Why I Wait for the Second Show

I have not missed a spring musical at my community’s high school in twenty-two years. Out of each show’s six scheduled performances, the best to attend is the second, Saturday night. The students have yet grown worn or gone rote; they remain rich with anticipation and nerve. But the warbles and half-steps of night one are gone. The late entrances, the jolted eyes, static-shocked at the remembrance of a line. Lights corrected, microphones fixed. The center-stage hole patched with sheets of plywood and a thin apology from set designer Mr. Maplewood. That cavernous pit into which actors plunge and disappear on night one, forcing their understudies into baggy costumes, is now all sealed up. Gone are the screams and wails of night one, when the senior boy with the teeth and the girl with the hair trip and fall forty feet down into that wet dark dirt. No thud. Skin on skin, their bodies caught in the arms of the alumni in the hole. Living there, thriving there, developing their skills, putting on pitch-black plays for their infrared eyes, becoming master thespians in invented tongues over years and decades unburdened by homework and college and jobs. Subsisting on backstage snacks Maplewood kicks down, they are pure. They are actors. By night two the terror of night one fades. Sophomores are stars. They dance on the plywood, stomp over the cave, put on the show of their life pretending they don’t want to fall in. Kicking those boards harder and harder, praying for a crack and a split and a fall. Keeping their eyes forward and smiles up while wishing to give themselves to the hole. From the front row to the balcony, we in the audience are part of the cast. Acting as if we are bothered by the pit, putting on masks of disgust, acting as if we do not want the pit to open back up, pretending we do not respect the hole and know it is best, better than Juilliard, better than Yale, pretending we do not think of it as we fall asleep, praying we, too, may fall through its splintery roof and wake in its wet and dark embrace.