Work Header

indulgence set me free

Work Text:

Aunt Jen didn't want me to go with the Company of Boys again. She never said it to me, but I could tell from the way she looked after she had been talking to Arby on the phone that it was true. She knew how important the theater was to me, which is why she never said anything, but she didn't want me to go overseas again, not after what had happened the first time.

I had never told her what had happened to me. Partially because it was easier to convince her to let me go back if she thought I just had weird British flu, and partially because it was too weird to talk about. Gil and Rachel and Arby were easier - in the theater, everything was a little bit weird already. But even there I had only told those few people. It wasn't because I was worried about people believing me, either. Somethings were just too personal to share.

After my meltdown with the Dream, I had been worried about the Tempest - I had read the copy Arby had given to me a bunch of times over the winter, but that wasn't the same as acting and I knew it. Arby knew it too - when we started doing group reads, I could feel him watching me. Gil and Rachel watched me too, and I had never told them about what Shakespeare had said about Ariel. I couldn't shake the feeling that they were waiting for me to crack again, ready to swoop in and console me as soon as it looked like I needed it.

(Not Arby, though - he had a play to run, and if I wasn't going to get through it, that's what understudies were for. Eric was my understudy again, though, and I didn't think he could pull it off, so I told myself I had to hold together so Arby wouldn't be forced to cast Eric instead.)

The part that was easiest for me was the beginning of the play. Ariel's this servant that had been imprisoned by Sycorax and Caliban - stuck in a tree, which I privately thought was a pretty neat trick - until Prospero arrived on the island and rescued him. In return, Ariel agreed to be his servant and help Prospero work his magic. He's the lead among all Prospero's magical servants and the only one who makes an appearance in the play.

But Ariel is sick of being Prospero's servant and he wants to go free. "Let me remember thee what thou hast promised," he says. And Prospero has promised it, but the time isn't up. He needs Ariel's help to take his revenge on his brother before he can let Ariel go free.

I had been upset for a long time, after last year's shows. It was three months before I could even read the copy of the Tempest that Arby had given me. Coming back to the Globe had made it worse in a way - I didn't realize until dress rehearsal that I had been subconsciously expecting something, anything to happen, but all that had happened was a long run of rehearsals, first in another rented school and then in the Globe itself, and nothing even a little bit magical had happened to me.

So it was easy for me to be upset. Arby had told me I was hurt, last year, and I wasn't hurt like I was then but I was still hurt, and it was so easy to chafe at the way that Prospero ordered me to and fro to work his magic on the castaways.

(Even easier, of course, when it was Arby running the lines with me. I loved and respected Arby and I still hated him a little bit for the time he had told me Shakespeare was dead.)

That didn't mean I couldn't feel it when Prospero praises Ariel. I was angry, but I was angry with the universe, fate, Arby, but never with Shakespeare, and it was Shakespeare praising me, telling me I had done well with my illusions, calling them both brave and graceful. Ariel preened at that, and I did too. (I didn't know if Shakespeare had played Prospero, but I thought he might have - Prospero reminded me of him, sometimes.)

It started to get hard when Ariel asks Prospero if he loves him, and Prospero says yes. I had never asked a question like that of Shakespeare, but my dad had always said that he loved me.

At the beginning of the fifth act, Ariel asks again to be released. I wanted to be free and I didn't, not if it meant leaving them behind or letting them leave me.

Finally, at the end of the play, Prospero gives Ariel one last task, to see the ship safely home, and then go free. Afterwards, the very last thing that happens, Prosperso gives a soliloquy alone on stage where he renounces magic and says his goodbye to the audience. It was too easy for me to read that as Shakeseare's goodbye too - I had done the background reading that Arby had given us and I knew this was one of his last plays, so it wasn't that much of a jump.

And that, combined with Prospero telling Ariel to go free, was just too much for me to handle. I had been fine in reads and fine in rehearals in that school gymnasium, but when we got to the stage, and on to dress rehearsals with the costumes and the lights and Arby pacing on the floor, I couldn't handle it. I was standing in the wings, waiting for Gil to leave the stage and then the signal to start the bows, and I just burst into tears.

I had the worst of under control by the time it was my turn, but I saw the way Arby's gaze snapped to me as I smiled out at the audience - every actor could smile through tears, me included, but Arby could see through it.

He gave me enough time to change out of the costume and take off the stage makeup, but then it was him and me, in one of those strange out of the way corners he was so good at finding in this building.

"It's not that kind of goodbye," Arby told me.

I didn't know what he wanted me to say. I wasn't sure I could even look him in the eye.

"It's not a tragedy. It's a man, at the end of a long and full career, thanking his audience. And it is a farewell. Think of it for you if you want - it might well be. I know you didn't get to say goodbye, and I know it's harder to hear it now and it hurts. But it will make things better, eventually."

"Eventually," I repeated, and it wasn't the worst thing I'd said to Arby but it wasn't the best either.

Arby ignored it. "You're going to be okay, you're going to get through this run just fine, and you're going to be great. Now go out and do it."