“No, Anna, I refuse.” He widens his eyes emphatically, but she refuses to be moved.
“This is important, Geoffrey.”
“That’s what you always say.”
“That’s what I always say about things that are important, yes.”
He shakes his head, once, quickly. “Anna.”
“You’re good at this,” she reminds him. “And I never ask you to do anything you can’t do.”
That’s the deal they have, now that she’s running Theatre Sans Argent for him. He’s allowed to have things he can’t cope with, people he won’t talk to and fights she has to have on his behalf. But in return, he has to do the things he can do, even if he doesn’t always want to. Which includes their education programme.
“They’re children, Anna,” he protests. “I shouldn’t be allowed to direct children. Do you remember the last time? It can only end disastrously, and then we really will all be out there performing in the streets.”
“They’re eighteen and nineteen,” she says. “Not much younger than you, the first time I saw you perform.”
“That was different,” he says. “I wanted to be there.”
“And how do you know they don’t?”
“Because they told me, Anna, when I found them there this morning and asked what they were all doing on my stage. They are obliged to be here through the vagaries of our fine country’s education system. They have no desire to be on stage, or watching anything on a stage. They are compelled.”
“Well, because of the vagaries of our fine country’s political system, we have promised to render an educational programme in return for financial recompense. Which does keep us off the street. And what did you tell me, Geoffrey?”
He sighs. “I told you that finding funding sources was entirely in your hands, and I would not interfere, except in so far as I refuse to paint corporate logos on our set, or let anyone but me choose our programme.”
“Exactly. Now, these are young people, Geoffrey, who may not have experienced the theatre before. That does not mean they don’t deserve your best. Go and work.”
He runs his hands through his hair, tamer than it has been but still essentially a mess. “Fine. But if they turn on me and kill me with a prop sword, I fully expect you to carry out my final wishes as diligently as I did for Oliver. And you won’t have me to delegate the weird parts to.” He turns on his heel and enters the studio before she can find out exactly what weird parts he has decided to put into his last will and testament.
She’s working, peacefully enough, when a young woman leaves the studio in a hurry, not fast enough for Anna to miss the tears running down her face.
Anna stands up and goes to the auditorium door. “Geoffrey?”
He hurries down the aisle towards her. “That was not my fault.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t.” She’s not sure, but Geoffrey isn’t deliberately cruel and accusing him of it won’t help. “What happened?”
“Teenagers,” he hisses. “It is a very sea of hormones, of adolescent quiverings, and in stepped I to the middle of it. The young lady there, our Viola, is apparently not so skilled in concealing her affections as in the part she plays.”
“She likes the boy playing Orsino?” Anna asks. She told them Twelfth Night was a bad choice for this programme. But their other suggestion was Romeo and Juliet and she won’t have that on her head.
“Oh, if it were that simple,” Geoffrey says. “No, she likes Olivia. Olivia is here to fulfil her arts requirement; she is not an actress. She is, in fact, dating Orsino, to complete the terrible irony of this triangle, and the general consensus among the class is that poor Viola’s affection is worthy of ridicule. The thoughts of Orsino and Olivia on the matter remain unclear, but the tension onstage is thick.”
“Well,” he says firmly, putting a good face on it. “I suppose there are worse things than unrequited love.”
“When you’re a nineteen year old girl?” she says. “Not many.” Anna leaves him there and follows the girl outside. “It’s Ally, isn’t it?”
“I’m not going back in.” She rubs her eyes, sweeping mascara across her cheeks.
“Well, we can’t wait out here all day.”
“They’re laughing at me.”
Anna sits down on the step, and after a moment Ally does the same. Anna says, “Twelfth Night’s a cruel play, I’ve always thought.”
Ally coughs. “I like it.”
“Oh, me too. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it. Geoffrey played Sebastian once, you know.” Ellen had played Viola, and the whole casting had been rather strange, Anna had thought at the time. “He was very good. But every time I see it, I find myself watching the last scenes through my fingers. I do sympathise with Malvolio, I’m afraid. What do you think?”
“I... yeah, me too.” She rubs at her eyes again. “Is Mr Tennant going to be mad at me?”
“For leaving rehearsal?” Anna considers this. “I would think he’s used to it by now. Come on, let’s get your face cleaned up so you can get back in there.”
Anna asks Geoffrey for a progress report at the end of the day. She catches him in the corridor between their offices, pacing up and down.
“... interesting,” he says. “It was interesting.”
“Still fuelled by teenage angst?”
He hums. “Yes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing with this play. I mean, all of the confusion, who loves who, who’s dressing up for what purposes, it sort of... works.”
“There,” she says. “You see?”
“This doesn’t mean you were right.” He heads towards his tiny office, hopefully to pick up his things and go home and not because he’s been inspired to recast their summer season with children.
“Of course not,” she says to his retreating back.
Geoffrey turns and walks back to her. He kisses her cheek. “But you are usually right.” He walks away again.
Anna knows that now, but it’s still very nice to hear. She goes to her own office, and begins to pack up for the day. Unless Geoffrey is in rehearsal, she is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. That one thing is the same as before, but everything else is different.
Geoffrey invites her to watch the next afternoon’s rehearsal. The students are working towards a performance in three weeks time, and have to write a report on their experiences, but for now Geoffrey is just working through the play with them. Anna has at least ten other things more urgent to do – even with the theatre dark out of season, there are bills to pay and applications to be completed. But she supposes she can stick her head in for a little while.
There are three of them onstage: Geoffrey, Ally, and the blond boy must be David, playing Orsino. The others are watching from the seats. Anna takes one at the back.
Geoffrey calls, “Act 2, Scene 4.”
The kids are still on book, so mostly reading through the lines without much change of expression. Geoffrey pushes them, gently, into the text, and Anna knew this wasn’t beyond him.
They get near the end of the scene, and there’s a ripple of laughter. “No,” Geoffrey says. He looks at Ally. “Don’t play that one for the laugh.”
“You waited for the response there – don’t.”
Ally’s lips go tight and she doesn’t reply or fight with him, but doesn’t seem to necessarily agree either. From the seats one of the girls calls out to him, “Why?”
“Sorry?” Geoffrey asks.
“Why shouldn’t she wait?”
“It’s Julie, isn’t it?”
The girl rolls her eyes. “Maybe we should wear nametags?”
“Couldn’t hurt,” he replies without pause. “I know you’re Olivia, the rest is... anyway. What was the question?”
“Why are you telling Ally off for leaving room for them to laugh?”
Geoffrey turns his head to look at Ally. “I didn’t tell her- that was direction, it’s not the same thing. She shouldn’t hit the line waiting for laughter because we don’t want laughter there.”
A boy in the second row calls out, “It's a comedy though, right? It's supposed to be funny.”
“No,” Geoffrey says. “Well, yes, sometimes. But all a comedy means is-” He looks out and across the seats. “Anna?”
She meets his eyes, confused. “Yes?”
“Tell our troupe what a comedy is?”
“Oh. Well. I suppose, a comedy is a play where things end happily. So the good get what they want, and the couples end up getting married.”
Geoffrey smiles. “Okay. So marriages make comedy. That's all?”
“Does it matter what type of marriage?” one of them asks. “I mean, at the end of the play they all get married but it’s... weird.”
“That’s an excellent question,” Geoffrey says, “and I look forward to discovering the answer with you all as we work through the play.”
“But there are still jokes,” one of the boys says. “Cock jokes and stuff, they told us. You just need to figure out what the words mean.”
“There are jokes,” Geoffrey agrees. “Of course. And this is one of them, a little. Viola is clever.” He walks across the stage and wraps one arm around Ally’s shoulders to turn her back towards the audience. “So this is her being witty, when we get to ‘As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship.’ She’s smart, and it’s funny, to us, because she’s taking advantage of- Better question. Who’s the joke for? Why does she say these things? Orsino doesn’t get it, so it’s not for-“
“It’s a little for him,” Anna interrupts. She never interrupts when Geoffrey’s working.
He looks at her from the stage, blinking in the lights. “Anna?”
“Well, I just think- she wouldn’t say it that way if she was alone. She says it like that because he’s there, and maybe it’s a little bit... daring? To admit to all that in front of him, even if he doesn’t understand. It’s a way of being brave.” Anna has felt like that, and though she’s grown away from it now, she remembers how it was to take such small victories and hold them tightly.
Geoffrey stares at her for a long moment. “Excellent point.” He looks back at Ally and David. “It’s not a monologue, is it? And it’s not a joke. She’s baring her heart and soul in front of this man she wishes so desperately would understand her. It’s not just about her being in love with him, although she is. But it doesn’t finish on that, it finishes on- Ally?”
She takes a second to answer. “I am all the daughters of my father's house, And all the brothers too.”
Geoffrey exhales. “Exactly. She’s lost her brother, her twin, and this is Shakespeare, this is- she’s lost her other half. She’s here on this strange shore and she’s-”
“Lonely.” That’s Julie, Olivia from the front again. “That’s right, isn’t it?” She walks onto the stage to challenge him. “A bit like Olivia, really. She lost her brother too, that’s the whole reason she’s in mourning at the start. And it’s worse for Viola, because she doesn’t have anyone else and she can’t tell anyone what’s wrong. She’s just on her own.”
Geoffrey stalks between the two of them on the stage. “So very alone. As alone as a person can be, I think, with no one around who knows her, missing her brother and in love with a man she can never be honest with. Twelfth Night is a comedy, one way or another but this scene... ‘She sat like patience on a monument, Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?’” His voice, the way it always does, hits the rafters with its purity. “Was not this love indeed?” He nods at Ally, who picks it up.
“'We men may say more, swear more: but indeed our shows are more than will; for still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love.’”
David takes the cue line. “’But died thy sister of her love, my boy?’”
“’I am all the daughters of my father's house, And all the brothers too: and yet I know not.’” This time, no one laughs.
Geoffrey lets them finish the scene. “Good. That was good. Let’s take a fifteen minute break and then come back and try Two-Five.” He bounds out of the studio in a hurry.
Anna watches the actors, just for a minute. David pats Ally’s arm, grinning widely at her. And Julie – who had moved towards the wings but not left the stage – crosses back to speak to them both. She nods at Ally. “That was really good.”
“Think we’ll get to one of our scenes this afternoon?”
“I don’t know? Hopefully.”
“Yeah. Even if we don’t, we can work on it together maybe.”
“I didn’t think you liked...?” Ally asks.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of cool. The way it gets in your head. Right?” She turns to David.
He says, “It makes more sense out loud, yeah. Though the performance bit still scares the shit out of me. Like we’re actually supposed to remember all those...”
Anna creeps out and leaves them to it.
Geoffrey brings her coffee the next morning.
Anna looks at him. “I told you that you don’t need to do that.”
“Friends bring friends coffee, Anna, that’s normal behaviour. Not that I know a lot about that, but still. I am reliably informed that it’s normal.”
“By who?” she asks. Geoffrey really only knows other theatre people.
He waves the question off. “Take the coffee.”
She does, and sips it gratefully. “How’s the show coming along?”
“The kids? Good. Great, actually. Maybe I should always work with actors too green to realise that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“That’s not true,” she tells him, “and also I don’t know what I would tell the company if you decided to fire them all and replace them with teenagers two months before the new season.” She raises her eyebrows. “Particularly your wife.”
“Ah, Ellen loves me, she would understand.” Geoffrey pauses and shakes his head. “Or she would murder me and bury me under the theatre, one or the other.”
“That’s not your wish, is it?” Anna asks.
“To be buried under the theatre. Because I probably could manage that one, although what if you...”
“Came back and haunted the place?” he asks. “Well, that’s what we keep the ghost lights for. To make sure we always have a working stage for our long dead parts.”
“I know, I know.” He smiles. “I suppose I should get back to it. Still no money, no audience yet, and a house full of teenagers to educate in the ways of the Bard.”
“You did that, yesterday,” Anna says. “You gave Julie and Ally something to talk about, made her a friend onstage with the boy. That mattered.” He still needs to be reminded, sometimes, about things as small as co-signing contracts and as big as the difference they are capable of making on their best days.
Geoffrey protests, “It’s not a dating-”
“You showed them the text,” Anna interrupts. “What they do with it is their business.”
He looks at her. “What was it I said before? You are usually right. Almost always. Did I ever thank you properly for letting me drag you to Montreal the moment you returned?”
“Yes, Geoffrey, you did.”
“Well... I’m doing it again.”
“Thank you,” she says back to him. She had forgotten, a little, how much she loved the work before he gave her free reign over it. It is too much, some days, but it’s never any more too little. She sets the boats towards Illyria, with her pen and ink, and sometimes people thank her, and that’s really all she ever needed.
Geoffrey says, “You should come and watch the rehearsals this afternoon, we’re doing the ring scene.”
“I really do need to...”
“For a little while,” he says. “Even if it’s just to get something nice to say on our next grant application.”
“For a little while,” she agrees. “All right.”
Geoffrey offers her his arm, and walks with her into the theatre.