"Can I talk to you?"
The question startles me, and I nearly drop the pile of costumes I'm wrestling onto the rack. I snarl out a curse and manage to get everything onto the overstuffed rack without anything hitting the floor.
"Don't sneak up on people" I say, suddenly too tired to be annoyed. It's been a long day, and a long show. Conductor was dragging tonight, and all I really want to do is go home, have a cup of tea and curl up with a book for a while before going to bed. But Suki is standing there, looking at once both chagrined and hopeful as she mutters an apology. I find myself sighing and giving her a slight half smile. "You finished?" I ask. She nods. "Here or…?"
"There's a bar around the corner that's still open…" she says and I nod. She wants to talk and that's always best done over drinks. And there are some things you don't want to discuss inside a theatre.
It doesn't take long to collect our things and walk to the bar. We settle in at one of the tables towards the back, our running blacks helping both of us blend into the shadows. There is something comforting about anonymity. We sit in silence for a long moment, both still bleeding off adrenaline. I sip my drink and simply watch Suki fidget, waiting for her to say something.
"Why do we put up with it?" she says finally, a sudden outburst that draws sullen stares from those around us. I lean back in my chair and raise an eyebrow.
"Put up with what?" I ask, though I know the answer. Suki's young, just barely nineteen. Same age I was when I joined, and for the same reason. At nineteen you can no longer dream of standing on the Takarazuka stage amidst the glitter and shine. At nineteen, you have to find a new dream, no matter how many hours, weeks, months, years you put into dance and singing and acting lessons. It's not an easy dream to walk away from. Some do, and others like Suki, like myself try to carve out a new dream still working for the Revue. It's no coincidence that applications for tech internships open up right after the results of the entrance exams are posted. Most don't stay. Working so close to your initial dream, working with those who made it where you fail, it isn't easy. I've been watching the frustration build in Suki over the past few weeks, waiting for it to come to a head. Hadn't expected it quite so soon though.
"Them" she says, waving a hand towards the door. We both know who she's talking about, but she specifies anyway. "The 'siennes. We do all the work, and they can't even be bothered to acknowledge us, to thank us." The words tumble out one after another. "They don't even bother to learn our names! Think they're all so special, even the chorus girls, so much above us."
I watch her over the rim of my glass, waiting for her to finish. It's an old complaint, one I've heard many times before. I let the silence stretch for a very measured moment, just as Ichiko did for me, nearly ten years ago. Just long enough to let her start to think about what she's said, not long enough for her to try to start talking again.
"That's not true and you know it" I say, quietly enough that she leans forward to listen. "They need us yes, but we need them as well. It's a rather symbiotic relationship" Big word for the late hour, but it fits.
Suki shakes her head taking staccato sips from her drink. "But they don't care!"
"They care," I say quietly. "But they're actors. During a performance they've got far more on their minds than expressing appreciation for us just doing our jobs. Do you thank them every day for doing their jobs?" I give a small half smile and lean back, letting her process. Before she can formulate a reply I shrug and continue. "No, you don't. Part of that is because you're still young and bitter"
"I'm not…"she starts, but I cut her off.
"You are. It's been what, three months since we took you on? I know you took the entrance exams for the Music School, and you're still wondering why you didn't make the cut. You think highly of your skills and every night you're watching the 'siennes wondering what they have that you don't. So yes, you're bitter because you're in the shadows while they have what you wanted." The silence stretches as I watch Suki turn over my words in her head. Her reaction now will say a lot about whether or not she'll stay with the Revue.
"They could at least learn our names," she says sullenly, but a lot of the heat has left her voice.
I cover my smile with another sip of my drink. "And you know all of theirs?" She shakes her head and I let my smile show. "Interns come and go so fast I'm surprised we know everyone's name." That draws a small laugh and almost a smile. "Still, you have a point."
Suki looks up, startled. I gesture to our clothing, the unbroken black from head to foot, meant to hide us in the shadows.
"We aren't meant to be seen. This, doing what we do… It's not a way to gain reflected glory. None of us will ever be famous" Or more importantly, get to walk down the grand staircase, but I don't need to say that.
"I know" Suki says, but she's looking everywhere except at me. She says she knows and she does - in her head. Her heart is another matter, but one I cannot help.
"Still, they need us. Gods know you can't trust actors to dress themselves." Another small laugh. "And they know that, the good ones at least. No we may never get glory but they can't shine without us. That's how I 'put up with it'. Because I know without us, they wouldn't be as beautiful."
I drain the last of my drink and set my cup back on the table with a punctuating thump, causing Suki to start a little. I stand and toss enough money on the table to cover my drink. "It's getting late. I'll see you tomorrow."
She sputters a bit as I leave, but I ignore her. I know she wants to ask me what she should do, but I can't tell her. I won't make her decisions for her.