'Red Curtain' 5 Minute Freewrite
Theatre culture used to be much different than it is now, and I thought today’s prompt of ‘red curtain’ would be a good chance to try and write about it (from a fictional perspective):
Williamsburg, Pennsylvania. 1761.
The awaiting theatregoers spoke restlessly in their seats. A rather well-dressed woman peered down from her box seat at them, as did the rest of her beglamoured neighbors. From their gilded perch they were entertained by the rabble fidgeting in their Sunday best. For their part, those waiting on the wooden benches below stared anxiously at the red curtain before them, a surprisingly stubborn barrier to their promised entertainment.
Backstage, Jack heard the growing shouts and began to shake. The frills of his collar felt like they were closing in, and he pondered which would be worse: the crowd or death by costume. Before he could decide, he felt the director shoving him towards the stage.
On his journey, some of his fellow players gave him a sympathetic pat while laughing. One tried to reassure him that the first performance is always the hardest, but it was drowned out by a new eruption of yells from behind the curtain. The moment he reached center stage the safety net was pulled back, and he was exposed to the awaiting audience.
To his surprise, the crowd quieted down for a moment. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
“Are you going to say something or what?” Someone cried out from the back.
“Oh, uh, yes,” Jack said, and assumed the pose of an orator, which garnered more than a few giggles. “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene—”
“Where’s Verona?” A young woman asked from the front row.
“It’s in Greece, I think,” her friend answered confidently.
“Oh, how exotic!”
Jack struggled with whether to correct them, but was prompted by more jeers to continue on. “From ancient sludge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
A few self-declared comedians began targeting the box seats and their muddy trails of social crime. Upon seeing the disdain forming on the wealthy patrons' faces, Jack glanced off to the wings for help. It would seem half the cast had gathered to watch his first outing. They motioned for him to keep going, though he noticed a few of them were stifling their own laughter.
“From forth the fatal loins—” The whole room seemingly lifted up with chuckles or insults. Many were aimed at him. Despite the crushing feeling of the sharp cries and mockery, he found the strength to resist flinging himself into the wings. It was one monologue here and another at the end. That’s all. He was nearly halfway through and then it’d be over for a while.
Jack opened his mouth to speak, and it felt as if he’d just been erased. There were no words. There was something about lovers and parental rage but no lines. His face drained as he stood against the muttering crowd alone. With wide eyes he looked over at his compatriots. A certain princely actor hurried to Jack’s side. In true character, he tried to mediate.
“A dumbstruck chorus? That’s like an orchestra without a conductor!” The joke fell even flatter than Jack’s confidence. The mumbles paused briefly before morphing into more jeers. With a start Jack thought he remembered some of it once again.
“Without patient ears you’ll make us toil!” That was it. Not the right words, nor the right meaning, but enough to set off a chain of uproar in the theatre. The front rows began picking up anything they had on hand and throwing them onstage. Jack braced against the projectiles, especially when he saw a couple men near the front start breaking their bench into pieces. Frantically, the other actor ran offstage and began pulling the ropes to close the curtain. The red fabric didn’t quiet the mob down, much to the delight of those in the box seats.
So, this obviously took more than five minutes, but it’s still a first draft. I was learning a little while ago about theatre etiquette and if people really used to throw tomatoes on stage, and it turns out they threw a lot more than that. Audiences were a part of the performance, and it was integral for an actor to have their favor. There really are first-hand, historical accounts of people destroying their seats in order to attack actors they didn’t like. Yikes.
Anyways, thanks for reading!