Caught in the Limelight


Maggie was a shy child. She scowled when her parents wanted to take her photograph. As a teenager she walked with her head down, avoiding eye contact. Her father was a keen amateur thespian and thought the flamboyant people he mixed with at the theatre might help to give Maggie confidence.

Maggie went along to a rehearsal diffidently but was soon entranced with the transformation of words on paper into a living, moving story. She shrank in horror when asked if she would like to be part of a crowd scene, ‘No lines, darling, just respond and shout at the right time.’

‘No, thankyou, but I’d like to help backstage.’

‘Excellent, Geoff can do with the help; a lot of scene changes and props.’

The dress rehearsal was a revelation to Maggie. She stood in the shadow of the wings armed with the next prop, ducking out of the way as actors came o and off the stage. She felt the actors’ tension as they performed in the brilliant lights.

Maggie, dressed in black, concentrated then dashed onto the stage when the lights went down. She moved furniture, changed the back cloth and rushed off before the lights came on revealing a different place and time.

When the curtains closed, and it was over there was a shout from the director for everyone to stand on stage. He stood in front of them and praised their efforts, then added a few criticisms that could easily be corrected. Finally, he thanked the backstage crew for their efficiency. The actors clapped and Maggie squirmed with embarrassment but was also delighted.

The performances went well, and Maggie realised how important the audience was to the actors. They talked about a responsive audience, ready to laugh or clap, listening to every word. They disliked a passive audience, not concentrating, even whispering to each other.

The play was performed for four nights and then it was all over. There were no more rehearsals, no more evenings out. The next show was to be a pantomime and rehearsals for that wouldn’t begin until September. Maggie felt lost. She had really enjoyed being part of the production and wanted more.

There was another amateur theatrical group in a nearby town. She had been to a performance of the musical, ‘Oliver’, there. The local newspaper said they were auditioning for another musical, ‘Oklahoma’, and gave the dates and times. Maggie went along and asked if they needed help back stage. They were pleased to have her and she was introduced to the stage manager, Rick.

The rehearsals were very different to her last experience because songs had to be taught and choreographed. The members not only had to be able to act but to sing and dance too.

Once again Maggie was invited to be part of the chorus, but she shook her head and insisted she was happy backstage. As the dress rehearsal approached Maggie knew all the songs and sang happily in the wings.

‘You’ve got a lovely voice, Maggie. You should be out there, not hiding,’ said Rick.

‘No, I’m too shy,’ she said.

The show was to be on all week but there was a setback on the Friday night. Two members of the chorus were ill. The director decided to go on himself but there was a woman needed. Rick whispered to him that Maggie knew all the songs and he could do her work backstage.

‘What do you think, Maggie? We really need you. Rick says you know all the songs and the dances are easy. Rachel will stand next to you and you just follow her lead. Go on tonight and then, perhaps, I can find some other stand-in. Please, please Maggie.’

She nodded. There was a whirl of activity as she had her face made up and was given her gingham costume to put on. Rachel showed her the dance moves and they practiced in the dressing room. Now she wasn’t Maggie anymore. She was a cow girl. The cow girl sang, smiled, twirled and when the audience cheered for an encore her smile was radiant.

In the dressing room, after the performance, everyone congratulated Maggie. ‘You’re a natural. Why have you been backstage, when you have such talent?’

Maggie looked at them and said, ‘I was too shy. I didn’t realise I could become someone else and leave the shy me behind. I really want to do this tomorrow night too.’

On the Saturday night, the last performance, Maggie’s parents managed to get tickets but were careful not to tell her in case she was put off by knowing they were in the audience.

When the curtain went up and the chorus came on, they could hardly believe the young woman smiling at the audience, singing and dancing was their own, shy Maggie.