I can’t describe what goes on during the Prologue for two reasons: there’s far too much of it, and most of it I’m not even consciously aware of. The entire ensemble is on stage in this scene, and director Haskell has divided us up into various groups, each of which has its own little story line to play out. For example, the Landlord stands behind the barrel at stage left, serving drinks to the characters nearby. A pair of rogues work their way through the crowd, picking pockets. The Lovers stroll through the middle of it all, oblivious to everything but each other. And so forth. I only pay attention to the other characters that I interact with, so there are undoubtedly other bits of action being played out on the far side of the stage that I don’t even notice. I can’t really stop and watch the play, can I?
So let me just describe what the Prologue is like from my own highly subjective point of view. In my mind, the scene breaks down into a series of shorter encounters:
- The other quartet members and I enter, move to downstage center, and perform our “Love, Joy, Health, and Peace” song-and-dance number. At the end of the third verse, the red drape rises, revealing the townspeople. The quartet performs another dance routine, which ends with Anne and me downstage left as the Schoolmarm enters, downstage right, with her pupils behind her. Anne and I don’t like the Schoolmarm, so we hightail it upstage and join the knot of revelers around the Landlord’s barrel.
- The Schoolmarm and her pupils are the focus of attention now, and the rest of us react as they interact with a pair of street urchins. (These kids are the same ones who play the Mouse Ponies and the Young Prince.) Then Mother Ginger (the town baker) enters with a tray of cookies, and the children crowd around while she and her assistant hand them out. We react to that too (much rubbing of stomachs, licking of lips, and sniffing the imaginary aroma of freshly-baked prop cookies).
- The whole ensemble gathers at center stage to admire the Christmas tree and chatter about how lovely it is. Inspired by this, the quartet does another song-and-dance routine: “Here’s to thee, O Christmas tree, we wish thee all good cheer . . .”
- As soon as we finish, we scurry out of the way of the Wooden Shoe Girls, who are already moving downstage. These lovely ladies perform a traditional holiday dance while the rest of us clap and cheer.
- After the girls come the Hobbyhorses, two of the town’s youths in pantomime knight-on-horseback costumes. They play out a thrilling jousting match while we spectators choose sides, make hasty wagers, cheer one champion and boo the other, and go wild when one of the knights finally slays the other.
- The entire ensemble now sings and dances a reprise of “Here’s to thee, O Christmas tree,” after which we all join hands in a long line that snakes back and forth across the stage and then play Crack the Whip, still singing, until we exit stage right.
End of Prologue! As the ensemble members troop down the stair to the dressing rooms, the Fairy Helpers finally come down from their pedestals (where they have been pretending to be statues throughout the prologue), and sing a song introducing the Fairy Godmother. At first they can’t find her, but they finally figure out she’s inside the Christmas tree, rotate it so that the opening in the back is exposed, and she emerges to sing another song with them. While this is going on, members of the running crew (who are hidden behind a backdrop) grab handles attached to the Christmas tree and move it off, stage left. (I describe this because the tree’s location becomes important later.)
Down in the dressing room, it’s time for the ensemble members to remove their prologue costumes and makeup and get ready for the Ball. As with my preparation for the prologue, this is a race against time, but I no longer pay attention to the clock. What’s important now is not what time it is, but what scene is currently being played out on stage. As I work on my makeup, I keep one ear cocked to the sound of the monitor speakers in the dressing room ceiling. Through these speakers, we can hear the dialogue and songs of the current scene (and since we all have the scene breakdown memorized by this point, this is all we need to keep track of where we are in the play). Here’s what I’m doing as the scenes prior to the Ball progress:
“Hi Diddle Dee”: I remove my prologue costume: first the top hat and hood, then the ruff collar and shirt, and finally the pants and jazz shoes. All of these get hung up or stowed on the shelf above the hanger rod. The white socks also come off, leaving me in my briefs and undershirt. I put on a pair of drawstring sleep pants and go across the hall to the men’s room. (I can’t walk around in my underwear, and I’m not ready to put on my pants for the Ball. The sleep pants are loose and comfortable — especially in the dressing room, which sometimes gets a bit hot and stuffy.)
“What’s to Become of Me?”: I peel off the stick-on earrings and toss them in the trash. Using a facial cleansing wipe, I remove those parts of my makeup that aren’t compatible with the Ball: the teardrop lines, eyebrows, and eyeliner (which is the wrong color for the Ball), the lipstick, and the circles of rouge on my cheeks.
“Get to Work”: For our Ball characters, we have to put on Restoration makeup, which begins with a very light (but still skin-colored) base. After experimenting with different types of makeup last year, I ended up using highlight makeup from my starter kit over my entire face. I needed something very pale, but not as pale as Clown White, and that fit the bill. Since last year’s prologue makeup had a darker, more natural flesh-toned base, I just cleaned it all off and started over when applying makeup for the Ball.
But this year, I’m wearing Clown White for the prologue. I don’t really have to clean that off; I just have to make it a bit darker and more flesh-toned. So I take my prologue base from last year (the darker, more natural-looking stuff) and dot it on over the Clown White. Then I use my fingers to blend the two together, producing a pale flesh-toned base suitable for the Ball. I spread this over the holes I created with the cleansing wipes, then blend it all until my entire face is a single, even color.
“King Darling the Third”: I apply eyeliner similar to what I wore for the prologue, but this time with a blue eye pencil (to match my Ball costume, which is blue). As before, this means drawing a line along each lower eyelid and high, arched, blue eyebrows. I apply mascara again, since most of it probably got wiped off when I was removing the black eyeliner after the prologue.
“If I Gave You A Silken Ribbon”: Time to apply lip color. This is the same lipstick I used for the prologue, but now it only goes on the middle third of my lips, in a heart shape. I’ve already blended the pale base makeup over the remainder of my lips. Creating this heart shape takes a little more precision than applying lipstick to the entire mouth, so I use a small brush to put the lipstick on.
“Knock! Knock! Knock!”: The Fairy Helpers are now delivering invitations to the Ball, so I’d better get busy if I’m going to be ready to attend it. I apply rouge to my cheeks, but this time it follows the natural line of my cheekbones instead of forming circles as it did in the clown makeup. Finally, I brush on a layer of translucent powder, and the makeup is finished.
“At the Ball”: Instead of painted-on beauty marks, we use glitter appliques from a party store, which come in various shapes (stars, moons, hearts curlicues) and colors. These are attached with spirit gum. John, who sits to my left in the dressing room, is a wizard with spirit gum (his prologue costume includes a fake mustache and beard), so I have him glue two heart appliques to my face. I make one more visit to the men’s room, then start putting my Ball costume on. Removing the sleep pants, I pull on a pair of white tights, carefully working them up each leg and pulling them taut so there are no wrinkles or sags. Over the tights go a pair of blue satin knee pants with suspenders. Next, I put on a pair of ordinary black dress shoes and add shoe trims — elastic bands with gold metallic flowers attached, which snap on over the instep and transform the plain shoes into fancy footwear suitable for the Ball. I’m now wearing the bottom half of my costume.
“By My Fire”: The ensemble sings during this number, but we do so invisibly from the stage left wings. I go down the hall, up the stairs, and join the other ensemble members who are congregating in the wings as Cinderella sings the solo part of the song. Once we’re all in place, we sing our verse as Dennis, who plays one of the Ugly Stepsisters, directs us. (We can’t see Jane or hear the orchestra over the sound of our own voices. Dennis stands at the edge of the stage where he can see and hear, and relays the tempo to us so we stay in step.) After the song ends, I go back downstairs to finish getting ready.
As the Fairy Godmother is transforming the pumpkin into a coach and the mice into horses, I put on the rest of my costume: a striped vest, a frilly jabot that fastens around my neck, and a jacket that matches my knee pants. A lace handkerchief is required for one bit of the “Sneeze Polka” scene, so I fold mine up and tuck it between two of the buttons of my vest (my costume has no pockets). Finally, I take a white yarn wig off the styrofoam head on my makeup table and place it on my head. My costume is complete, and I climb the stairs to the stage-right wings, from which I’ll be entering for the Ball.
When I get there, Cinderella’s scullery-maid dress has been magically transformed into a ball gown, and the Fairy Godmother is instructing her helpers to go with Cinderella to the Ball. Numerous other ensemble members are gathering in the wings, but we have to be careful where we stand. In a moment, the Stepmama’s House set will separate into two halves, which glide offstage into the wings (guided by a track that’s attached to the floor). We actors have to stay out of the path traveled by these set wagons. No problem: while I’m waiting for my entrance, I stand inside the Christmas tree, which is nearby in the wings, upstage of the track that the set wagons run on. From inside the tree, I watch while the running crew techs move the wagons off, secure them, and then move away. At this point I step out of the tree and advance to the edge of the stage, where Gina (my initial dance partner for the Ball) is already waiting. I’m behind her, so I touch her shoulder to let her know I’m there. We’re in place and ready for the Ball.
As the Mouse Ponies pull the coach offstage with Cinderella inside, the ensemble sings: “Cinderella, Cinderella, Cinderella, now it’s time your every dream came true!” The last note has to continue until the coach is offstage, so we hold it until the Fairy Godmother signals our cutoff. The FGM says, “I see by the stars that it’s time I was getting to the Ball as well! But of course I must remain invisible — for now.” As Jane plays the opening bars of the Ball music on her keyboard, Gina and I (and the rest of the ensemble) rush out onto the stage, take our places, and start to dance the Polonaise. The Ball has begun.