It’s 7 p.m. on opening night. Actors filter in backstage, cloaked in the violet half-lights that shine over the now-still stage. Stage left, facing the audience I can’t yet see; I feel the tension buzzing backstage — a concoction of nerves, swinging back and forth between excitement and fear like a pendulum. I reach for the taut rope connecting to the thick, closed curtain, turn on my headset, close my eyes as the music slowly drifts over the audience, and wait for my cue.
I’ve been on both sides of the Wilton Children’s Theater curtain ever since I can remember, starting as an audience member with my Brownie troop in the first grade to eventually starring as a bumblebee in “Alice in Wonderland” and, a few years later, a “Camp Rocker” with two left feet.
When the opportunity came for me to be an intern, an alumnus who assists at rehearsals and backstage, I was terrified. How could I match the interns of years past, who I had idolized and looked up to myself? Could I be a role model, though the only move I had mastered was the jazz square (and even that was a stretch)?
I soon learned, however, that being a part of a story isn’t about being an expert, it’s about taking joy in every piece of the process.
While helping with Annie in the fall, I once worked on my hands and knees with the girl playing “Sandy” to help her master the art of becoming a dog. Every scene after that I saw her wagging her “tail” on stage, looking for my reassuring ‘thumbs up’ in the wings. I worked with the director and crew to decide how to best present every set piece to bring the play to life. Everything from the position of the flagpoles to the back curtain placement meant something to the show, and I took pride in every decision.
Working on a play scene by scene, week by week, you grow an appreciation not only for the story being created, but the people you’re making it with. It’s not about being an expert, it’s about being part of the village. Every prop, set, costume, note, and dance move had a purpose and message. Every part helped transform the black and white words in the script into a colorful, uplifting production people would remember.
Over these years, I grew from that awestruck kid in the crowd to the confident intern holding the curtain. And just like with a play, I didn’t get there alone. I think of that director who took a chance on me by asking me to stage manage, and the crew that, with their dedication and care, turned that play into a show. I think of the English teachers who helped me find my voice and told me to share it, and the science teachers who taught me to always be curious and engage even if it meant failing. I think of my neighbors who believed I was smarter than I thought, and the parents and friends that encouraged me to act on it, and I know that my story would be incomplete without any part of this village.
Now, a spring senior, I’m holding the rope to my own curtain, watching as my future plans solidify. It’s my opening night, and I’m listening to the music, waiting for the right cue to unveil my story. It’s not time yet, but the tension is streaming in with that impending purple light. Equally terrified and excited, strong and supported, I wait. Curtain on Standby.
Lily Kepner is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.