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The Opposite of People

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We're actors! We're the opposite of people!
--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard


(Wednesday.)

Five minutes before rehearsal began, Charles's assistant stage manager had already threatened their leading man with a sexual harassment suit twice. "Can't you report him to Equity or something?" Jean asked Charles plaintively, while Logan leered at her from stage right.

"As Equity deputy, I can totally punch him in the 'nads for you," Raven offered. Jean perked up noticeably.

Charles hadn't had nearly enough caffeine for this.

Of course, that was when their asshole director barged in and announced that he would be reblocking the entirety of Act II. Three days before tech. And with large swathes of Act III that still had never been fully set.

Charles liked to think of himself as a pacifist, a facilitator, skilled in soothing bruised egos and negotiating compromises. In short, a stage manager. He had a professional reputation to maintain, after all. But he was precisely half a cup of coffee away from strangling Sebastian Shaw with his bare hands.

Perhaps Jean caught that homicidal glint in his eyes, because she dropped a can of Diet Coke on his table en route to resetting the stage for the top of Act II. This was why Jean was the best ASM. Charles sighed and pulled his industrial-grade eraser out of his kit, preparing to clean the slate of his blocking pages for the twentieth time.


[excerpt from Rehearsal Report, Wednesday, as e-mailed out to production staff]

Scenic:
-We now need a bridge connecting the stage right and left "water tower" structures, set at least eight feet above the stage. This will need to safely bear the weight of three actresses at a time.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: bridge to nowhere

No.

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: bridge to nowhere

And yet the actresses will still need to be able to cross from the SL tower to SR without climbing back down to the stage. Are you concerned about the load-bearing safety issue for the bridge?
-Charles

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: define "safety"

Can't the actors just learn to fly instead?

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: define "safety"

My sister is a bird in name only.
-Charles

*

FROM: "Armando Munoz" [darwin@gmail.com]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com], "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org], "Moira MacTaggert" [mmactaggert@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Rehearsal Report

Hey guys, I've attached a PDF of a sketch for the new bridge piece, Erik let me know if that's feasible or if you have any suggestions. Do we have any more metal crossbraces i.e. steel or iron or something sturdier than a 2x4? Moira if HTC doesn't have the material I know a guy who did a rigging like this over at Shakes, I can give him a call.

~Darwin

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Armando Munoz" [darwin@gmail.com]
CC: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org], "Moira MacTaggert" [mmactaggert@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: Rehearsal Report

Thank you, Armando.
-Charles

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Armando Munoz" [darwin@gmail.com]
CC: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: RE: Re: Rehearsal Report

Teacher's pet.


(two weeks ago.)

In the normal order of things, Charles would have met the Hellfire Theater Club's technical director at the first production meeting for Children of the Atom, about a month before rehearsals began. But Charles hadn't yet been hired at that point in the production process. He was offered the position precisely six days before first rehearsal, which was rather late in the game for an SM to prep for a production with a cast of twenty-three, a work-in-progress script that was then a daunting one hundred and fifteen pages long, and production elements that included projected film, extensive fight sequences, a staggeringly long props list, and potential aerial choreography.

(He and Moira managed to negotiate Shaw out of the aerial choreography concept a week into rehearsals, thankfully. Charles marked this as one of his crowning career achievements.)

Children of the Atom was an avant garde re-imagining of the Scottish play set in an undefined post-apocalyptic near future. Shaw was both playwright and director in addition to being Hellfire's founding artistic director; he considered himself to be an under-appreciated theatrical visionary. Charles thought he was a complete madman with a regrettable amount of funding and local clout. But Shaw was hardly the first lunatic for whom Charles had stage managed; this was the theatre, after all. So when Hellfire's usual SM quit and their production manager, Moira, called Charles in a panic to beg him on board, he ignored all the obvious red flags and accepted the position.

(It didn't help that his sister was in the cast. Charles never really stood a chance.)

So as it happened, the first time Charles met the Hellfire technical director was two weeks before tech, when he walked into the theater an hour before rehearsal to find every flat surface coated in a fine layer of sawdust.

"Oh, God," Charles said. His voice was lost to the plaintive whine of a screw gun faced with a hopelessly stripped screw.

"Alex, I swear to God, my deceased grandmother could handle power tools with more finesse," someone growled from ten feet overhead. "From her grave."

The hideous wail of the screw gun ceased. "Christ, Erik, it's not like I'm the one who put this fucker together in the first place," someone else grumbled from behind a row of flats.

"Yes, I can tell, because it's still standing." The man on the ladder glanced over his shoulder to frown down at Charles. "And who the hell are you?"

In retrospect, it probably didn't help that the first time Charles met Erik Lehnsherr, the man was up a ladder in well-worn, close-fitting jeans. The view temporarily derailed Charles's entirely justified rant about the war zone currently purporting to be his rehearsal space.

"Hngk," Charles said eloquently, dragging his gaze up to Erik's face. He coughed. "Er. My name is Charles Xavier, I'm stage managing. And you must be the TD, lovely to meet you, please tell me you're aware that rehearsal starts in--" He checked his cell phone. "--fifty-seven minutes?"

Erik's frown deepened. He finished clamping a long metal brace of some sort to the grid, then climbed down the ladder, much to Charles's regret. "We have 'till two," he said, glancing at his wristwatch. "That's two hours."

"Ah, actually, we changed the start time to one--"

"That isn't on the production calendar. When did this happen?" Erik folded his arms across his chest. Off the ladder, he still stood a good several inches taller than Charles, and judging by his biceps and the fit of his jeans, he had a distinct muscular advantage as well. But Charles had never been easily intimidated by brawn.

"Last night," Charles said, holding his head high and meeting Erik's challenging glare with his own. "Which you would know if you'd bothered reading the rehearsal report."

Belatedly, Charles recalled that his disdain for physical prowess had led to getting the shit kicked out of him on more than one occasion at school. But after a long, fraught moment, Erik's thin lips curled into something resembling a smirk. "I read the reports," he said mildly. "I skim to the part about sets, I read Shaw's ridiculous demands, I curse at Alex until shit happens. Don't tell me you actually expect me to examine the fine print."

"The reports are less than a page long," Charles protested. "It would take you all of two minutes to read the whole thing. I don't write these up for my sodding health, there's actually useful information in there. Like how today's rehearsal starts in--"

"--fifty-four minutes, yes, so I hear." Erik had the audacity to look amused.

"And our rehearsal space is currently buried under a sea of sawdust," Charles went on, undaunted. "While I admit the ambiance of frantic reconstruction is not entirely unsuited to the general theme of this production, the actors -- not to mention Shaw -- will probably take it somewhat amiss if they spend their afternoon choking on wood shavings."

By this point, Erik was grinning outright. It should have been, and was probably intended to be, a rather disconcerting expression, but it somehow...suited him. "Sure, but it's going to take us at least forty minutes to finish securing these braces." He gestured to the metal beams that had been propped up haphazardly along the grid. "Without which you run the risk of the entire structure collapsing on your actors' heads. Which wouldn't be much of a loss," he added cynically. "But you stage managers tend to get finicky about these things."

It actually took Charles a solid few seconds to process the information, still weirdly transfixed by Erik's (completely creepy and not the slightest bit attractive) smile. But that was ridiculous, and he had actors in -- oh god -- fifty-one minutes, so he just shrugged his backpack off into the audience seating, suppressing a wince at the resultant cloud of sawdust. "Right, then," he said, rolling up his sleeves. "Mind telling me where I can find the nearest shop vac?"

Erik gave him a slow, assessing look, then wordlessly pointed at the stacks of lumber stage left. The stout round vacuum squatted among the two-by-fours like a nesting hen. Charles sighed, rolled his shoulders back, and got to work.


(Thursday.)

In the intervening weeks, Charles had established a sort of truce with the TD. Erik read every line of every single rehearsal report -- Charles knew this because he often responded with a play-by-play commentary on the inanity of Shaw's artistic vision as interpreted through Charles's notes -- and put up an ungodly fuss whenever he was asked to make any alterations to the set, which happened at least twice a week. But on the other hand, he did resolve every issue within twelve hours, and he never directed his scathing attacks at Charles himself.

Two days before tech, still reeling from the massive quantity of reblocking from the previous day's rehearsal, Charles arrived at the theater well in advance of their scheduled start time.

"No," Erik said at once, as Charles set his script down at his tech table. "No stage management. We actually still have two hours left in the space, I checked the damn report this morning. Don't you dare stop welding that truss, Alex, we're not done yet."

Alex sulkily picked his tools back up and continued welding.

Charles suppressed a smile as he shrugged out of his jacket. "Relax, I know I'm early."

"Good." Erik eyed him with great suspicion. "What do you want?"

"Just checking in on the new bridge."

Erik waved at the stage, which had indeed sprouted a bridge connecting the two side structures. "Bridge to nowhere, right where Shaw wants it. Like this set wasn't ugly enough already."

"It's a design choice," Charles said primly, though he privately agreed. It was ugly as sin. Not that he blamed the designer -- Armando had done his best, given the circumstances. And Erik had gotten the damn thing put together practically overnight, which was faster than Charles had dared hope. He wondered if the carps were being paid overtime for this. "Has it been secured?"

"More or less -- wait, where do you think you're going?"

"I have actors here in two hours," Charles pointed out as he clambered up the stage left water tower structure thing. "If I can't walk across it, they can't."

Erik scowled up at him. "Alex is still working on the trusses."

"You're not holding any tools, which means he's just putting on the finishing touches, because you're an anal retentive control freak who does all the important bits yourself," Charles said cheerfully, bracing himself against the thin railing that Armando had helpfully included in the design.

"Because you know everything about me after knowing me for, what, two weeks?"

"Two and a half."

"Don't you have an assistant who can risk her neck instead?"

"Jean's shift ends in half an hour, she'll get here when she can. At least I'll get a free coffee out of it. Real coffee, not the shit we brew up in the green room." He carefully made his way to the center of the bridge, keeping one hand firmly on the railing. Seemed sturdy enough. He'd need to try a cross without clutching the rail, though. Shaw wouldn't like the clinging-for-dear-life look, and Charles would have to be able to assure the actresses of their safety.

Erik frowned. "Your ASM is a barista?"

Charles shot him a sardonic look. "She's non-Equity, Erik, how much do you think Hellfire's paying her? Of course she has a day job." He released the railing experimentally, taking a few steps. A bit narrow for his comfort, but not too bad. "Do me a favor, will you? Get up here."

"I did test it out for myself earlier," Erik groused, but he proved remarkably biddable, pulling himself up the stage right structure with ease. Charles quashed a totally unreasonable flare of envy at his long-limbed grace.

"Yes, but we'll need all three witches up here at once, and with the two of us, we're probably about the right weight." Charles gave Erik a considering once-over. His shirt had ridden up somewhat in his climb, revealing a flash of surprisingly narrow waist. Charles did his best not to notice how smooth his skin looked. "Well. Maybe not quite. You're skinnier than I thought."

Erik quirked an eyebrow, joining him center stage. "Some of us actually work for a living." He reached out and poked Charles's (admittedly somewhat soft) side.

Charles batted Erik's hand away, trying to will away the faint flush he could feel creeping up his cheeks. "You hassle Alex all day for a living."

"True that," Alex said fervently, still welding.

Charles grinned and leaned forward against the railing. He'd been trapped in rehearsals for so long that he'd nearly forgotten how much he preferred the company of other techies to bloody artists. Perhaps he should forsake the rehearsal room entirely in favor of electrics work or something. He could hang and cable a light like nobody's business.

And on that note -- "Erik, wasn't the LD in here this morning? Or did they finish the hang yesterday?"

"No, Hank was up here for an hour or two, but he couldn't do the focus while we were rebuilding the set -- again -- so it's been pushed back to tomorrow. Why?"

"Don't hate me," Charles said, "but -- that's the projector cradle, yes? Hanging from the grid, call it twelve feet downstage of us, right about your eye level?"

Erik narrowed his eyes. "Yes?"

"And the screen's directly behind us, another ten feet upstage."

"Yeah, so?" Erik glanced over his shoulder, then back at the projector, resigned. "Fuck."

"Because the very top of Act I, when the witches are standing right where we are right now, and the film clip is playing--"

"I guess their bodies are going to be the new projector screen," Erik said mulishly. "Because they'll be right smack in the fucking way."

Charles gave him a too-bright smile. "Aren't you glad we figured that out now, before Shaw discovered this exciting new obstacle in the first five minutes of tech?"

"I hate you," Erik informed him. "So, so much."

"Don't worry," Charles said, patting his arm. "I'm sure Hank can come up with a new place to hang the projector before Saturday."

"He'd better, because I am not fucking changing the location of this fucking bridge."


(Friday.)

Logan would not have been Charles's first choice to play Macbeth; but then, as Shaw huffily insisted, Children of the Atom was merely "loosely inspired by" Shakespeare's work (as opposed to being a blatant rip-off of it, as everyone else privately agreed). But he did have a strong stage presence, and, for all his flaws as a human being, he was thankfully the sort of actor whose process was entirely internal. Shaw would give some long-winded, nonsensical direction; Logan would frown, absorb the information in silence, and then adjust accordingly the next time they ran the scene. No fuss, no muss, no questions asked. Which was nice, because Shaw never answered a question in one sentence when he could rattle on for twenty minutes instead.

That was not exactly conducive to a productive rehearsal experience. And not everyone in the cast could roll with the punches quite as easily as Logan.

"He's just not listening," Ororo snapped, pacing around the dressing room like an impending storm. "I know he thinks he's some sort of genius auteur, but Lady M's motivations in that scene make no sense to anyone actually possessing a uterus!"

"I completely understand your frustration," Charles said carefully. Frankly, he thought the scene was utter crap, but it wasn't his place to comment on artistic decisions. "But Sebastian is understandably wary about making major script revisions at this late stage in the process."

That was a bald-faced lie. Shaw had rewritten a sizable chunk of the third act only the night before. With one day left until tech. But not, unfortunately, the Lady M scene that Ororo found so objectionable.

"I can't work with him, Charles," Ororo said. "I signed on to play one of the strongest female characters in Shakespeare's entire canon, not this shrill, stereotypical harpy!"

Jean chose that moment to poke her head in the room. "Um," she said. "Sorry, but Charles, the break is kind of over."

"Call another five," Charles said. "We'll be with you in just a moment."

She nodded and beat a hasty retreat.

Charles returned to their recalcitrant diva with his most disarming smile. "Listen, Ororo, I know how difficult this is for you right now. But please bear in mind -- at the end of the day, our Lady M is your character, not Sebastian's. You'll be the one breathing life into her night after night, long after Shaw's role in the production has ended. So please, tell me. What do you need from me right now to help you get there?"

Five minutes later, Ororo returned to rehearsal, grudgingly placated. Charles waited until Shaw started the scene back up again, then surreptitiously checked his phone. They'd been in rehearsal for all of seventy minutes out of the eight-hour day. Fan-fucking-tastic.


(Saturday - Tech, Day One.)

"I don't think you fully grasp the nuance of the symbolism," Shaw said icily. "The red banner represents the evolution of Mack's ascent to power. It must rise and fall with him."

Armando's tone remained steady, but Charles could all too clearly see the cracks in the surface of his usual calm. "Right, Sebastian, but I don't think your audience is gonna register the difference of two inches of height in that scene, and achieving that kind of precision with the rigging we have in place--"

"Then fix the damn rigging!"

They'd been in cue-to-cue for three and a half hours already, and were only seven pages into a ninety-eight page script. Charles put on his best diplomatic face and tone, resisting the urge to massage the tension headache forming at the base of his neck. "Would you like to see the banner in at half for this cue, so that you can better decide?"

"Yes," Shaw said, with an imperious gesture. "Make it happen."

Charles smiled politely and flicked on his headset mic. "Jean, please raise the banner to half."

There was a moment's hesitation. "Half? But it's not even supposed to be at a quarter for the first scene."

"To half, please."

"But if I'm supposed to be on deck stage right for the burning trashcan in this scene--"

"We're having an aesthetic debate, bring the bloody banner to half and we'll work out the logistics later if necessary," Charles snapped, temper fraying after three and a half hours of Shaw's incessant complaints. "Solve problems, Jean, don't create them."

He regretted his tone instantly, but there were no take-backs over headset, and the lesson was one his ASM needed to learn regardless. The banner came in sharply to half. He called a ten-minute break for the actors and crew while Shaw and Armando continued to argue over the banner placement. After determining his input was in no way required at the moment, he tapped Moira in to mediate between director and designer, yanked off his headset, and stalked outside for a bit of air.

The Hellfire Theater Club's performance space sat adjacent to a smallish public square downtown, which meant that the stage door led out into a rather pleasant courtyard. The weather might have been a bit nippy -- the smokers in the cast huddled in a clump around the door, sharing body heat and cigarettes -- but the sun was out. Sort of. A lonely patch of sunlight adorned a park bench twenty feet from the door, which Charles assiduously claimed for his own. The cigarette he'd bummed from Logan dangled unlit from his fingertips. When he closed his eyes and tilted his face up to the sun, he could almost imagine he was someplace else entirely.

It was very nearly peaceful. At least for the first two minutes.

"Since when do you smoke?" Erik's voice was rich with amusement. Charles cracked one eye open to look up at him. His hair looked almost ginger in the sun, and flecks of blue and green deepened the tone of his pale eyes; Charles had never seen him by daylight before. It was strangely entrancing.

"Hmm?" Charles said. "I don't. Well, maybe a bit in uni, when I was drunk, but that doesn't count."

Erik looked pointedly at the cigarette in his hands.

"Oh, right. Old trick. Actors are required by Equity law to get their breaks; stage managers, well, tend not to. Which is all well and good, but on a 10-out-of-12, I've got to get out of that building for just five minutes or I'll quite possibly end up in a shouting match with Shaw over the light board."

"Understandably so," Erik agreed, with that terribly distracting smile of his. "But even stage managers get a cigarette break?"

"You have no idea how much easier it is for smokers."

"Lung cancer aside."

"A small price to pay for a little sunshine." Charles grinned up at him. "And it's such a lovely day. Checking in on the cue-to-cue?"

Erik's gaze was oddly intent upon him. It made the chilly air feel somewhat...less so. Erik cleared his throat. "Yeah. Not going too well, huh?"

"Whatever gave you that impression?"

Erik barked out a laugh. "Right. Still on schedule for cast dinner break starting at three? I need to make sure my people are ready to go the second the actors vacate."

"Wait 'till you see the work list," Charles sighed. "Yes, three o'clock on the dot or we face the wrath of Equity." Right on cue, the timer on his phone buzzed at him. He reluctantly dragged himself up to his feet. "And that's a ten." Standing unexpectedly brought him right into Erik's personal space; after a moment's consideration, Charles proffered the unlit cigarette. "Here."

"I don't smoke."

Charles gave him a lopsided grin. "You never know when you might need to."

Erik's long fingers brushed his as he accepted it. His hands were startlingly warm for such a cold day. "You know," Erik said, "you should smile more often."

Charles lifted an eyebrow. "I'll have you know that I am a perfectly friendly person. I'm frequently smiling."

"No, that's just your professional face. Polite. A...pleasant grimace." Erik waved his hand ineloquently. "I mean, really smile. You have a nice one."

The crooked grin tugged at the edges of Charles's mouth, widening despite himself. "Thank you, I think." Pulling away, he forced himself to start walking back into the theater building. "All right, ladies and gentlemen, break's over," he called to the remaining actors, refusing to allow himself the indulgence of glancing back over his shoulder at Erik. "We're back."


(Sunday - Tech, Day Two.)

The term "10-out-of-12" was a truly vile misnomer, for a stage manager. Yes, the actors were only present for ten hours of technical rehearsal in a twelve-hour period, and how lovingly they all griped about it. But stage management would be there at least a full hour or two before the actors were called, work through much of the two-hour dinner break, and remain for several hours afterward with the production staff going over notes and fixes that all somehow needed to happen before the start of the next morning's tech rehearsal. As TD, Erik and his crew had the worst of the overnight call -- they would in all likelihood work straight through until morning -- but at least they weren't required to sit through the rehearsals themselves, and could sleep it off for much of the day. Charles didn't leave the theater until nearly two in the morning, going over a handful of notes with Moira and then working with the lighting and sound designers to write the remaining cues into his book; he would need to be back by nine at the very latest.

Driving himself back in on Sunday morning, heavily fortified with caffeine, he thought he could still see the light board monitor imprinted on the backs of his eyelids whenever he blinked. He braked to a stop at an intersection, the red stoplight gleaming at him like a goddamn Source Four.

"Standby, stoplight," he muttered under his breath. "And...go."

Even though he knew logically that it was sheer coincidence, he couldn't help but feel inordinately pleased with himself when the light turned green.

Alex and a couple of overhire carps were still sweeping up the stage and exchanging insults with the electricians when Charles arrived at a quarter past eight. He found Erik seated in the back of the house, clutching something venti from Starbucks like a lifeline, and did his best not to feel insulted when Erik took one look at him and shoved the cup right into his hands.

"You need this more than I do," Erik said, voice rumbling low in his throat.

"You've been here all night," Charles protested.

Erik shrugged. "Yeah, and as soon as those idiots are done, I get to go home and rest. You, on the other hand, are stuck here for the next sixteen hours. Drink the damn coffee."

There were at least two or three espresso shots involved. It tasted pretty damn good.

Two hours later, in the midst of refereeing the first shouting match of the day (between Shaw and the costume designer, which made for a refreshing change of pace), he felt a moment of complete, visceral envy of Erik. He'd gladly trade in a night of sleep to escape this.

But, he reflected, as he successfully talked Janos out of walking off the show in a fit of pique, that wouldn't be half as much fun. And god help him, the adrenaline rush was even better than espresso.


(Monday.)

"Go home," Erik called across the theater. "Equity day off. Nonnegotiable."

Charles's lips quirked in spite of himself. "Since when do you care about Equity rules?"

"I've seen you far too many days in a row now," Erik said, setting his paintbrush down to balance against the rim of the can. It looked like he was painting rust onto the water towers. Armando's design truly was a triumph of artistic ugliness. "It's unnatural. Don't make me report you to the deputy."

"Do you even know who the Equity dep is?"

"Your sister," Erik said promptly. "God help you all. Who the hell elected her?"

"She ran unopposed," Charles said. "It could be worse. It could be Logan. Anyway, please feel free to ignore me, I'm not really here. Just wanted to clean up my prompt book while I had the chance. After that cue-to-cue, it looks as though it's been through the wars."

"Yeah, I heard you never actually got a run in."

Charles snorted, dropping his bag and sprawling inelegantly across the first row of audience seating. "Hardly. We set the final cue at 9:37 precisely. I'm sure Sebastian would have preferred we start the run right then and there, but for once, Equity law saved our collective asses. Even so, we nearly got into a bit of a scrap over it."

"Oh?"

"He wanted to rewrite the beginning of Act III," Charles said with a grimace. "I insisted he sleep on it."

"Expect the new script pages first thing tomorrow morning," Erik said darkly. "And probably a new design concept to go with them."

"Quite the optimist, aren't you?"

"Once bitten, twice shy. You've never worked with Shaw before."

Charles grinned. "True enough. But he's never worked with me before, either."

Erik gave him a considering once-over. "Fair point."


(Tuesday - Dress Rehearsal.)

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Alex Summers" [alexsummers@yahoo.com], "Angel Salvadore" [spitfireangel@gmail.com], "Armando Munoz" [darwin@gmail.com], "Azazel" [azazel@gmail.com], "Emma Frost" [efrost@hellfiretheatre.org], "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org], "Hank McCoy" [hank@mccoydesigns.com], "HTC House Management" [house@hellfiretheatre.org], "Janos Quested" [jquested@hellfiretheatre.org], "Jean Grey" [jean.grey@hotmail.com], "Moira MacTaggert" [mmactaggert@hellfiretheatre.org], "Sean Cassidy" [maestro@bansheesound.com], "Sebastian Shaw" [sshaw@hellfiretheatre.org]

REHEARSAL REPORT #28
"Children of the Atom" - Hellfire Theatre Club
Director: Sebastian Shaw
Stage Manager: Charles Xavier

General/Management:
-Worked notes, followed by dress run. Show currently runs 2hr40min, not including intermission.

Scenic:
-First priority is retexturing brickwork -- the red is popping too much behind the bridge.
-The actors are having difficulty braking the bed unit in the transition. Possibly a lighting issue, but also partly structural -- those wheel brakes aren't terribly effective. Would it be possible to install wagon brakes on the unit?

Electrics:
-Sebastian would like to explore the idea of the lantern light blooming a bit from US alcove when Lady M brings the lantern into the main playing area on p. 54.
-The big coil of XLR cable that is on the wall on back of house left needs to be dressed higher and out of sight (behind and above the vent is preferable).
-The projector seems to have slipped out of focus somewhat; the image is getting cut off at an odd angle SL. Hank to refocus tomorrow.

Props:
-For the breakable guitar – instead of hot gluing the neck back on every show, could it be held together by those little super-strong magnets instead? Easier to break, much easier to reattach.
-I’ll stop by the Prop Shop tomorrow to chat about the knives.
-Wine needs to be darker/redder. Floor management would need some different type of juice or food coloring. Hank suggests that Jean look at the mix under stage light to check color.

Wardrobe:
-The three witches need to be more distinct from the other soldiers in the final scene (p. 86) -- thoughts?

Sound:
-Scene transition music between Acts II and III is too loud.

Miscellaneous:
-The dressing room door will be WD40ed so that it doesn’t squeak during entrances/exits backstage.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: brakes

No.

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: brakes

I do so enjoy these scintillating and nuanced discussions of ours.
-Charles

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: Re: brakes

Fine. You're lucky they were having a sale at Rose Brand. That unit rolls on for all of five minutes, and they don't even have athletic sex on it. Explain to me why it's necessary to install brakes normally used for 600-800lb rolling scenic units?

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: brakes

Because I asked very nicely. And certainly no one's having athletic sex on the bed unit with THAT attitude.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: Re: brakes

I'll install the damn brakes first thing tomorrow.


(Wednesday - Dress Rehearsal.)

"Hey, bro," Raven said, slipping into the booth about twenty minutes before the run was scheduled to begin. She sat down in the board op's seat and gave the lighting designer a very pointed look. Hank nearly tripped over his own feet clearing the booth. She grinned wolfishly at his departing back until the door shut behind him, then turned back to Charles. "Got a minute?"

"You shouldn't torment Hank so," Charles told her absently as he wrote a new cue into his book. "He quite fancies you, you know. Always puts you in the most flattering lighting."

"Says you. Anyway, heads up, we might have a little situation brewing in the girls' dressing room."

"Oh god, tell me Shaw hasn't made any more inappropriate advances." Not that Shaw had overtly tried to make a move on any of the actresses yet, but Charles vividly remembered that time he'd hit on their props mistress in the middle of a production meeting. Angel had very nearly spit in his face.

"Nah, not Sebastian," Raven said with a shudder. "But the other two witches aren't speaking to one another."

Charles frowned. "Whyever not? You three were thicker than thieves during rehearsals."

"Yeah, but Marie thinks her boyfriend's been flirting with Kitty in scene four."

Scene four, the encounter between the witches and Macbeth's thugs -- ah. "That's because he has been." Charles rubbed at his temples, wincing. "Damn, I forgot Marie was dating Bobby."

"Show-cest is best." Raven twirled in her swivel chair, blonde hair streaming. "Anyway, he's probably just trying to make her jealous 'cause she keeps hitting on Logan in every fucking scene we've got with him. Which is, like, every scene we have."

"This is why straight men should never be allowed in theatre," Charles said with feeling.

Raven twined a strand of hair around her fingertips. "Mmm. Techies excepted. Gotta love a good, strong carpenter. Or electrician -- have you seen Hank's ass up a ladder, because let me tell you, that's the only thing that made life in cue-to-cue worth living. And the TD here's a real treat -- don't even pretend you haven't noticed the arms, they totally make up for that creepy shark smile thing he's got going."

"I don't know, I rather like Erik's smile," Charles said without thinking, and immediately regretted it. "Don't even go there, Raven." He clicked his fingers in front of her insufferably gleeful face. "Focus. Backstage drama amongst the witches. I'll have a chat with Bobby if you'll handle the ladies."

Raven snapped to attention, shooting off a sloppy salute. "Sir yes sir!"

"Fuck off," Charles said affectionately. "We're at fifteen minutes to places for the run."

"Thank you, fifteen, sir!"


(Thursday - Final Dress.)

Halfway through the climactic murder sequence of Act I, the red banner began to slowly but noticeably slip lower and lower on its line. By the time the king was dead, it lay in a defeated heap at the bottom of the bridge.

"It's not the line," Jean informed him over headset, sounding panicked. "It's right on its spike! I haven't touched the winch, I swear! Should I try reeling it back up?"

"No, it's the banner itself," Charles sighed. "It's somehow come loose from the line. You can't fix it from there."

"I think Shaw wants you to stop the run and fix it," the light board op said, somewhat nervously. He pointed out at the house, where Shaw was indeed gesticulating up toward the booth.

"It has no impact on the actors' performances, nor is it in their way. Erik and Armando can fix it at intermission. We are not holding. We're going to get a complete, uninterrupted run in if it fucking kills us." Charles tilted his head, contemplating the overall aesthetic of the fallen banner. "Actually, I think it rather well represents the evolution of the king's descent from power. Sebastian just needs to learn to appreciate the nuance of the symbolism."


(Friday - First Preview.)

Charles allowed himself five minutes to relax in the house during fight call, while the fight choreographer walked Logan and Ororo through one of their extensive skirmishes at half pace. "Your grip is too aggressive," Azazel scolded, stepping in to correct Logan's positioning. "Remember, the victim is in control."

Logan grinned. "Tell that to the judge, bub."

Someone flipped a seat down in the row behind Charles; he didn't bother glancing back over his shoulder. "No, I do not have anything more important to be doing right now, so thank you for not asking."

He could practically feel Erik's grin. "Opening night jitters, Charles?"

"Hardly. It's only a preview." Everyone knew previews didn't count. Except, of course, that they did -- it was still the first time a live audience (designers excluded) would be incorporated into the production, and for better or worse, that would significantly change the show.

Erik snorted. "It's never 'only a preview' at Hellfire Theatre Club."

"So I gathered. Who's Shaw terrorizing at the moment?"

"Moira. Don't worry, she's used to his temper tantrums, she can handle him."

"I can't believe Moira would ever work for a man like Sebastian," Charles said, shaking his head. "I'd have thought she'd have had him assassinated by now. Or done the job herself."

Erik leaned back in his seat, forcing Charles to actually turn a bit to look at him. "That's right, you knew her before this show, didn't you?"

"She ran the student theater club at our university," Charles explained. "We've been friends for years. It's her fault I came aboard this train wreck in the first place. Well, and Raven's."

"I have to ask," Erik said. "Why the hell would anyone ever want to become a stage manager?"

Charles shrugged. "I just sort of...fell into it. Raven's fault again, really. She was always the drama queen in the family. We didn't have the happiest home life, so when she started doing school plays, I wound up volunteering for stage crew to keep an eye on her. And I found I rather enjoyed it."

"Did you study it in college?"

"God, no," Charles laughed. "I was a biology major, if you can believe it. But my school had a strong student-run theater group, so I spent most of my spare time backstage when I wasn't in the lab. And they didn't have an undergrad major for stage management, so the club was always desperate for any SMs they could find. Compared to the post-docs running my lab, actors were much easier to manage, not to mention more entertaining. Somewhere along the line, I became pretty good at it. And after graduation, I decided to take a gap year before applying to graduate programs, so I'd work backstage at a few different local theaters to pass the time. But then I was too busy lining up stage management gigs to bother with grad school, and then I got my Equity card, and...here I am, I suppose." He glanced up into Erik's eyes, and could feel his ears reddening. "Sorry, I didn't mean to monologue at you, that's far more detail than you were interested in."

"Not at all," Erik said. A strange, muted half-smile played across his lips. It somehow softened the harsh lines of his jaw and cheekbones, sparking warmth in his pale eyes, and Charles found himself smiling back for no reason whatsoever.

That was when Charles realized that fight call had ended and Jean had already reset the stage.

"Shit!" Charles jumped to his feet. "We've got to open the house -- Erik, I'm sorry, was there something you wanted?"

Erik's smile widened. "Yes," he said. "But it'll keep."


(Saturday - Second Preview.)

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Alex Summers" [alexsummers@yahoo.com], "Angel Salvadore" [spitfireangel@gmail.com], "Armando Munoz" [darwin@gmail.com], "Azazel" [azazel@gmail.com], "Emma Frost" [efrost@hellfiretheatre.org], "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org], "Hank McCoy" [hank@mccoydesigns.com], "HTC House Management" [house@hellfiretheatre.org], "Janos Quested" [jquested@hellfiretheatre.org], "Jean Grey" [jean.grey@hotmail.com], "Moira MacTaggert" [mmactaggert@hellfiretheatre.org], "Sean Cassidy" [maestro@bansheesound.com], "Sebastian Shaw" [sshaw@hellfiretheatre.org]

PERFORMANCE REPORT #2
"Children of the Atom" - Hellfire Theatre Club
Director: Sebastian Shaw
Stage Manager: Charles Xavier

Performance #2 - Preview

Run Time:
Act I - 1hr 13min
Intermission - 14min
Act II - 45min
Act III - 32min
Total run time - 2hr 44min

Performance:
-The show is becoming very consistent from night to night, which is wonderful. Looking forward to opening!

General/Management:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

Front of House:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

Scenic:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

Electrics:
-During Act I, we discovered that the projector had suddenly and unexpectedly gone badly off-focus (pointed too far up to see much of the video). We ran without film for Act I. At intermission, we investigated and discovered that the heavy back cable piece (SM does not know correct terminology, obviously) had lost its battle with gravity and was pulling the entire back end of the projector downward, hence the focus issue. Hank was able to shove the connection back in and fixed the focus. Projections ran without incident for Acts II and III. However, now a mysterious red light has appeared at the back of the projector. Crew to investigate before performance tomorrow.

Props:
-The strap on Lady M's purse is coming undone. We reattached with hot glue for the show, but that may not be the best long-term solution.

Wardrobe:
-Bobby's soldier trousers have a long rip at the seam of his inner right thigh.
-The hook on Raven's black skirt is literally hanging by a thread.

Sound:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

Cast/crew:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: report

What, no scenic notes for me tonight? I'm hurt.

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: report

Yes, god forbid the show actually run smoothly for a change. You're welcome to have a go at fixing that damn projector if you're bored.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: Re: report

I see how it is. The show opens, you forget all about me.

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: Re: report

Don't fret, I'll be sure to sabotage the banner again within the week just to see your scowling face.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: Re: report

"Again"?!?! Damnit, Charles...!


(Sunday - Opening Night.)

"Lights 435 and sound 21 - go." The stage lights came up to full, flooding the space with colorful light as the closing music cue swelled and the actors ran back out for their curtain call. The response from the audience was -- surprisingly enthusiastic, all told. Charles leaned back in his chair with a smile. "Congratulations, ladies and gentlemen, that was opening."

He thought he heard Jean actually saying the word woot over headset, but diplomatically chose not to notice. The board ops gave each other high fives. Charles just watched the actors bow, and listened to the applause, and breathed.

Children of the Atom was officially up and running. It was his show now, not Shaw's. Thank god.

The Hellfire Theatre Club always put on an impressive opening night shindig out in the expansive lobby for all its board members and most prominent subscribers. The cast relished the opportunity to be fawned over by wealthy patrons. The techies mostly just appreciated the free booze. Charles made a token appearance at the reception itself, mainly to chat with Moira, then snagged his third glass of champagne and slipped back into the empty theater.

It was still and quiet, the stage lighting long since shut down, the space illuminated by the single bare bulb of the ghost light set up onstage and the omnipresent runners along the house aisles. The bridge and water tower structures of the set loomed wraithlike out of the harsh shadows, a strange sort of beauty evoked from the set's worn-down industrial atmosphere. Armando really was quite a good designer.

Charles sat at the lip of the stage, feet dangling, looking out over the empty rows of audience seating. Sometimes he thought this was his favorite time in the theater -- when it was just an empty space, brimming with potential, ready to transform itself into whatever you wanted it to be.

He could faintly hear a door opening and shutting somewhere behind him, the light pad of footsteps across the backstage carpeting and then onto the set itself. Charles smiled and took another swallow of champagne.

"Shouldn't you be enjoying the party?" Erik asked, tone low and sardonic. For opening night, he'd exchanged his usual jeans and T-shirts for a charcoal gray suit -- not tailored, to Charles's practiced eye, but it fit him quite nicely all the same, and certainly looked more formal than Charles, who'd foregone the full suit for just a black waistcoat over his dress shirt. "You seem like someone who can schmooze with the best of them."

"I can," Charles agreed. "But I'm not on the clock at the moment, so if it's small talk you're after, I'm afraid you're out of luck."

Erik scoffed at that, neatly folding his long limbs to take a seat beside Charles, their shoulders just barely brushing. "God, no, thank you. Are stage managers ever off the clock?"

"Tomorrow, I will be," Charles said, with grim satisfaction. "I am turning my cell phone off and locking it in a closet, and I will not so much as crack open my laptop." That was a bit of an exaggeration -- to actually take himself off the grid, even for a day, would just be courting disaster. But it was a tempting thought.

Erik was grinning, though, so that was all right. "An entire day off, huh? Got any plans?"

"Laundry," Charles said reverently. "And grocery shopping, dear god, I've been living off takeaway and microwave meals for two weeks. Might even read a newspaper or something, just to be really daring."

Erik laughed -- a real, full-body laugh, the sort that Charles could feel rumbling in his own bones. It wasn't even that funny, but he found himself chuckling with him, grinning so widely it very nearly hurt. Sure, the show was still scheduled to run for another five weeks, but it was open now. It felt strangely like freedom, like a weight lifted, like being drunk on terrible champagne. He'd done more shows than he could easily count, but this opening night feeling never changed.

Charles turned fully toward Erik, setting his glass down on the stage. "And you?"

"The scenic designer for the next show in the season just submitted his initial designs," Erik said. "So I'll be wrestling them into some kind of coherent ground plan this week. And occasionally checking in to make sure this set doesn't fall apart around you, delightful as it would be."

"Never," Charles said. "That would deprive you of the joy of ripping it apart yourself, probably with your bare hands."

"I'm a man of simple pleasures," Erik agreed gravely. He studied Charles's face for a long moment, his smile shifting into something rather more enigmatic, then took Charles's champagne glass and downed its remains in one long swallow.

Charles was not ashamed to admit that the sight made his own mouth water slightly. The show was open, he no longer had Shaw breathing down his neck, the production might even be reduced to only one or two crises per day. He had space to breathe now. And though his face was a little warm from the champagne and he could still feel adrenaline racing through his veins, he didn't feel nervous or anxious at all. "Tease," he murmured.

"Charles," Erik said, tone equally low. "I think I may need to repeat my earlier question. Do you have any plans for your day off?"

"That depends," Charles said, and kissed him.

It didn't feel urgent at all; not rushed, not frantic, not even terribly exciting at first. Just a slow, sloppy meeting of lips, the unhurried curve of Charles's fingers slipping through Erik's hair, the pad of Erik's thumb brushing against Charles's neck. Charles lazily nudged Erik's mouth open with his own, enjoying the warm taste of him, slightly sour-sweet from the mediocre champagne. Erik's teeth scraped lightly against his lower lip, and Charles made a soft, pleased sound in the back of his throat, humming into the kiss, allowing Erik to tug him forward until he was more or less straddling Erik's lap. The angle meant that the ghost light was shining directly into his eyes, uncomfortably bright in contrast to the darkness of the rest of the space, so he kept them closed, relying on touch and taste and sound alone, and the faintly spicy scent of Erik's cologne. Heat grew between them so gradually he hardly even noticed, content to just let this moment stretch out a while, alone in the empty dark space of the theater like they were the last two people alive in Armando's vaguely post-apocalyptic landscape. He rocked his hips up against Erik's, and Erik broke off the kiss for a moment, his breath suddenly and startlingly loud in the stillness. Charles opened his eyes, blinking against the glare from the bare bulb behind them, and Erik looked -- god, he looked positively disheveled, his hair slightly askew, his pupils large and dark, suit jacket freshly wrinkled, the first button on his dress shirt gaping open. The light slanted sharply across his cheekbones and the strong line of his jaw.

"Christ, look at you," Erik murmured, running his hands down along Charles's shoulders and then back up again to catch his face; the feeling was entirely mutual. All at once, he realized how flushed his skin felt all up and down his body, his lips faintly swollen, his heart beating a touch too quickly within his chest. This time, when he kissed Erik again, there was nothing lazy or haphazard about it.

"Fuck," he rasped out between kisses, panting shallowly as he pressed his mouth to Erik's jaw, his neck, any patch of skin Charles could reach. He rucked Erik's jacket back off his shoulders, suddenly desperate for more contact. Erik helped as best he could, finally tossing it away and wrapping his strong arms around Charles's waist to drag him even closer. "Party -- just outside--"

Erik yanked Charles's shirt free of his trousers, and the warm press of Erik's hand against the bare skin at the small of Charles's back felt somehow marvelous beyond the telling of it. "Wanna slow down?"

"God, no," Charles panted. "Just -- not the best place for it."

"I hear there's a bed somewhere around here."

Charles's laugh caught in his throat when Erik's hand slipped down to cup his arse in his trousers. "I hear it's particularly well built."

"Not to mention the wagon brakes."

"You spoil me." Clinging to the final shreds of his self control, Charles forced himself to pull away somewhat, shifting his weight back onto his heels and off Erik's lap. He couldn't help but lean in for one more kiss, though. "Seriously, though," he murmured against Erik's lips. "I work here."

"Mmm." Erik released Charles's waist, keeping his hands to himself, not forcing the issue. But he did allow his teeth to catch slowly along Charles's lower lip again, then the top, until Charles couldn't help but open his mouth to Erik's again, and again, and perhaps just once more...

Shit. He really did pull away this time, standing up and straightening his waistcoat. He probably looked a wreck, and didn't care. Erik was much the same, and it was a wonderful look on him, so Charles didn't feel too self-conscious about his own appearance. "My place is about a twenty-minute drive," he said, voice noticeably hoarse even to his own ears. "Yours?"

"Just down the street," Erik said, jumping to his feet with an alacrity that would be amusing if Charles didn't feel the exact same urgency about it. He grabbed his discarded suit jacket and shrugged it back on. "Shall we?"

Charles couldn't quite keep his hands off him, reaching out to straighten the jacket and then lingering there, enjoying the feel of Erik's surprisingly narrow waist. "Yes," he said, tilting his head up to give Erik a slow smile. "Let's."

They only made it as far as the couch in the actors' green room. But better that than an actual set piece, although the bed unit would probably have been somewhat more comfortable.


(five weeks later.)

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Alex Summers" [alexsummers@yahoo.com], "Angel Salvadore" [spitfireangel@gmail.com], "Armando Munoz" [darwin@gmail.com], "Azazel" [azazel@gmail.com], "Emma Frost" [efrost@hellfiretheatre.org], "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org], "Hank McCoy" [hank@mccoydesigns.com], "HTC House Management" [house@hellfiretheatre.org], "Janos Quested" [jquested@hellfiretheatre.org], "Jean Grey" [jean.grey@hotmail.com], "Moira MacTaggert" [mmactaggert@hellfiretheatre.org], "Sean Cassidy" [maestro@bansheesound.com], "Sebastian Shaw" [sshaw@hellfiretheatre.org]

PERFORMANCE REPORT #42
"Children of the Atom" - Hellfire Theatre Club
Director: Sebastian Shaw
Stage Manager: Charles Xavier

Performance #42 - Closing!

Run Time:
Act I - 1hr 10min
Intermission - 13min
Act II - 44min
Act III - 31min
Total run time - 2hr 38min

Performance:
-Wonderful closing performance! Great energy, audible gasps in audience at murder sequence, partial standing ovation.

General/Management:
-Nothing to report. Thanks for a great run!

Front of House:
-One patron stood up halfway through Act II. House management dealt with the issue quickly and effectively.

Scenic:
-Everything is still standing, miraculously.

Electrics:
-Channel 18 (USL pinks) flickered a few times during Act I, then settled down for the rest of the show. Not worth investigating at this point, I suppose.

Props:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

Wardrobe:
-All costumes will be sent out to be laundered tomorrow morning.

Sound:
-Nothing to report, thanks.

Cast/crew:
-Thank you all!

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles

Everything still intact, huh? Good. I've got plans for that set.

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: I refuse to use that subject line

Going to tear it apart with your bare hands?

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: bare being the operative word

There are better ways of breaking down that bed unit. I could use some assistance, of course.

*

FROM: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
TO: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
RE: you aren't subtle or clever you know

It was my show, after all. I suppose I should make sure the job's done right.

*

FROM: "Erik Lehnsherr" [elehnsherr@hellfiretheatre.org]
TO: "Charles Xavier" [charles.xavier@gmail.com]
RE: why are you even still responding to these e-mails

Good. Now shut down your damn laptop and get over here already.