You can always tell the eighteen-year-olds at the entrance exams. They're the girls usually standing towards the back with the mix of distain and desperation on their faces. They're trying so hard to act like they're better than everyone else but they know better than anyone that this is their last chance. They stand either separately or in small clumps trying to hide their nerves under near-constant chatter. Some of the know each other from previous years, and either gravitate towards or away from each other depending on the perceived level of competition. Some stand alone on the edges of the crowd, eyes unfocused, whispering lines to themselves, or visualizing particularly complicated bits of choreography. Others chat with the younger girls, telling stories of previous years, previous entrance exams, trying vainly to ignore the obvious fact that those years of experience are years they failed to make it.
Every year, thousands come from all over the country, their hopes and dreams riding on these exams. Each year between forty and fifty girls will be accepted into the Takarazuka Music school and have a chance to realize their dream. Those who don't make it… Some give up I'm sure, but most come back year after year, from age fifteen to eighteen, hoping that maybe this will be their year. They all want this, but the eighteen-year-olds want it with a fierce desperation that always makes them the most fun to watch.
I remember all too well what it was like to be them. I once was one of those girls standing with my friends, all of us trying to ignore our anxiety, knowing all to well that nothing messes up an exam faster than a case of nerves. Now I watch them, and push back the still lingering traces of bitterness. Because I once was one of them, and like too many of them, I failed to make the cut. But that is long past now, and I stalk the fringes of the crowds watching the older girls, eavesdropping on their conversations. They take little notice of me – too old to be one of them, and not well dressed enough to be a member of the Board. I'm trying, as best as anyone can, to find those who if they don't make it might still be willing to work for the Revue. It's no coincidence that the technical departments post their opening for internships right after the exam results are released.
We prey on those disappointed eighteen-year-olds, offering a way to still be connected to the Revue. And we lose them by the droves as they realize that being connected to the Revue isn't the same as being in the Revue. Still, some are like me and stay, so we keep recruiting. Which is why Ichiko sends me out every year to stalk around the edges of the hopefuls, keeping an eye and ear on those for whom this is their last chance. I can often tell who will apply, and beyond that, I've got a pretty good track record of knowing which ones will stay. I find them now, and remember their faces so if they apply we can try to grab them up for the costume department.
Today there are a few possibilities, and I make note of them, committing faces to memory and writing names down in my notebook. Despite Ichiko's faith in my abilities, I don't have a real system. I write down names for a variety of seemingly illogical reasons. One girl with a bad dye job gets her name written down because I catch her telling a friend that she made the dress she's wearing. The dress is well made, and although we can and do teach sewing skills, it doesn't hurt to have them already. There are two girls towards the front of the group who get their names written down because they're discussing how neither wants to be a top star, to just be in the Revue would be enough. And the tall girl in the back corner standing by herself gets her name noted because there is a challenging light in her eyes that reminds me of myself at her age.
Sometime I wonder if there had been someone doing the same thing when I was at the entrance exams. A woman stalking around the edges marking down names. I wonder if my name had been on her list, and if so, what had prompted her to write me down.