Mr. Dixon paced on stage, sheet in hand, while anxious middle school students sat nervously in the auditorium, awaiting his final decision. Who was going to be cast in the lead roles?
Betty kept nervously sitting forward, and then forcing herself to sit back, trying to look calm.
"Hey, you can relax, Betty," Jughead said, slouching in his seat calmly beside her. "You'll be happy with what you get. I just know it."
She scoffed. "Sure, you can say that. You don't even want a lead role."
"Nope," he said nonchalantly and blew upwards at a curl that had come loose from his beanie cap. Then he sat forward a bit. "But Betty, you did fine –"
"Let's cut to the chase," Mr. Dixon broke the tension. "I'm going to announce the lead roles first, so if you wanted one and didn't get it, you can run off crying and be back in time to learn what role I actually did give you."
Betty looked at Jughead warily. He just shrugged.
"In the role of Emily Webb, I've cast Elizabeth Cooper."
Betty clasped her hands together and squealed.
"Quiet now," Mr. Dixon admonished from the stage.
"Sorry," Betty said, still smiling brightly. Jughead smiled back at her.
"And in the role of George Gibbs, I've cast Forsythe Jones."
Jughead groaned. And not just because Mr. Dixon refused to call him by his proper name again.
Earlier. . .
"Young man," Mr. Dixon impatiently raised his voice. "I asked you once – I'm not going to ask you again. What is your background in the theater?"
"I'm still trying to get it for you," Jughead said, nervously pulling at the piece of notebook paper stuck deep in his pants pocket. He finally got it out and handed it to the new drama teacher at his middle school.
Mr. Dixon took the crumpled 8 x 11 ½" notebook paper in his thick fingers and eyed the very extensive list.
"Train bearer for George Washington in . . . ? Wait. When was this?"
"My first role, sir. I was in kindergarten."
"Did you have any lines?"
Mr. Dixon grunted.
"But the rest were all speaking parts," Jughead hastily added.
"The rest?" Reggie Mantle scoffed. "Didn't realize you were such a thespian, Jughead."
"Shut up, Reggie." Jughead made a move to get the paper back from Mr. Dixon. The list was embarrassingly long. "It's nothing. My mom used to run The Sunnyside Community Theatre. She made me do all those parts."
"Made you?" Mr. Dixon asked. "That almost makes it sound like you don't like to act."
"I want to direct."
"Don't they all," Mr. Dixon scoffed, and handed back the paper to Jughead.
Jughead was really disappointed at having been cast in a lead role.
"Dammit," he said to Betty as they left the auditorium together. "I auditioned for Simon. Why didn't I get Simon?"
"Maybe your portrayal of the town drunk was just so moving that Mr. Dixon thought you could handle a bigger role." She did a little skip ahead of him, still elated at having landed the exact part she had wanted. Turning back to Jughead she said, "I thought you did a great job with that, myself."
"Thanks, Betty. It's just that I wanted a smaller role. I wanted to be able to sit back and observe Mr. Dixon directing us all. See what's involved in running a play from top to bottom." Then he said bitterly, "But as George I'm going to be too busy acting."
"Why would you need to do that, Jug? You just admitted to everyone that your mom put you in a bunch of shows over at The Sunnyside Theater."
"Yeah, but that's community theater, here in Riverdale. Mr. Dixon used to do big productions in NYC. He's the real deal. I want to learn from him. I'd never have tried out for the school play if it wasn't for that."
"You don't like acting?" Betty asked, her brows knitting together seriously.
"It's not that." He hesitated. "Well, not exactly. It's just I want to direct films someday . . . and I know this is a play, so it's not quite the same, but watching him will be good experience for me, you know? Seeing how a pro does it."
"Aw, Juggie. Aspiring to be the darling of the cinephiles someday, eh?"
"Something like that," he answered and shrugged. "Tarantino had to start somewhere, right?"
"Dude, it's supposed to be out on Christmas Day."
Jughead was in a booth at Pop's when he overheard Reggie talking to some other jocks about Quentin Tarantino's new movie, The Hateful Eight, and its roadshow release. He shook his head. Like any of these losers even knew what that was.
"Yeah, bro, my dad's going to take me and three of my closest friends down to NYC to see it in one of those special theaters."
Cinerama, Jughead thought.
"Are any of you my closest bros? Ah! Ah! You know you are, right? Right!" Reggie started fist pumping each of his friends in turn.
This idiot has no idea how lucky he is. He has the means but not the soul to truly appreciate a 70mm film in all its glory – all that extra space that allows one to tell a much richer story by playing in the margins.
It all just made him so incredibly sad. He was going to have to wait for The Hateful Eight's wide release and see it on a regular, digitally projected screen, almost a full week later at the Bijou, not even at the Twilight Drive-In on film. He had just started helping out there and his love for film had only intensified when he got to work in the projection booth, handling the reels, holding someone else's vision in his hands. Those movies were more than just mere pixels – more than just fleeting images on a screen – they felt like something permanent, coiled up there in their round metal cases.
"Yo, Jug!" Archie said as he slid into Jughead's booth, Betty in tow. She sat across from the two boys. "Whatcha doing?"
"Oh, me too." Betty said and pulled her script out of her bag. "We're rehearsing Act I tomorrow!"
"Heard you two got the leads," Archie said.
"Yeah," Jughead answered.
"I've got a meaty scene with 'my mother' Midge tomorrow." Betty said.
"And I've got one with 'my father.'" Jughead snorted. "Can you believe Reggie got the part of my dad?"
"Reggie can act?" Archie looked surprised.
"Apparently." Jughead answered. "I'm going to have a hard time keeping a straight face as he admonishes me though."
"It's called acting, Jug," Betty said sternly. "I'm sure you can manage it."
Jughead gave her a wry smile and tilted his head. "I'm sure I can. You don't have to take everything so seriously though, Betts."
"Yes, I do."
Archie and Jughead just laughed good-naturedly as she proceeded to ignore them and opened up her script.
"So . . . If you two are the leads in this play. . . what is it? Our Town . . . ?"Archie asked
"Yeah, Our Town," Jughead said. "Basically, Riverdale minus one hundred years."
"Yeah, so if you two are the leads . . . are you like romantic leads or something?"
Betty sank down in the booth and hid her face behind the script.
"Yeah, we get married," Jughead said casually.
"Cool," Archie answered.
"Yeah, we're rehearsing this scene together tomorrow . . ."
"Yeah?" Archie asked.
"Where we run into each other outside our respective houses and all – cause we're next door neighbors. . ."
Betty sank further.
". . . and we kinda flirt." Jughead said and shrugged. "No big deal. But that's the beginning of it."
"Hey Betts?" Jughead called out to the girl with her face behind a script. "Wanna run through that scene right now since we're both here? Maybe we can help each other memorize those lines?"
"No," she answered in a voice so small he almost missed it.
The first time Betty and Jughead took the stage together, it was for that flirty scene in Act I. Mr. Dixon worked out the blocking with them, telling them where to stand, where to walk, where to face, etc. and then told them the rest was up to them.
"You're teens, right? You can figure out how to flirt."
Betty blushed a little and shuffled her feet, not sure she really did.
He allowed them to refer to their scripts that day, but told them they only had one week that they would be allowed to utilize that crutch. After that, they were expected to have all of their lines for Act I memorized. Period. Betty gulped.
Jughead (as George): "Gee, it's funny, Emily. From my window up there I can just see your head nights when you're doing your homework over in your room."
Betty (as Emily): "Why, can you?"
Looking into Jughead's eyes the thought just entered her mind. Does Archie watch me while I study?
"Elizabeth!" she heard Mr. Dixon say strictly. She must have lost her train of thought.
"Continue," he grumbled.
When they were done with the scene Betty asked Jughead offstage, "Did that go alright?"
Jughead answered grimly, "I don't know. He never gave us any feedback. Maybe he will once our lines are memorized."
Sometime later, a frantic Betty practically barreled down Jughead before school had even started.
He laughed a little while she stood there, shaking the script in the air, just sputtering.
"What Betty? Spit it out."
"Have you read Act II yet?"
"Uh, no. We're not working on that yet."
She rolled her eyes at him.
"What?" he protested. "Some of us aren't straight A students, Betty. I'm not a slacker just cause I'm not as prepared as you. Not everyone does all their homework in advance."
"Act II is the wedding."
"The WEDDING. Juggie, we have to kiss." She almost whined.
"Yeah, oh. Big 'OH.' Look!" She held out the script and pointed.
The stage is suddenly arrested into silent tableau.
"Do you really think he's going to make us do it, Juggie?"
"Kiss?" He looked at her with a weird smile. "Of course."
"Oh God." She put a hand to her forehead and swiveled around to sit down on the ground, cross-legged. He joined her.
"Betty, what's wrong?" he asked softly.
"Do you like anyone, Juggie?" she asked without looking at him.
"Like? What do you mean like?"
"Like, like like."
"Oh that," he nodded in understanding. "My mom's always joking with me that I haven't discovered girls yet. So . . . no."
"Well, I like someone, Juggie. I like, like like them, you know?"
She blushed a bit. "You CANNOT tell him Jug."
"I can keep a secret Betty, believe me." Jughead said, looking down and away for a second. Boy was he good at keeping those.
She gave him an odd look, but continued on. "Juggie, I think I kinda like Archie."
"Archie?" Jughead looked back at her, surprised. "Really? Aren't you guys like best friends though?"
"Well, yeah, but . . ." she said a bit defensively, unable to say much more than that to explain it. She couldn't tell him why she liked Archie – she didn't even really know herself.
"Oh, don't worry, Betty. I'm not judging you. I'd never do that." He smiled lightly. "It just seems strange."
"Yeah, well. There it is." She shrugged.
"So why did you have this burning desire to tell me about Archie all of a sudden?"
"Because of the kiss!" she answered emphatically.
"What about it?"
"Ugh. Boys! Why are you all so dense?"
"Did you just insult me, Cooper?" Jughead asked her, narrowing his eyes.
"No. . . Maybe. . . Probably. I don't know." She took a deep breath. "Look Juggie, I don't want Archie to see us kiss. Onstage or anywhere else. It makes me feel weird knowing he'll be watching."
"It's just a play, Betts. It doesn't mean anything."
"Yeah, but also . . ."
"I've never been kissed," she said with tears swimming in her eyes.
She took a deep breath.
". . . and I don't want my first kiss to be with you," she continued.
Why did that hurt?
It shouldn't hurt. They were just friends. And he understood about Archie, really he did.
So why did he feel so . . . rejected?
Betty (as Emily): "Oh, Mama, that's not what I mean. What I mean is: am I pretty?"
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "I've already told you, yes. Now that's enough of that. You have a nice young pretty face. I never heard of such foolishness."
Betty (as Emily): "Oh, Mama, you never tell us the truth about anything."
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "I am telling you the truth."
Betty (as Emily): "Mama, were you pretty?"
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "Yes, I was, if I do say it. I was the prettiest girl in town next to Mamie Cartwright."
Crap, what's my line? Betty worried anxiously.
Mr. Dixon shouted out. "Elizabeth! Focus."
Betty shuffled her feet for a second, wracking her brain, but then just resignedly looked over at Kevin standing in the wings with the script. "Line."
Kevin started it for her. "But, Mama, you've got to say something about me –"
"Got it," Betty nodded. "Thank you."
She turned back to Midge and got back into character. Continuing on in a breathy, dreamy voice she said, "But, Mama, you've got to say something about me. Am I pretty enough . . . to get anybody . . . to get people interested in me?"
Like Archie, she thought silently. That line hit too close to home.
Midge (as Mrs. Webb): "Emily, you make me tired. Now stop it. You're pretty enough for all normal purposes. Come along now and bring that bowl with you."
Betty (as Emily): "Oh, Mama, you're no help at all."
She pouted, picked up the bowl, and started to follow Midge off-stage.
"Elizabeth, come downstage please." Mr. Dixon said gravely.
What proceeded was a thorough tongue lashing by Mr. Dixon. Her lines were supposed to have been memorized two days ago. She should not have been asking Kevin for them anymore.
"Jug, it's just so difficult to memorize all of these lines." Betty pouted as they sat together eating hamburgers and fries at Pop's. "It's not like I haven't been trying. And that was an easy scene, too - compared to what's next. Do you know how many lines I have in Act III? It's like all monologue."
"I know, it's not easy."
"You don't seem to be having any problems with it."
"Well . . ." he said carefully. "It IS harder than anything I've done before."
"Well, at my mom's playhouse I'd get maybe one or two lines that I'd have to know per play. That was it. This is the first time I have a major role – and there's so much my character has to say. It's an adjustment – to say the least."
"So how do you do it?"
"I don't know, Betty," he said uncomfortably, not wanting to make her feel worse about herself in comparison. It obviously came easier to him. "I just do."
Betty pouted, looking down at the table. Finally, in a small voice she said, "Maybe it's just that line. Maybe that's what tripped me up today."
"The 'am I pretty enough' line."
Jughead just furrowed his brows and grabbed another fry, shoving it into his mouth.
"Cause that's how I feel about Archie," She went on, looking so forlorn.
"Hey," Jughead said, leaning forward. "That's what makes you so good in that scene I think."
"You can relate to Emily's perspective. What she's feeling in that moment. Just ignore Mr. Dixon's hang-ups and fixations on having perfectly memorized lines right now. We've got weeks of rehearsal before opening night. You're doing really well, Betty."
"Do you think so?"
"Yeah, I do. There's a reason you got the lead."
Suddenly, Jughead had an idea.
"Hey, maybe if I run lines with you, you'll have an easier time memorizing them. Would you be up for doing that outside of rehearsals?"
Betty smiled back at him and it was decided. That was exactly what they were going to do.
Running lines with Jughead had definitely improved Betty's ability to memorize them and they were actually able to work out how they wanted to approach their characters as well. They bounced ideas off of each other, tried things and such, so that when they hit the rehearsal stage they were more than ready. Mr. Dixon rarely offered any direction on how he would like them portray their characters anyway, so it seemed like they were expected to figure it all on their own. Jughead told her he found his extremely hands-off approach odd. Especially for a group of middle schoolers – most of whom had never acted before.
And now Betty was in the auditorium watching Jughead rehearse his major scene with Reggie, his onstage father. It was always an emotional scene to watch, but this time it was mindblowing. She watched in awe.
Reggie (as Mr. Gibbs): ". . . And you eat her meals, and you put on the clothes she keeps nice for you, and you run off and play baseball – like she's some hired girl we keep around the house but that we don't like very much."
Jughead broke out into a very loud sob. Louder than Betty had ever heard him do in this scene before. Reggie put a hand on his shoulder and spoke a little softer.
Reggie (as Mr. Gibbs): "Well, I knew all I had to do was call your attention to it."
Jughead started crying REAL tears. Betty could see them from where she was in the auditorium. She sat forward, her mouth making a little 'o,' her hands coming up to her lips. Was he . . . was he alright?
Reggie (as Mr. Gibb): "Here's a handkerchief, son."
Betty met Jughead backstage after the scene. His nose was a little red and he kept wiping at it.
"Are you okay?" she asked him.
"Sure," he answered, not really looking at her.
"But. . . your tears?"
"You're sure that's all it was?"
"Yes," he answered harshly. "Leave it alone."
But she didn't. Betty remembered what he had told her that one day about keeping secrets.
"Jughead, remember what you told me about using how I feel about Archie to find the right emotions for the 'am I pretty' scene?"
"Yeah," he said guardedly.
"What emotions did you tap into back there? That was a stunning performance, but you've got me worried now."
"Oh, don't worry Betty," he laughed a little bitterly. "It's just that prick Reggie gets to see The Hateful Eight in Cinerama when it premieres Christmas Day and he won't even appreciate it. While I, probably the only kid in this town who even knows what 70mm is, am left out in the cold, awaiting its general release on New Year's at the Bijou."
"And that makes you . . . cry?"
"Of course, it does, Betty. I'm pissed." He stomped off.
As she watched his retreating back, she knew he was lying.