tagRomanceThe Assistant Stage Manager

The Assistant Stage Manager


After a year of the Stage Management course at the Drama College, during the second year Alec found himself on secondment as Assistant Stage Manager with a small theatre company called "The Ensemble."

The company had a home base in an old church that had been converted into a theatre, but much of their time was spent on the road performing in provincial towns. Had they been reliant on ticket sales for their income it is doubtful if the company would have lasted a month. As it was, a State Government grant enabled them to carry on.

The members of the company were mainly young people, the actors being graduates from a university school of drama. They were a wild free living bunch and especially on tour there was much hopping from bed to bed. The director, herself a fairly recent graduate from drama school, would have had difficulty in controlling her unruly crew but for one member of the company, Rachel.

Rachel was the stage manager and something of a disciplinarian. She was about thirty five years old, and this made her at least twelve years older than the next eldest member of the company. She was an odd personality mix in that her demeanour often made her seem to be nearer forty five than thirty five, yet physically she looked no more or perhaps even less than her actual age.

She had long dark hair that was always drawn back severely and her aquiline nose gave her a slightly hawkish appearance. Her mouth might have been considered sensual if her lips had been more relaxed, and when she did give a rare smile it exposed beautiful even white teeth.

It was her eyes that drew most attention. They were a deep green colour, slightly slanted and when fixed on you gave the impression that she saw right into your depths. Many a recalcitrant young actor had quailed before that gaze.

Her body was slender and supple with breasts that seemed a little too large for her slim frame and they usually moved provocatively, unbridled beneath a loose fitting shirt; and the shirt with jeans was her almost invariable attire. As for her legs, since they were always clad in jeans no one was sure what they might look like.

In my own mind I have often likened her to a black panther I once saw in the zoo. It was looking out through the bars of its cage, seemingly at peace, yet one could sense the danger that lay behind its steady gaze. Rachel had a similar look and like the panther seemed somehow caged, though what might constitute the bars no one knew.

I may have drawn too harsh a picture of Rachel. Stern though she may have been she was the one who bound up the cuts and bruises; it was she who would nurse a sick member of the company; if one of the company should have the misfortune to be hospitalised, it was Rachel who was the first to visit them. It was even she who would go to the pharmacy to buy ointment for haemorrhoids for one member of the company too embarrassed to go for him self.

In short, Rachel was something of a stern but caring matriarch within that youthful company.

On first meeting her Alec had two simultaneous reactions. The first was when she extended her hand to shake his, saying, "Rachel Conway," and he felt the strength in her grip. "This is a woman to be wary of," he thought, and although Alec stood at least four inches taller than Rachel, he felt himself to be overawed by her.

The second reaction was extremely odd. Alec felt as if he knew her – that he had met or seen her somewhere before. He was not alone in this feeling for Rachel said, "Haven't we met somewhere?"

They went thought the routine of, "was it this place or that." but could come to no conclusion. They finally agreed that they had not met before.

Rachel, always tending to get straight down to business said, "You'll be working with me. The first thing you can do is sweep the stage and then put the urn on for tea and coffee." It is a strange phenomenon but however many times a stage is swept, it still needs sweeping.

Alec, proud of his achievements in the first year of the course felt somewhat irritated at being given such lowly tasks, but in the following weeks and months he was to learn the things about stage management they did not teach at the college.

He soon discovered that Rachel was always the first to arrive at the theatre and the last to leave. Most of the moving, packing and loading was left to her and Alec. After a hard day's "slogging" as Rachel called it, they still had to "call the show" at night. The impression was that Rachel had only work and sleep in her life, and that began to apply to Alec as well.

This leads to the matter of Rachel's personal life. While other members of the company copulated freely with each other, each to their own particular sexual bent, Rachel had never been know to engage in sexual activity.

A couple of the bolder males had made approaches to her. Her response was along the lines of, "Go away and play with someone your own age."

The males having failed in their attempt to inveigle themselves into Rachel bed, or alternatively to get her into there's, a female actor tried her luck and got the same response.

Thus the sex life of Rachel became a mystery and the source of much conjecture. Perhaps she had a lover somewhere, but how did she find the time to be with him or her? Since she always worked from dawn till well after dusk, and as they were so often on the road, it seemed impossible that she had a paramour tucked away somewhere.

Another idea was that Rachel was a sort of sexual neuter; that she didn't experience sexual desire. It was this view that tended to prevail.

Under Rachel's firm tutelage Alec was gradually given increasing amounts of responsibility until on occasions Rachel let him call a show on his own, but still under her watchful eyes. From being somewhat apprehensive about her Alec gradually learned to appreciate those softer qualities that Rachel expressed in caring for her little flock of miscreants.

Whilst Rachel never talked about her personal life, Alec, for the first time away from home for any length of time, used to confide in Rachel. He talked about his parents, revealing that he was an adopted child, and even though his adopting parents could not have been, as he put it, "more loving," he often wondered about his real parents; who they were? Where they were? Why had they put him out for adoption?

Over lunch time talks Alec covered many aspects of his life, his hopes and ambitions, and was a little boastfully about his female conquests. Rachel made no comment, but thought it odd that despite the fact there was a surplus of females in the company, Alec did not seem to be bedding any of them.

For her part Rachel, as I have said, did not reciprocate when it came to the personal. When she did talk it was almost invariably about work. It was therefore a surprise, when the company was performing in one of the inland mining towns, Rachel announced that her parents lived there.

I don't think any one in the company ever thought of Rachel as having parents. They seemed to think that Rachel must have arrived on this earth fully grown – she was always there and always would be there, to comfort and admonish, and since there was no need for anyone to admonish Rachel, neither did she need anyone's comfort.

There seem to be people like that. They go on year after year serving others yet never seeming to be served them selves. As it is said, they get "taken for granted." They seem to have no needs or desires of their own. One cannot picture them in the loving embrace of sexual intercourse, and even if they have children one feels it must have been pregnancy by divine fait accompli. Thus the view that Rachel was a neuter prevailed.

Alec was even more surprised when Rachel invited him to go with her on a visit to her parents. The visit was to be on a Sunday afternoon when for once Rachel and Alec did not have to get things ready for a Monday move.

Why Rachel wanted him to go with her was a mystery to Alec. When he rather cautiously asked why, Rachel simply replied, "I'd like you to meet them and them you." Knowing Rachel as he did Alec decided to leave the matter there, and since the town was not exactly raging with entertainment on a Sunday afternoon, he accepted the invitation.

Further surprises were in store for Alec. On meeting her parents Rachel showed more emotion than he had ever seen in her before. There was hugging and kissing and even some mother and daughter tears as they enquired after each other's well-being.

Mother was a very emotional type of woman and was physically an older version of Rachel, with the same handsome looks, but without the stern exterior. In that respect Rachel more nearly resembled her father, a taciturn miner.

As they greeted each other Alec stood in the background until Rachel came to introduce him. As Alec looked at them and they at him, something like a little tingling electrical charge seemed to jump between them. There was a second of recognition, and then it was gone. Mother kissed him on the cheek and father shook hands with a grip like a vise.

Alec felt glad to be in a normal home again after weeks of motel living. He missed his parents and felt himself embraced by Rachel's parents. At one time Alec found himself alone with the mother who said, "I'm so glad Rachel has got a nice friend; it's been very hard for her."

She added nothing to this brief statement and Alec did not feel he could probe further. Even the reticent father made an equally ambiguous remark; "She's chosen a tough life, our Rachel, but then, she had to get away."

The two comments opened another little chink into Rachel's life. She'd had something "hard" happen to her and she had to "get away." In addition it seemed that in the eyes of her parents Alec qualified, not only as a subordinate colleague, but also as a friend.

As for the rest of the conversation, much of it consisted in Rachel relating events "on the road," with Alec chipping in, and the parents talking about the town and the father speculating about how much longer they would be able to mine the "lode."

A home cooked meal almost brought tears to Alec's eyes as he recalled family meals at home and reflected on the endless motel and cheap restaurant meals he now endured. That afternoon in a miner's cottage gave him a new outlook on Rachel. He felt he had seen another side of her in the warmth of the family home. Up to that point he had respected her, now he found himself feeling some positive affection for her.

They left late that evening with more female tears, kisses and hugs and another iron grip handshake from father. "Take care of her for us son," he said.

"Take care of her!" thought Alec, "it's always been her doing the care taking." Feeling slightly ridiculous Alec assured him he would, "keep an eye on her."

They had about a kilometre to walk to get to the motel but when Rachel's father offered to drive them she said, "No thanks dad, the walk will do us good."

Making their way to the motel Rachel reverted to her reticent self again. Alec felt almost as if none of that family warmth and love had taken place. When they parted to go to their rooms Alec said, "Thank you for inviting me, it's been a very enjoyable day."

Rachel seemed to stare at him through the gloom for a moment, and then said, "Good; seven o'clock start in the morning; good night."

Passing other rooms on the way to his own room Alec heard soft moans and whimpers and once a suppressed shriek. Alec relieved himself by hand after he got into bed.

Next day they packed up, Rachel and Alec working late into the night to be ready for the journey the following day.

As they moved deeper into the inland the work got ever more arduous. The venues were often inadequate, calling for all sorts of improvisations by the two of them. The members of the company began to get irritable and argumentative, constantly calling on Rachel for some special consideration. The end of each day found Alec and Rachel, especially Rachel, physically and emotionally exhausted. They fell into bed to sleep the sleep of death and rose in the morning still aching from the previous day's efforts. To make matters worse temperatures began to rise, shaving close to 45 degrees Celsius.

It was three weeks after they had left the mining town when one night Alec, having left the theatre, discovered he had left his watch behind. He retraced his steps and entered the theatre to retrieve the watch he had left on the ASM's table.

The only light on was the dim working light over the stage. He picked up the watch and while slipping it onto his wrist a movement on stage caught his eye. Rachel was seated at a table; the elastic ring that normally held her hair back had been removed and her hair fell like a dark curtain over her shoulders and almost covered her face; a cup of coffee was growing cold in front of her. She was holding her head in her hands and Alec could see her shoulders shaking and heard the sound of soft weeping.

He walked out onto the stage and approached her saying, "Rachel!"

In a choked voice she said, "What the hell are you doing back here?"

"I left my watch and I..."

"Well if you found it go to bed, we've got..."

"But Rachel, you're crying and I can't..."

"For God's sake leave me alone...go..."

"But I can't leave you like..."

"Bloody well get out and leave me alone."

"Sorry Rachel I only..."

For the first time since he came to her she turned her face to him. It was ravaged with tears and her body shook with sobs.

"For Christ sake go...leave me alone..."

Alec backed away, then turned and made for the exit door. He had just reached it when he heard Rachel call out, "Alec...Alec...Don't go...come back..."

He went to her and as he approached, with her face once again turned away from him, she extended her hand behind her and said, "Hold my hand, Alec."

He took her hand, cupping it with both of his. "What's wrong, Rachel?"

"I can't...I just can't..."

"Can't what?"

"Can't go on...not any more...it's all too much."

"It's been a hard few weeks, Rachel, but it'll be over soon."

"Alec...it's not just the work...it's...I need something...someone...I've fought it...but I can't go on fighting it...I'm so lonely."

She broke down into a paroxysm of weeping, her whole body shaken by her sobs.

Alec, who had only ever seen her in her strength, the disciplined professional woman, was at a loss to know what to do. He pulled up a chair and sat beside her and she buried her head into his shoulder. He tried to speak comforting words but knew how useless they were; "You'll feel better after a good night's sleep. Everything will look different in the morning, you'll see. Come on, I'll take you back to the motel."

He raised her gently to her feet, and leaving the stage light still burning, he guided Rachel to the exit door.

She was still weeping uncontrollably but seemed in a trance-like state. Alec felt in her jeans pockets for the key to lock the door. He had never had close physical contact like this with her, and failing to find the key in her jeans he had to resort to the breast pockets of her shirt.

He felt the firm breasts beneath the cloth and had to fight down an incipient erection as for the first time he became startlingly aware that she was woman - flesh and blood woman. "No, he admonished himself, she's a distressed human being who has given and given until she has no more to give, and I'm the one privileged to be here for her. This calls for TLC, not sex."

He found the key, locked the door and with his arm round her took her back to the motel. When they got to the door of her room she said, "Don't leave me yet, come in for a cup of coffee, don't go just yet."

He went in with her and still blinded with tears she tried to find the things to make coffee with.

"I'll make it," said Alec, "you come and lay down." He drew her to the bed and lay her down on it. She folded up into a foetal position hugging herself with her arms. "I'll open up in the morning," he said, "You can lie in a bit longer," She made no response.

He made the coffee and placed her cup on the table beside the bed, but she made no attempt to drink it. She lay there; her eyes open wide and seeming to stare at something that frightened her.

He sat on the bed drinking his coffee and stroking her hair, not knowing what to say. When he finished his coffee he rose and said, "I have to go now, will you be okay?"

She seemed to jerk out of her trance and extending her hand to him said, "Don't leave me, Alec, not tonight, I...I don't want to be alone...stay and hold me...just for tonight."

She drew him to the bed saying, "Hug me Alec...hold me...it's that night...hold me..." Alec wondered what she meant by, "it's that night."

She continued to pull him to her, urging him down onto the narrow bed to lie beside her, and then she nestled into him like a child seeking safety from the demons of the night. Neither of them had showered since the morning and after their heavy labour he could smell her female sweat. He wondered about his own odour, but Rachel seemed not to notice it.

For all their physical closeness Alec felt no further sexual stirrings. He remembered her parents asking him to take of her, and now he seemed to feel that he was the older of the two. He wanted to comfort and protect the distraught woman he held in his arms.

To his astonishment he was experiencing emotions for Rachel that were completely foreign to the relationship hitherto. The only word he could think of was, "Love." He loved her in a way that had little to do with sex. It was a love that wanted to shelter her from whatever the fears were that had her in their grip. What those fears might be he had no idea, but it was sufficient that they were present in her, and he had the honour to be there to comfort her.

Still fully dressed, they finally dropped off to sleep, Rachel first, then Alec still holding her to him fell into an exhausted sleep.

He woke with a jerk early in the morning. He was still holding Rachel and she seemed not to have stirred in the night. One of his arms was numb where her weight had pressed down on it. He carefully eased his arm from under her then getting off the bed he went to his own room to shower and change.

Before leaving for the theatre he looked in at Rachel. She was still asleep. As he withdrew from the room one of the girls in the company, an early riser, saw him and gave a suggestive snicker. Alec ignored her and made his way to the theatre.

It was Sunday and they had to be on the road the next day. He set about pulling down and packing up. After about a couple of hours two actors wandered in.

"Where's Rachel today?" one of them asked with a salacious grin on his face. "Had hard night, has she?"

"What do you mean by that?"

"Well, you're quite the hero. Alice said you've made it with Rachel. The first guy ever..."

He got no further. Always a sturdy lad, the weeks on the road had hardened up Alec's muscles. The actor suddenly found himself grabbed by the shirt front and lifted off his feet.

Alec put his face very close to his victim and said in a slow and quiet voice, "If ever I hear you or any of the others talk like that about Rachel I'll..."


It was Rachel.

"Put him down, Alec."

Alec let go of the wretched youth who fell to his knees.

"You two," said Rachel, "go away and don't come in here again today."

The two of them hurriedly departed.

"Alec, you came to us to be trained as a stage manager. Stage managers do not exercise physical violence on members of the company. If you can't control your temper then go and get some other job."

"But he said..."

"I heard what he said, and since we both know it isn't true there's no reason to get worked up about it. In any case, behaving as you did will only confirm their suspicions. Flying to my defence like that means that within half an hour every member of the company will have decided that not only did we have sex last night, but we're serious about each other. Now, we've got a lot to do, so let's get on with it."

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