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Playing Titania in Tim Hortons

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1) The House of Bernarda Alba

"Ohmygod," Knives said. "I've read your blog."

"And the slow poison of the patriarchy aspect has been done to death, I want to rip that repression right out of the text, show the--wait, what did you say? My blog?"

Darren Nichols, actually Darren Nichols, blinked at her from behind his glasses. Actually Darren Nichols, who had actually walked right up to Knives and actually declared that she had a face and a presence and possibly a few other things that Knives hadn't heard over the noise of trumpets and radio static and high-pitched squealing in her mind.

"Yes!" said Knives. "That thing you wrote about Romeo and Juliet and the Quebec Legislature, that was amazing."

"Well," Darren said. The corner of his lips quirked in a way that was very artistic but also, part of Knives couldn't help noticing, very smug. "One has to be one's own publicist, in these days of social media."

"I haven't acted before," she felt bound to point out.

"Perfect," said Darren at once. "You're new, you're fresh, you're unencumbered by process or preconception. I need someone exactly like you for Adela."

What could you say to that, really?

Knives lifted her chin. "I'd love to give it a try," she said.

Darren put both of his hands on both of her shoulders. He wasn't much taller than she was. Knives liked it when men didn't have to look down on her, to look at her. She'd been looked down on enough already.

"Now, this is very important," Darren said. "Lucas Lee was a disaster; I simply refuse to have another of my actors collapsing into a pile of coins midway through a production. Unless it's for allegorical effect. You could do something with Judas becoming the silver pieces, perhaps--though why anyone would stage a Passion when the stink of Germaine Holland's pernicious corpse of a play is still hanging around our memories, God only knows--"

"Um," said Knives.

Darren closed his eyes and inhaled really loudly, like one of those people who had their own YouTube channel of yoga videos. He opened his eyes again.

"Miss Chau. What I mean is: are you now, or have you ever been, anybody's evil ex? Will you feel the uncontrollable urge to dash away in the middle of a scene, in order to take part in a duel? Not that there's anything wrong with duelling, we've all been there, but it does wreak havoc on a rehearsal schedule."

"No," said Knives, firmly.

Darren sagged in relief, using his whole body to do it.

"Thank fucking Christ," he said. "Welcome aboard. Rehearsals start Monday."

 

2) Speech: The Musical

"But I can't sing," Knives said.

"Knives, darling," said Darren. "That's the point."

Knives jammed her phone between shoulder and cheek so she could wash her hands. Meanwhile Darren launched into a description of his vision for this shining entry into the genre of the New Canadian Musical--capitals audible, despite the fact that she was pretty sure Darren was calling from Amsterdam--and Knives made an apologetic face at her mother, who was elbow-deep in dumpling skins.

She'd have put it on speaker, but that was at best an opportunity for Mrs Chau to listen and later comment on Darren's everything, and at worst an invitation for her to join in.

Knives knew that her mother disapproved of her job, no matter how many times Knives tried to tell her that she still planned to go to university and study aerospace engineering and become the first human being to set foot on Mars.

But that was for then, whenever then might be. This was now, and Knives was twenty years old and restless in the way that she imagined comets to be restless.

Besides, she loved working with Darren. He was very clear about what he wanted, even when what he wanted was ridiculous and borderline impossble. He drank too much coffee and shouted at people about how Harry Potter was a brilliant subversion of the themes of Albert Camus that had been tragically slaughtered in the film adaptations, yes, even Cuaran's ones. He was vegan every other week, or whenever he had to go and wrestle money out of the producers to fund an animatronic rhinoceros and he felt like he needed the extra power. He listened to strange German music that really nobody had heard of, not the oh-yeah-nobody's-heard-of-them that characterised the Toronto music scene.

Knives had bought him a new scarf at the end of their last project. It was just as long as her own but striped green and silvery grey. Darren had made the hmm noise through his lips which she'd learned meant he was grudgingly pleased.

To my favourite Slytherin, she'd written on the card, after a lot of agonising about whether that was too familiar. (Then again, Darren had had his impatiently prodding hands on most parts of her body, even if they were for reasons that had nothing at all to do with sex, and she'd cried messy homesick tears when he'd shouted at her to just say the fucking line the right fucking way, and he'd fallen asleep on her shoulder in a Vancouver airport, and probably the line of overfamiliarity was a long way behind them by now.) Thanks for taking a chance on a Ravenclaw.

"Darren's directing a musical," she said now.

Before hanging up she'd wished Darren a happy new year and he'd paused, in a way that told her he was calculating the odds that he'd lost track of the days to that extent because he was so involved in whatever he was working on. And then he'd remembered that she was Chinese and returned the sentiment with an odd grace.

"But you can't sing," her mother said. "Not musical at all."

"No, it's all just talking. But with music. Or, well--have you ever heard of a marimba?"

Her mother looked more cheerful.

"Don't worry, I lie about it. Say you joined Peace Corps. Nobody know."

Knives sighed.

"Thanks, Mom."

 

3) Love in the Time of Space-Time

"Kieron, you don't understand! The external stabilisers are deregulating, and the build up of radioactive protons means that our quantum calibration engine could put the whole city in--no, look, I'm sorry."

Knives lowered her raygun and made a face.

"Radioactive protons, Darren, really?"

Darren appeared from behind his tiny screen. He lifted his megaphone, which he did not need, given that he was barely ten yards away.

"You're doing fine," he said huffily. "No, not you, Tyler, you look like someone's pissed in your quinoa, now will you please make some kind of effort to act?"

It was the impure and siren call of money that had lured Darren back into the action film business, and he'd dragged Knives along with him.

"You're far better off casting vegetable peelings before swine," Darren had said. "Save the pearls for those who will appreciate them."

Now that she knew Darren a little better, Knives was sure that he wasn't as cynical a sellout as he claimed to be, and that part of him actually enjoyed making this sort of creatively mindless box-office bait.

She was also sure that when the time came for him to write his memoirs, he would declare that his entire film oeuvre had been an obscure and scathing satirical commentary on the state of Hollywood.

This film was...well, the fake-science dialogue was so bad it made her mouth hurt, and some of her costumes were vaguely racist, but at least she was the lead. She got to wear a lab coat that was 300% more flattering than any lab coat had ever been in Knives's previous experience, and clear glasses with Armani frames. She got to make a bomb from the contents of a kitchen cupboard, and race bad guys through fake-future Chicago on a hovering motorcycle. The glasses got knocked off in an explosion about an hour into the movie, but this seemed to have no effect on her vision, although it did make her instantly more attractive to the handsome but ineffectual journalist character who served as her love interest.

Knives found filming to be bewildering and exciting, despite the constant repetition and the long hours. She knew she looked good, because she was surrounded by a minor army's worth of people whose job it was to make sure she did, and apparently all of them outranked her.

One of them darted in now and tugged Knives's lurid green wig into a different position. Knives hadn't been sure about the wig at first, but she'd texted a few pictures of herself in it to Ramona, who had retaliated with her own hair-of-the-month: a deep, cheery plum.

Knives had decided that the wig was all right.

"From the top," came Darren's too-loud voice.

"Quantum calibration, quantum calibration." Knives said. "Okay. I'm ready."

 

4) Yonge Lovers and Summerhill Dreams

Darren won some staggeringly generous grant from a Toronto arts fund and used it to pull together a miniseries adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream, filmed entirely on smartphone cameras in the city's public places, with the reactions from onlookers incorporated into the story. It was bizarre and full of improvisation and it took six months to film. It starred hipsters as the Athenian lovers, a team's worth of varsity hockey players as the rude mechanicals, and a court of fairies costumed exclusively by Hot Topic.

The guy playing Peter Quince was nice, to begin with, all smiles and terrible jokes and Oilers hoodies. He tried exactly once to grope Knives as he walked her back to the subway station at night; Knives spin-kicked him squarely in the chest, knelt on his stomach once he was down, and pulled her knives on him.

"Jesus," the guy gasped. "What is with you indie chicks, who carries weapons in Toronto?"

"You should see my friend's hammer," Knives said, and walked away.

As part of her prep for the role, Darren was encouraging her to wander the city and Live Among The Youths, to get a feel for the atmosphere or whatever.

"I already know the atmosphere," Knives protested. "I grew up here."

"Good," said Darren. "Go and recapture--that. Whatever it was."

Knives didn't feel like hanging out with scene kids, but it wasn't like Darren knew the difference, so she just called up Scott's friends, who were kind of but not entirely also her friends, and spent a lot of her downtime catching up with them over pizza and making runs to Second Cup during their jamming sessions.

It was surprisingly easy, seeing Scott and Ramona together. It was even better to see Stephen and Wallace and Stacey, and to hug Young Neil.

Best and most surprising of all was seeing Kim Pine, who had changed only in small and unimportant ways, and whose wrists were confident and nails a goading shade of purple as she yelled the band into the first few crashing bars of each song. The more Knives watched Kim behind her drum kit, the more she found herself feeling the same squirming feeling in her chest that she used to get when she watched Scott. The fact that Knives was sitting on a couch and listening to Sex Bob-omb, and having that feeling, launched her instantly back in time to four years ago.

Maybe this was what Darren had been talking about.

Kim looked right back at Knives as she played, and afterwards she made a lot of comments about Knives being a big star now, almost as big as Envy Adams, and wasn't it generous of her to come back to spend time amongst the lowly struggling musicians?

The comments were very sarcastic, but Knives remembered the way Kim used to talk to Scott when her feelings were still deep and raw--remembered more fuzzily the feel of Kim's shoulders under her hands, the taste of her mouth beneath the beer and Midori--and let herself hope.

She wanted to do something for Kim, something good and big and real, and it was with that intention that she made her way back to the set the next day. She arrived in the middle of a brief filming break.

Paris Genesse, who was playing Puck, gave Knives a wink as zhe passed by, pursued by a grimly eyeliner-wielding Tanisha from makeup. Paris was fiddling with zir black sweatbands, which were adorned with neon pink skulls.

"Darren?" Knives called.

"Try the catering truck," Paris said.

Knives ducked inside for just long enough to pick up some coffee and eat three of the little sandwiches with asparagus and salami and tapenade, and she eventually located her director outside, leaning against the back of the truck, paying even less attention to the rest of the world than usual.

He was snapping into his phone the same way he snapped at hapless cinematographers, she same way he snapped at Knives when she didn't understand how to say a line on the beat, but he was doing it with a half-smile on his face that she'd call affectionate on anyone else. It looked weird on Darren, like a top hat on a lizard.

"--what do you mean, against your better judgement, Geoffrey, you are certifiably and clinically insane, it's a pure scientific fact that anyone's judgement is better than yours. Oh, really? Is that what you think? Fuck you, you pompous--ha!" The half-smile turned into an electric grin, there and gone again in an instant. "Delightful to hear from you, Geoffrey, as ever. Yes. Goodbye."

He hung up.

Knives cleared her throat to announce her presence. She was thinking that nobody who had directed her in the gem of dialogue that was, "It's too late for me, Kieron, but you can still save the neutrinos!" was allowed to declare anything a scientific fact.

"My Titania," Darren greeted her. "I hope you aren't here to tell me that the jocks have turned up to filming stoned again. It was funny the first time, good footage, a good take on the idea of inflicted translation into a more magical realm--but really, is it too much to ask that they also remember their fucking lines? Geoffrey and I did two shows of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern back-to-back for a week straight, in our second year of university, and we didn't let a bit of marijuana get in our way."

He was still holding his phone with his arm lifted, wrist relaxed, exactly like she'd seen him hold a rapier on stage.

"Geoffrey Tennant?" Knives asked, excited.

"Mm." Darren bent his arm and tapped the phone against his lips. "We might be spending some time in Montreal next spring, Miss Chau. I'll let you know. What did you need?"

"I've found a band for the soundtrack, if you're still looking? Sex Bob-omb, they're sort of friends of mine, but they're really good. Locals. I think they'd be perfect."

"Sex Bob-omb," Darren repeated, in that precise way he had, like he was rolling the words around his mouth and if he didn't like them they'd end up spat in someone's face.

Knives suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, and waited.

"I love it," Darren said.

 

5) The Tempest

"So you're Darren's Ariel," said Ellen. "Let's get a look at you."

Knives felt awkward under the other woman's gaze, like she was wearing odd socks and didn't mean it ironically, and like she'd forgotten everything Darren ever taught her about owning her space. When Ellen Fanshaw was in a room, there was no question of the space belonging to anyone else.

Knives was a five-minute star, with good genes and a good director and good luck. She was going to enjoy it while it lasted, and then she was going to go off and be an astronaut. She wasn't an actress on the same level as Ellen, for whom the theatre was her whole life.

"I was surprised," Knives blurted, to cover her nerves. "When Darren said he was putting on Tempest here, I mean, I've heard about Theatre sans Argent, but I didn't know--"

"That Darren got out of bed for the classics? Or worked for free?"

Knives tried to think of a way to agree that didn't sound disloyal.

"I didn't know that Geoffrey Tennant was into Darren's style of theatre," she said instead.

Ugh, that wasn't much better.

"Darren's a fuckwit, but Geoff's always had a soft spot for him. I think he had some kind of break from sanity when he was planning the new season--oh, sorry, that's a joke--and asked him to come and direct." Ellen sighed. "Exes. They're hard to shake off, especially the evil ones."

"You mean--so when he said that about duelling, we've all been--oh my God, he's literally been there?" Knives said, lifting an incredulous hand to her mouth. "That is just--wow. Darren's Geoffrey's evil ex."

"Of course he is," Ellen said. "Darren. Then Oliver. Another director," she explained, with an arch look. "Don't ever date your director, my dear."

Knives thought about Geoffrey and decided not to make the obvious comment.

"That's only two," she said. "Who were the other five?"

"Me," Ellen said simply.

"And..."

"And me again. I've played a lot of roles in my time."

"So you defeated yourself," Knives said, wondering.

"Five times," Ellen agreed, with a rueful tilt to her mouth. "It's harder than it looks. But it all worked out in the end."

Knives put her hand in her pocket and touched her phone. Kim was going to call her that evening after a gig. It wasn't anything, yet, it was just--talking. But it was something. Knives thought about how Scott had treated them both, and how Envy had treated Scott, and how it was a good thing that none of them had shaken off the lessons they'd learned. All exes were a little bit evil in their own way, she guessed. Even the normal ones.

"How do you do it?" she asked. "How do you get past yourself?"

Ellen shrugged like Darren did, with all of her body at once.

"You forgive," she said.

"Right," said Knives. She touched her phone again.

"And when that fails," Ellen said, "a prop sword can be very effective."

Knives grinned. "Thanks," she said. "I'll keep that in mind."