“Honestly, I’m disappointed in this cast and the lack of energy you all have. You guys need to get it together, or we’re not going to have a show by opening night.”
Jesper sighed as the cast was dismissed for the night, pushing back his chair and grabbing his things. His face ached from all of the makeup he’d rubbed off his cheeks, and he felt fatigued from all of the time spent running about the stage. It really had been a shitty rehearsal.
He glanced over at Nina and Inej, who were whispering to each other, their chairs pushed together. Jesper caught a little bit of what they were saying: “fucking hate this show,” and “he can cut me, I don’t even care.” This made Jesper feel even more rotten inside, so he tuned it out.
Jesper knew Mr. Haskell was just being dramatic, scaring the cast into behaving, but those ending words really got to him. What if everyone didn’t get their shit together? He’d heard what Nina said loud and clear. Nobody really cared about this show, except him. Jesper felt like the only one out of the entire cast who was putting all of his effort into his performance, and now Mr. Haskell was making all of them take the blame.
He’d even told him earlier: “Jesper, you have too much energy in the ensemble numbers. Calm down; you’ll stand out from everyone else.”
That particular note made Jesper burn with shame and anger. It wasn’t his fault he genuinely enjoyed dancing to his favorite songs. He couldn’t control how excited he got. If anything, everyone else was to blame for not showing enough energy.
He shook those thoughts away. Jesper knew he was getting unreasonably bitter towards the rest of the cast, but his love for the show piled on with the fact that even Mr. Haskell couldn’t handle his own energy really got to him. He just wanted opening night to happen already. He couldn’t stand all of this stress.
Heading towards the door, Jesper called out a goodbye to the rest of the cast, and several members gave their own exhausted, but friendly responses. At least they were trying.
“Jesper!” He heard a familiar voice call after him just as the door was closing. Jesper held the door for him.
“Hey, Wylan,” Jesper said wearily as they fell side by side on their way through the hallway. He hadn’t had a whole lot of lines to rehearse lately, but he and Wylan still hung out during rehearsal occasionally when he had the time, which was growing smaller and smaller as they moved closer to opening night.
Even as a tech, Wylan looked just as exhausted as the actors. Jesper knew it was just as much of a taxing role.
“Mr. Haskell sure was mad,” Wylan breathed, and Jesper could see the fear in his eyes. He knew that feeling. As an underclassman, he’d been just as terrified of those tech week speeches, but he’d heard so many by now that he’d become desensitized to them.
“He’ll be fine. He’s just scaring us into doing well,” Jesper reassured him. “You know. Drama teachers, being dramatic.”
“I guess so,” Wylan said, huffing a little laugh.
“How’s tech week faring for you?” Jesper asked.
“It’s alright,” Wylan replied, though Jesper could still see the fatigue written on his face. “Hectic.”
“That’s tech week for you. You feel like death.”
Wylan looked at him with concern in his eyes. “You feel like death?”
Jesper shrugged. “Well, it’s tech week. We all feel like death.” They reached the end of their little trek to their parking lot, and Jesper let Wylan sit down at one of the benches by the bus stop. “You got someone to pick you up?” He didn’t look like the type to drive.
“My dad’ll be coming soon,” Wylan said, watching the rest of the cast drive away or get picked up by their own parents.
“I can wait with you,” Jesper offered. “I’m my own ride.”
Wylan flushed a little. “If you want. You don’t have to.”
Jesper shrugged. “Just for a bit. I’m not in much of a hurry to get home.” He settled onto the bench next to Wylan, the metal cold from the night air.
They sat in silence for a few seconds before Wylan said, “I didn’t like what Mr. Haskell said about you.”
“What—oh, you mean the dancing thing? It’s fine,” Jesper sighed, trying not to let the bitterness leak into his voice. “He’s just mad ‘cause I get way too excited about the numbers.”
“But that’s not a bad thing,” Wylan protested. “I like seeing you dance up there.”
“Thanks,” Jesper said, flashing him a grin. “But he’s right. I do stand out a little too much. Ensemble numbers, you’re supposed to all look more or less the same.”
“Maybe it’s not you that has to give less energy,” Wylan pointed out. “Maybe it’s everyone else that needs to put in more energy.”
Jesper knew he was right. He’d been telling himself the same thing earlier, and thinking about it again made him angry all over again at the cast and how little everyone cared about the show. But it was nice to hear that someone else agreed with him. “Yeah, but it’s easier for him to tell me to have less energy than it is to tell everyone else to have more.”
“I guess that’s true.”
Jesper looked over at Wylan. It was weird. Around his own friends, Jesper might have been more reluctant to spill everything, but Wylan just seemed so easy to talk to. Like he’d listen to anything Jesper ranted about.
“It’s just—” Jesper began, and then stopped, struggling to convey how he was truly feeling. Wylan looked at him expectantly. “I dunno, this all fucking sucks so bad.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean—nobody likes this show, Wylan,” Jesper admitted. “And I know it shouldn’t bother me so much, but it does for some reason, because I just love it so much—and I really shouldn’t, I don’t know why I like it so much, it’s just… important to me.”
Wylan nodded. “It’s okay to like it, though.”
“Yeah, but no one else does. No one gives a shit. I put my heart and soul into this show, and no one else does. Not that I expect them to, but it really… hurts to see people not give it their all. Like they’re shitting on the show. Shitting on me. ”
“I understand that,” Wylan said, and Jesper could see in his eyes that he really meant it.
“I feel like my performance doesn’t matter to them. Because in the end, no matter how good I am, this is still a shitty show, apparently,” Jesper grumbled.
“That’s not true,” Wylan protested, awkwardly resting a hand on Jesper’s shoulder. “Your performance still shines through, no matter how bad the show might be. I know that… you’re the best actor I’ve ever seen, no matter who you play.”
Despite himself, Jesper couldn’t let this opportunity go to waste. “I’m the best actor you’ve ever seen?”
Wylan flushed. “Well—yeah. Why else would you have gotten the lead role?”
Jesper snorted. “Because I’m the only person who actually tried. Mr. Haskell wouldn’t normally cast a black guy as the lead unless he was desperate.”
“Well—” Wylan obviously didn’t know how to respond to that. “I still think you’re a really good actor, though.”
They fell into silence again, Wylan’s cheeks red as cherries. Jesper wasn’t sure why his dad was taking so long.
“You know what I’m really scared of, though?”
Jesper wouldn’t have told this to anyone else, but Wylan, he trusted. “That no one’s gonna cheer for Bo Rhap.” Bohemian Rhapsody. That stupid fucking song.
“Oh. Well… I’m sure that’s pretty unlikely,” Wylan reassured him.
“I don’t know,” Jesper said. “But nobody fucking likes this show. What if they just flat out don’t respond when I ask them to cheer for the song? What am I supposed to do then? Stand there like an idiot? Sing anyways? That’d be so pathetic, god… and with this show, it’s bound to happen.”
“I’ll cheer for you.”
Jesper huffed a little laugh. “Would you? From the wings? That might be even more pathetic.”
Wylan’s face reddened. “Yeah, I would. Even though it’s probably not going to happen. You deserve it.”
Jesper smiled wearily. “Thank you, Wylan.”
Wylan shifted uncomfortably. “Sure.”
Their conversation was cut off when a very expensive-looking car pulled up in front of the benches. Wylan immediately stiffened, fumbling for his things.
“That yours?” Jesper said, his eyes widening.
“Yeah. Um. Bye,” Wylan said awkwardly, stumbling to his feet as he scurried to the car, seemingly in a hurry. Jesper couldn’t very clearly see who was driving, but he wasn’t sure if that was really his father.
“Bye,” Jesper said back, giving him a little wave, but Wylan was already inside and they were driving away.
That kid was strange, but Jesper supposed he liked him for it.