Actress describes backstage craziness, rituals before a show

It was opening night. We had approximately three hours before The Princess Bride premiered, but really we could’ve used three more weeks. Due to junior Will Conant (Westley) catching tonsillitis, senior Parker Siterii (Prince Humperdinck) breaking his foot and the general craziness caused by AP testing and other conflicts, we weren’t particularly well prepared. Several scenes in the second half of the play had never been properly rehearsed, which included, much to my despair, my terribly important (to me) five minute scene. But the director Bryson Kisner was unconcerned with our lack of readiness.

“I’m not worried, not at all,” Bryson wrote in a pre-show Facebook post. “This show is a fantasy — it’s whimsical and charming and doesn’t take itself too seriously — therefore don’t take it too seriously. Don’t fret, because when you work on something as hard as you have, and you have the talent y’all have, it will come together.”

Much of the cast had adopted Bryson’s unperturbed attitude, and we all hoped the audience would forgive (or better yet, not notice) any mishaps that might occur. And so, keeping this in mind, we began to prepare for our theatrical debut.

I played Valerie, Miracle Max’s wife. (In case you have never seen The Princess Bride, all you really need to know about Valerie is that she is very squawky and very old.) After wolfing down a quick dinner of cold spaghetti and shortbread cookies and throwing on my costume, I proceeded outside where my brown hair would be turned gray with baby powder.

“OK, get on your knees,” senior Veronica McDougal, the girl doing my hair and makeup, ordered.

I obliged, gathering handfuls of my tawny colored skirt and kneeling on the sidewalk. Once I had covered my face and shoulders with a ratty sweatshirt, Veronica attacked me with hairspray and baby powder. A fluffy, infant-scented cloud rose into the air, and I wondered what we must look like from the street.

After my hair had turned a sufficient shade of pearly white, I was hustled back inside to the dressing room. Throw out any glamorous misconceptions you might have of gleaming mirrors and shining lights, because dressing rooms are actually the hottest, messiest corners on the planet. The counters and floors are littered with bobby pins, shoes, dried up tubes of lip gloss, hair-matted brushes, curling irons and eye shadow quads. Everyone gets crammed together in a 6-by-10-foot space as they shove on costumes, smear on stage makeup and run lines last minute. Claustrophobics need not enter.

Normally my stage makeup consists of dark lipstick and more blush than a street walker would ever wear, but since I played the part of an ugly old woman, Veronica drew wrinkles all over my face with an eyeliner pencil. Once I had been sufficiently old-ified, I was barely recognizable and definitely not the prettiest girl in the room.

After Veronica was done with me, I went and waited in the theater room for the rest of the cast to get dressed. I watched junior Kemper Kisner (Princess Buttercup) mix a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide. She explained that she would have to gargle it after kissing Will so she could kill any tonsillitis germs. David Tolin, the technical director, happened to be nearby when she said this.

“That cannot be good for Will’s self esteem,” Tolin said.

Pretty soon, the entire cast was in full wardrobe and makeup. The other play, Other Desert Cities, was scheduled to go first. As they were performing, our cast ran outside into the middle of the street to do warm-ups.

Yes, it is dangerous to stand right where a car can hit you, especially when a small hurricane is rolling in and pummeling you with wind. But pre-show warm-ups are, in their own way, terrifying and dangerous. They involve shaking, clapping and screaming in the faces of a fellow cast members, but they are the greatest part of any performance. Warm-ups are the embodiment of tradition, and they bring the cast together.

A heavy rain began to fall, so we all clustered under the alcove next to the theatre room and squeezed each other’s hands. As wind ravaged my powdery hair and water sprayed my back, I suddenly felt excited for the first time all night. In just an hour, I would be on stage.

“On the count of three, shout ‘inconceivable’,” Bryson said. “One…two…THREE!”

“IN-CON-CEIVABLE!” We cheered louder than the winds, and that was saying something. Despite all our challenges, I felt in that moment we were ready to go. Nothing could go wrong…as long as the storm didn’t knock the power out.