Performing Cinderella, part 1: Before the show

Now that I’ve given you the scene breakdown for Cinderella, I want to describe what I actually do in the show. Although the play is now over, I’ll write this in the present tense for simplicity. I’ll describe a 7:30 p.m. weekday performance, but this timeline is also valid for a 1:00 or 5:00 weekend show. I plan to stop and explain a number of things, and I’ll put those digressions in italics so you can skip them if you like.
Morning. After showering and before shaving, I apply a moisturizer to my face.
Like most guys, I normally don’t give much thought to my skin unless it malfunctions or something pokes a hole in it. But for actors, facial skin is a tool — the canvas on which you use makeup to paint your character. So keeping that skin in good condition becomes imperative. Applying and removing stage makeup several times a day dries out my face and leads to soreness (especially in the area around my eyes) if I don’t take precautions. At the makeup workshop on December 5, one of my fellow actors recommended a light, nongreasy moisturizer called Cetaphil, and that’s what I use.
5:00. Before leaving work, I eat supper at my desk.
During the show’s run, I prefer to drive directly from IBM to the theatre, so I bring my supper to work and eat in my office before leaving work. I either go out for lunch or bring that meal to work as well. This is one of the reasons I recently bought a bigger backpack.
5:45. I leave work and drive to the BTI Center. On the way over, I use my electric razor to touch up my shave. When you’re applying stage makeup, you don’t want to have any stubble.
6:15. I arrive at the theatre, sign in on the call board, and walk down the corridor to the ensemble men’s dressing room. Removing everything from my pockets (wallet, keys, coin purse, Swiss Army knife, Palm), I store it all in a pocket of my backpack. I turn off my mobile phone and put it in too, along with my wristwatch. I stash the backpack against the wall underneath my costumes (which are hanging on a rod that runs along one wall of the dressing room). I visit the restroom. (I’m a bit paranoid about making sure my bladder is empty before I go on stage.)
6:30. The other cast members have been arriving, and now someone knocks on our door and says it’s time for vocal warmups. We climb the stairs to the stage, where the entire cast is assembling, most still clad in street clothes, some with their makeup partly done already. Music director Jane is sitting at her keyboard in the orchestra pit, and she leads us through a few minutes of voice exercises. When she’s done, ensemble member Elanah takes over and leads stretching exercises.
If the stage manager or anyone else has announcements for the cast, this is when they speak up. For example, a cast member may say, “You’re all invited to a cast party at my place after Thursday’s performance. I’ll post handouts with directions on the call board.” On December 20th, Jane surprised me by announcing that it was my birthday and playing “Happy Birthday” on her keyboard while the whole cast sang to me. Until that moment, I had completely forgotten that it was my birthday.
6:40. Back in the dressing room, I remove my glasses and put in contact lenses. I use a facial-cleansing wipe to clean my skin and then apply moisturizer. I take off my street shoes and put them with my backpack, then remove my street clothes (leaving only my underwear) and put on the RLT-provided white undershirt, the bottom half of my Prologue costume (baggy white clown pants with elastic suspenders), and white crew socks. I fold my street clothes and place them on the shelf above the rod where my costumes hang.
The contacts are daily-wear lenses that I obtained for the play, because I can’t wear my glasses on stage. Lenses that completely correct my vision would have to be special-ordered and would be too expensive, so these lenses correct only my nearsightedness and not my astigmatism. I couldn’t use them for driving, but they’re perfectly fine for use on stage, where I just have to see well enough to avoid walking into the scenery.
6:50. I visit the restroom again. Time to get started on my makeup. I open my makeup kit, pull out my container of Clown White, and start applying it to my face. Using the tip of my index finger, I put dots of makeup on my forehead, cheeks, chin, and nose until I look like I’ve contracted some horrible disease, then spread it evenly over my entire face from hairline to jaw line.
My makeup kit is a small tackle box that I bought at Wal-Mart during last year’s Cinderella. Many actors use triangular cosmetic sponges to apply and blend makeup, but I prefer using my fingertips because it gives me better control of where the makeup goes. This may be because all of the foundations I’ve used so far are creams — if I were using a powder base, the sponges might be more useful. On the other hand, I might just use a cosmetic puff instead.
7:00. The speakers in the dressing-room ceiling come to life as the stage manager or one of the ASMs (assistant stage managers) announces that the house is open (audience members are now being seated) and then says “25 minutes until places.” I apply lipstick, then start using an eyeliner pencil and mascara to define my eyes.
Stage makeup sometimes is used to change your appearance for a role — adding lines to make you look older, for example — but its basic function is to make your features visible to the audience. Without makeup, the combination of distance and bright lighting will make your face look like a featureless oval. So you have to use foundation and lipstick to restore color, eye makeup to emphasize the borders of your eyes, and highlight and shadow makeup to exaggerate raised areas (such as cheekbones or the bridge of your nose) and hollows (under your cheekbones and eyebrow ridges, for example). Highlight and shadow don’t apply to clown makeup, but I define my eyes by using mascara to darken my upper eyelashes and by drawing a line along the edge of each lower eyelid with a black eyebrow pencil. And, of course, lipstick makes my mouth visible.
7:10. “Fifteen minutes to places” comes over the speakers. I use the eyebrow pencil to draw high, arched eyebrows above my real eyebrows, which are more or less obscured by the Clown White. The Pierrot style of clown makeup calls for stylized teardrops, so I draw a short black line downward from the center of each lower eyelid. Using a small brush, I draw circles on each cheek with rouge. After applying a layer of translucent powder over my entire face, I open a pair of small stick-on earrings (hearts or diamonds) and glue one to the bottom of each teardrop line.
The purpose of the translucent powder is to “set” the makeup, giving it a dry surface that hopefully won’t rub off on things. Our costumer originally gave me small rhinestones to use as teardrops, glued to my face with spirit gum. But the Cinderella concession stand in the lobby sells stick-on earrings (along with tiaras, magic wands, and so forth), and these turn out to be perfect for use as teardrops. Since they have their own adhesive, no spirit gum is required — I can just peel them off the backing paper and press them on.
7:20. “Five minutes to places.” The makeup’s done. I visit the restroom one more time (I told you I’m paranoid about this). Time to finish getting dressed. I put on black jazz shoes (no big floppy clown shoes for me, I have to dance in this outfit!), then remove the top half of my costume (a big, baggy white shirt with long sleeves) from its hanger. This shirt has a drawstring collar that ties in the back, so I put it on over my head backwards, pull the drawstring tight in the front and tie it, then turn it around and put my arms through the sleeves. There’s also a separate black ruff collar, which ties around my neck with a ribbon. Finally, I put on the Pierrot headgear: a close-fitting black hood (instead of a wig) and a black top hat. I check my makeup in the mirror to make sure I haven’t smudged it.
7:25. “Actors to places, please.” Stepping out into the corridor, I meet the other three members of the quartet, and we climb the stairs to the stage left wings. The stage left ASM and several other crew members are there, and cast members greet us quietly or say “break a leg” as they pass through to take up their places behind the red drape. The Fairy Godmother (FGM) and Curtis, who plays one of her helpers, arrive. (The other helper is already in the stage right wings.) We can hear the audience murmuring in the house.
The red drape is a curtain that conceals the townspeople while we (the quartet) sing our song in front of it. We are a troupe of traveling entertainers who are arriving in the town as the play begins. As we enter, we ad-lib chatter about the town and our journey, stop and ad-lib more comments about the audience and the fancy clock on the archway over the stage, then begin our song. As we finish, the drape rises to reveal the townspeople, and the prologue really gets under way. The fairy helpers are on stage during the prologue, but they stand frozen on pedestals on both sides of the stage, pretending to be statues. A large conical Christmas tree stands in the center of the stage, acting as a centerpiece for the scene. It’s also the where the FGM is hidden during the prologue — it’s hollow and has a door-shaped opening in the side that faces away from the audience.
7:30. The townspeople are in place, and one of the crew members reports to the ASM that the FGM is now in the tree. A prerecorded announcement in the FGM’s voice plays over the house speakers, pointing out the locations of the fire exits and asking audience members to turn off their phones and pagers. The five of us (quartet and Curtis) wait as the final moments tick away, mentally reviewing our song lyrics and dance steps. We hear applause from the audience as a spotlight picks out Jane in the orchestra pit. She bows, the spotlight flicks off, and the house lights fade. Curtis moves past us onto the dark stage and steps up onto his pedestal. The quartet is already lined up in the order of our entrances — Anne first, then me, followed by Meredith and John. As we tiptoe to the edge of the stage, Jane begins playing on her keyboard the sound of the town clock striking the hour. That’s our cue. The lights come up on stage as we start our ad-lib chatter, walk out on stage, react to the clock and the audience, and begin to sing.
(Continued in Part 2.)

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