was also, like his shirt, succinct and to the point. He
was a ginger or perhaps brown haired man that sat stage right. I never saw him in the light, nor did
I ever learn his name.
I remember there was a fake telephone prop that we all messed around with, cry laughing as one
of our fellow stage hands did an improv piece. Tall, lanky and dark, with a strong nose and an
infectious sense of humour. He acted like an anthropomorphised dog, a big, shaggy one that was
much more puppy dog than wolf. A career in comedy was his clear calling, and he was working
here to get a leg up into the business, so to speak — and the pay wasn’t too bad, either. His name
was Alex, and his hair was an unkempt jet black ode to Marilyn Monroe’s.
The pregnant choreographer, Elise, who wasn’t technically part of the crew but that everyone
adored, chiefly for kicking Alex off the couch and forcing him to vacuum the stage after the dancers
and their feather boas flounced off, and stealing his napping spot. We tried to spam her phone with
photos when she left to go to the bathroom, but it was cracked and almost unusable as she
dropped it against a mirror when she got very excited one time. I do not know what that one time
was, but I am in no way surprised.
Now, I think that’s everyone. If I’ve forgotten someone, don’t worry — I’ll weave them in later
It’s the last night of a month long run of the show, and we’re all in our little back room, holding up a
glass of Riley’s specialty ‘cocktail’ (aka a glass half full of coke and half full of Jack Daniels). But I’d
like to start at the beginning — that very first night when we all nodded polite hellos to each other
for the first time.
It was a ghost of a job, where the hours seldom saw the light of day. I don’t think there was even
one rehearsal where I remember seeing the sun up outside. You’d assume that we’d have gotten
time to rehearse all the stage changes beforehand, but we didn’t — the director, Mel Dursei, nicknamed
Medusa, had seen to that. She claimed that the ‘spirit and adrenaline of the show’ would
make sure everything ran smoothly.
Which is all good and well to say, but in practise it is so unbelievably stressful, that I dearly desired
for her dreadlocked mane to turn into a nest of actual, writhing, venomous snakes that it so
It was my first time working on a full scale production, I had of course a few high school
productions under my belt but nothing was par with the escapade of charming chaos that was
Chicago, in New York.
Late for the first rehearsal, I slowly inched the backstage door forward, praying that it wouldn’t
creak. It didn’t. There was a clearing in the middle where a group of people stood listening to a
woman with awfully long dreadlocks gesticulate wildly.
Shit. I thought. They’ve started.
“I’m not one for getting-know-you games, so I’ll thank you to figure out all your customary
pleasantries on your breaks.” She said as I slipped into the room, taking in a deep breath, as if
readying herself for an immense speech and pushing up her chest like a baboon.
“Here is a list of all the stage changes in the show, and every how, what, where and why pertaining
to them.” She said, picking up a stack of papers and passing them around. “If you have any
questions, you are an idiot. Don’t come to ask me — I’m sure someone else here will take pity on
you and help you.” She continued, fixing her disapproving, stone cold eyes onto each of us in turn,
and pinching together her already incredibly stiff upper lip.
“You have 20 minutes to debrief. I require 4 people side of stage when you are finished, to assist
the actors with their microphones.”
She paused for a moment and then left, leaving us to our ‘getting to know you games’, as she put
I glanced around the room, trying my best to smile a hello at the five other people awkwardly
standing in a huddle, all obviously not wanting to be the first to speak.
“She’s a breath of fresh air, isn’t she?” Remarked a man in faded blue jeans and a red, patterned
“Yes, a right… novelty. If she came from an Italian family, like me, she’d be roughly the same but
about ten times louder — if that’s possible.” Added a lanky guy with a full head of shaggy curls.
There was a snort. And then a giggle. And then we all burst out laughing, laughing and laughing
and laughing on the spot, and I could feel the tension in the air diffusing around us like a popped
bicycle tyre on the freeway: quickly, and with many muffled curses.
“I’m Alex, by the way.” He added sometime later, holding up a hand in greeting.
“Jared.” Said the man who had spoken first. He wasn’t the type to waste words.
“I’m Riley.” Smiled a girl with a pixie cut and a grey sweater dress.
“My name is Mr Georgeolopolous — but I don’t mind you calling me Mr G. Most people do
nowadays.” It came out rather nostalgic, as if ‘nowadays’, couldn’t possibly measure up to what
“Do you have a first name, old pal?” Enquired Alex semi-innocently, resting his chin on his hand.
The look that was given in reply indicated a clear no.
“I’m Hannah, resident walking palindrome.” I said, tucking a stray piece of hair behind my ear. “And
I assume your name isn’t ‘No’?” I joked, gesturing to a guy with ginger hair and no facial
“Tom.” He answered, to no one in particular.
“Shall we skim through this?” I asked eventually, gesturing to, judging by the weight and length of
it, the minor novella each of us had been given.
There was a chorus of ‘Yeah, sure.” and “Might as well.”, as well as a magnificently obscene joke
from Alex before we began.
“I can do the lights,” said Jared. “I’ve done them for previous shows, and I know basically how
everything works— he continued, when a man in black jeans and a black button down shirt burst
into the tiny room.
“Hello.” He began enigmatically, gesturing with his hands as he talked. “I am your stage manager,
Lachie, and I hear from our dear Medusa that you are the crew. For the next month you are my
bitches,” (I raised an eyebrow at Alex at this point, biting back a smile) “and when you are in this
theatre you must to do everything I say. Understood? Good.” He rummaged around in his pockets,
and somehow procured 6 black torches, each about the size of my forefinger.
“Here is a torch for each of you.” He said, throwing one to each of us in turn. “Now, you can always
see the shit you’re meant to be doing during blackout backstage. And its great to shine it in the
actors eyes when they won’t shut up in the wings.” He added, winking. “Time to get cracking.”
He walked out of the room, motioning for us to follow.
“Hannah, Jared and… you, with the curly hair — Alex. Go stage left and make sure all the actors
are miked up. And make sure to walk quietly — everything echoes around here, and when it does,
Medusa gets pissed.”
We scurried away obediently.
“How did he know my name?” I muttered, as we tried to tiptoe away as quickly as humanly
“Lachie’s a bit of a control freak with new people — I wouldn’t be surprised if he Facebook
searched every one of you before you came here.” Said Jared.
“Huh. At least he’s just prepared, and not, you know, secretly stalking all of us. How do you two
know each other, by the way?” Chimed in Alex, running his hands through his hair. I noticed that
he’d done this 3 times already in the 30 minutes I’d known him.
“Here and there. We, uh, went to the same uni. He was in arts studying ballet and vague
communications classes and I was in Law and then transferred to finance. We kind of kept
bumping into each other, weirdly enough. Even when we both graduated and he somehow became
a stage manager here and I somehow wound up as an accountant on the fifty second floor of a
“And you guys are friends now?” He continued, picking up a stray hat from the props table as he
walked by and striking a cheesy pose before putting it back into place.
“I guess you could say that.” Answered Jared.
He hunched his shoulders down slightly, staring at the floor. He didn’t say anything for a while.
There was a gaggle of actors and dancers waiting when we got there.
There were 8 mikes laid out on the table, each accompanied by the expectant glare of their
I felt a bubble of laughter growing in the pit of my stomach at the seriousness of their expressions,
and I put my head down and set to work before I completely lost it laughing. I looked over at Jared
and Alex, and I could see a glint of laughter in their eyes, too.
“Come on ladies, we need to run the choreography 6 Merry Murderesses in 5.” Bounced in a
woman in her early thirties, addressing the dancers with their now half attached microphones, with
a literal beach ball of a stomach underneath her shirt. Before seeing her, I hadn’t seen the term
‘pregnancy glow’ taken so literally.
“I don’t want any dead chicken arms out there today, okay? I was mortified yesterday when I saw
that. I get that you’re tired, but keep working at it — or Medusa will chuck a hissy fit and try to
murder our 6 merry murderesses.” She said, laughing.
“Sure thing, Elise.” They chorused, giggling like schoolgirls. Everyone seemed to relax when Elise
walked in — she had a really bubbly, soothing energy — like a really cool older sister. When she
turned around, the back of her shirt caught my eye — it was a white tank top, with the boldly
printed words ‘Elise is Awesome’, written in pink, sparkly letters.
“It’s tacky, I know.” Elise said, looking at me from a few feet away, where she was helping one of
the dancers with their costume. “But it’s comfy and remarkably uplifting.”
I blushed at having been caught out. “Sorry. It’s… nice.”
“Don’t worry about it,” She said, laughing again. “Gosh, I’m not gonna bite — no need to look so
A couple of minutes later, everything was attached and working where it needed to be, and the
dancers were swept up in the empathetic clucking of Elise. The music kicked in, and I couldn’t help
tapping along to the beat.
Riley rounded the corner, with Lachie in tow, dancing her heart out and going in with the full on jazz
hands and dorky lip syncing.
I don’t know if it was the energy of the show or the exhaustion of it, but two weeks of 14 hours days
later, we were all dancing backstage.
I had pretty much grasped the general idea of what needed to be done, and as had everyone else.
It was surprising how quickly you could assimilate what was a group of strangers into the
constancy of your day to day life. I had also established a few ground rules to being a stage hand:
1. Never have a torch fight with someone with two torches. You will lose. (I learnt this the hard
way, in a particularly ruthless battle with Alex, wherein he ended up winning by swiping Mr G’s
torch as he walked by and shinning them both directly in my eyes.)
2. Stop the actors kicking the shit out of stage from excitement. It will break, and someone will
have to crawl underneath the stage to fix it. You do not want to be the person pulling the short
straw of that situation.
I mean, you really, really don’t want to be ‘the one’ to go in that scenario. It’s terrifying.
You know the scene in Chicago, ‘Razzle Dazzle’ — near the end of the musical, the one just before
the court room scene. It’s exuberant in its own way, but its not really that fast paced. You wouldn’t
think that an act like that could force it to break, but it did. It probably had something to do with the
props as well — there had to have been a weight miscalculation somewhere, as the stage just
simply could not hold that much.
As you can tell by that explanation I have no knowledge whatsoever about architecture, or
building… things. At all. Completely.
But nevertheless, after a particularly animated portrayal of ‘Razzle Dazzle’, the stage supports
collapsed, and I found myself holding a torch while half-standing, half-crawling underneath the
stage with Jared, hoping he actually did know how to fix it.
“Where do you want me to shine the light?” I asked, as my arm began to cramp up.
I really should work on my forearm strength. I thought to myself. Or workout at all, period.
“Bit closer, over here.” He said without looking up, gesturing with his thumb.
He had brought down a toolbox that had been thrust at us before we went. I craned my head up in
the semi-darkness and squinted at the underneath of the stage. There was a a crack in the surface
about the length of a ruler.
“Maybe some duct tape would work?” I said casually, trying to sound informed.
“You really haven’t done this a lot, have you?” He said, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, have you?” I said, moving my arm slightly and adjusting the torch light.
“Not this exactly, but my dad and I used to do a bit of wood work together. He taught me how to do
everything from scratch. I got really good at it — I mean, really good. I even considered making a
career out of it. But accounting pays the bills, so I can’t really complain.”
He got this sad, far-away look in his eyes as he said this, as if he was remembering something
he’d forgotten a long time ago.”
“I remember the first thing I ever made by myself was a toilet roll holder.” He said after a few
“Sounds very fancy.” I said, laughing softly.
“Well for 10 year old me, it was. I was so proud.”
I’m about to reply when I hear Medusa yelling in the distance at some poor assistant. I can just
picture Mr G standing awkwardly behind them trying to figure out how to interject.
“She really needs to take a break.” Remarked Jared, fishing a hammer out of the toolbox.
“So, do you and your dad still do a bit of the old woodworking on the weekends?” I asked.
“A bit of the old wood working? I don’t think its been called that since the 1950’s suburban male
“Whatever, you know what I mean.” I said, cranking up the brightness of the torch and shining it in
his eyes for half a second.
“No. We don’t really talk that much anymore. We don’t see eye to eye on… certain topics.”
“A certain topic like Lachie?” I said abruptly.
He returned the hammer to the toolbox and looked up again, inspecting the surface.
“I’m sorry.” I said after a minute. “That wasn’t cool of me.”
“It’s fine. You were all bound to notice after Lachie plonked himself on my lap during the show a
few nights ago.”
As if on cue, Lachie started shouting down at us right about then.
“I’m going on a coffee run. You guys want anything?”
“I’ll have a latte.” I called.
“The usual for me.” Lachie shouted back.
“Ok, I think I’m done.” Said Jared, a few minutes later.
“Just shine the light up here a bit, so I can double check.”
“Yep, we’re good to go.”
“They really should check these things before the cast comes in.” I said, as we crawled out from
under the stage.
“Yes, they should.”
“I’m sorry again. About before.”
He smiled at me, waving away my apology.
“Ok, everyone back on stage for ‘Razzle Dazzle’.” Yelled Medusa’s shrill voice over the
loudspeaker, as the music kicked in again, reverberating through the theatre. “Break’s over people,
“C’mon, get over here — coffee is in the vicinity and believe me, you need it!” Called Lachie from
We both looked at each other, shrugged, and both half-laughing, followed the glorious scent of the
“You know, for such a jumble of different people, I’m kinda surprised we all got along so well.” I said
about nine hours later, in our little room behind the stage.
It was after the last night’s show, and we were all running on energy we didn’t know existed. I really
want to say something really poetic or meaningful at this point, but in all honesty it was probably
the few million coffee runs Lachie went on every hour.
“Yeah, I know. But opposites attract I guess.” Said Riley, with her signature posh voice emanating
just as clearly as it had on the first day.
“That maybe true, but diversity can be a bit of a challenge for some people — that’s why I’m really
proud of us. Idiocy is an affinity for the masses — and I guess we broke the mould.” I said, looking
over at everyone.
I saw Jared smile embarrassedly, looking down at his drink and then straight at me.
“Are you sure that you weren’t accidentally swapped with a British child on some family holiday of
yours?” Alex joked, ducking as Riley threw the straw from her drink at his head. “Or maybe you’re
the Royal family’s long lost child… I can practically see the headlines…” He mocked, prancing
about in his best attempt at being ‘regal’.
“I just want to say,” began Lachie, “That you have been such a frustrating, amazing and… versatile
group of wonderful assholes, and I couldn’t be happier with the show, and how we all put it
together and made it work.”
“And cheers for the coffee!” I added, gesturing to the mountain of empty coffee cups both in and
around the trash can.
“Yes, that coffee was a masterpiece.” Said Tom. I think it was the third full sentence I heard him
say, and I couldn’t help but smile. He was also still wearing the same shirt he had worn a month
“There’s just one last thing I want to say — and that is, it is time, for our last torch fight.”
There was screaming and a flashing of lights, and I’m pretty sure we were all temporarily blinded
for a good 20 minutes while it was going on. I downed my drink in one go and bolted for it, while
Alex made a point of balancing his full drink on his head while flashing his torch at Mr G.
It’s easy to assume who won.
Somehow, we all ended up splayed over a horrible orange coloured monstrosity of a couch that
someone had pulled up out of seemingly nowhere during the course our escapade— it was the
comfiest thing in the whole universe.
“Where was this God send of a couch when we were working?” Murmured Riley as she curled up
with her head on the armrest.
“I don’t know, but I’m never getting up again.” I said, my eyes already closed.
The entire lot of us splayed over it like sardines, our limp forms almost passed out, and a multitude
of giggles ensued — delirium had set in.
By Emily Fursa from Australia