“Try it again. A little bit louder, Gavin,” called the director from her front row seat, glancing up from her meticulous notes as a scrawny teenager cleared his throat on the stage and looked about again with wide eyes. The older boys in the back found their marks and straightened their backs with an air of purpose, at the ready for their cues. The open air theater was absolutely gleaming. Perfect props were organized neatly backstage, even at this early rehearsal. This group of wayward actors were backed by indulgent parents with deep pockets in their closely tailored suits.
“You need somebody quicker, and I volunteer,” a scrawny neck shot up in confidence.
“Come back, Gavroche, don’t you dare!” An angrily rigid finger pointed at the neck accusingly.
“Someone pull him back at once!” Several hands shot out but none quite reached the boy.
“Look at me, I’m almost there!”
“Cut!” interrupted the young director. “Much better, Gavin. You’ll find your voice. The rest of you have got to stop grinning during rehearsal. It wouldn’t kill you try, would it.”
“Maybe! How far are some of us,” with a sweeping gesture, “from heatstroke?” shouted a young man from the back. Throwing his hands up at the skies., he intoned, “how many water bottles will we sacrifice? How many days in scratchy costumes? All for your twisted vision,” he finished, with a smirk and a pointed finger.
“Your improvisation has improved, Joseph. Perhaps I’ll put you outside in that scratchy costume handing out fliers the week before opening night. Or maybe you will elect to be quiet and return to your mark.”
“You’re a wicked woman, carved of ice!”
“Back to your places, everyone. The wicked ice woman needs to get home in time for dinner and is just itching to demote roles.”
Beaming parents chatter amongst each other as they take their seats, each with a red, black and white pin commemorating opening night of their precious children’s play. The air is crisp but not cold and everyone sits comfortably in cushioned collapsible chairs and impeccable sensible light sweaters.
Well into the play, no one notices a few stragglers who sit quietly in the last row despite better seats’ availability. They bow their heads and from the stage some actors catch a glimpse of sly grins but think nothing of it, busy waving French flags and puffing out their chests and one particular understudy struggling to nail his unexpected performance. The music is provided by a local group of talented enthusiasts and the drama manages to pull everyone in, audience and cast alike.
The saga approaches its end and in a tense moment, a voice clear as a bell rings from a little brave boy on stage.
“You need somebody quicker, and I volunteer!” Small shoulders are squared.
“Come back Gavroche, don’t you dare!”
“Someone get him down, now!” shouts a shaky voice. Hands fly out in perfect formation, all too late and none close enough.
“Look at me, I’m almost there!”
A crash of small cymbals signify a gunshot, but the boyish voice continues.
“Little people know, when, little people fight, we,” another crash interrupts and he clutches his heart but perseveres, his voice lowering masterfully so that all the audience can still hear but feel compelled to hold their breath and lean in quietly.
“May look easy pickings, but we’ve got some bite!”
It’s hard to hear the gunshot at first, through the sound of the instruments providing sound effects for the play but suddenly everyone has been wrenched back through time and setting. The silent group stand up to reveal their faces masked by plastic Guy Fawkes masks and their hands grasping machine guns, knuckles white. People scream, most run away and some die or wound. Only the actors on stage, reduced to children playing dress up stand still. Gavin has been shot and someone runs to his side. An older brother, though not by blood. The gunshots continue but they don’t seem to have a target and instead just spray dramatically all around.
In unison, the group speaks.
“Down with the aristocrats! Down with the aristocrats! Down with the aristocrats! Down with the aristocrats!”
“Take this, frigid bitch!”