Inside the Mind of an Actor ON OPENING NIGHT

By Samuel Manilla, senior


Author’s Note: Recently, Beaverton High School Theater put on a production of The Breakfast Club. I decided on Opening Night to write down my inner thoughts as the play went on, and to turn it into a chronicle of opening night for people to enjoy. Hopefully through this mediocre story people can have at least a vague understanding of what makes Theater such a fun activity.


The clock strikes 5:00, and suddenly everyone around me is freaking out. The Director is yelling, stagehands are running around, and actors are panicking. Everybody is bumping into each other, fighting for elbow room, the Pepsi Room suddenly turning into a can of half-naked sardines. For you see, tonight is Opening Night.


For the past three months, the cast and crew of BHS’s The Breakfast Club has been working tirelessly on getting this play to happen. Blood, sweat, tears, spit, duct tape, free time, fingernails, probably some hair, I think a goat or two; all of these things and more have been sacrificed in order to get this play up and running. Weeks of rehearsals all leading up to this one critical moment, the moment when all of our dreams come true and we immortalize ourselves (for better or worse) in the Theatre of Beaverton High School.

I don my parachute khakis (named because they are about 12 sizes too large for my slender frame, and look like MC Hammer’s trousers), and gather my coat and button-up shirt. Much to the chagrin of my fellow actors, I refuse to put my shirt on until I have been makeup-ed and mic-ed (because I don’t want to get makeup on my outfit, and getting a microphone put on required me to take off my shirt anyway, it all makes perfect sense; or maybe I just enjoy weirding out my co stars), so I wander with an exposed upper body, receiving comments of “Put a shirt on!,” and “Dude, eat a sandwich, you look like a skeleton.” I’m obviously well-liked in the drama department.

It’s time for hair and makeup. I run a brush through my hair, attempting to attain maximum poofage, and then I sit in a chair so my Director and friend, Kayla Hunter, can give me the hair of a stressed-out 40-year-old. I sit as still as possible while she anoints my hair with what I assume to be grey spray paint in a jar. Next comes makup, which is handled by my Stage Manager and friend, Megahn Distifeno. She commands me with the intensity of an irritated valkyrie, ordering me to shift my face into expression after weird expression, so as to get an even distribution of makeup. By the end of the whole process, I look like Robert DeNiro (greyed and wrinkled, but still good looking).


After makeup comes Mics and Mic Checks, a process handled my my friend and fellow band geek Sarah Guenther. She helps me attach the Mic to my face by sticking a large piece of medical tape on my cheek (this sounds very innocent, but medical tape is very sticky, and seems to get some sort of sick sadistic thrill from tearing out hair when pulled off of skin). I am somewhat relieved to be able to put my shirt back on at this point, because it’s very cold in the auditorium, and I don’t have much body fat.

The clock strikes 6:15, which means it’s time for Kudos (which I can’t tell you about; it’s classified). After Kudos we have about 30 minutes to go through our assorted pre-show rituals and socialise with our co stars. I take some time and listen to my GET PUMPED music, go through some vocal warm ups, and then meander around while joking with my friend Devin Miller, who is going to be playing Brian tonight. We help each other get over our pre-show nerves, but honestly we’re both doing quite well compared to some of our more fresh-faced co stars. Kayla gathers everyone together for a pep talk, but is so sick she has pretty much no enthusiasm (but it’s okay, she tried her best and that’s what matters).


Suddenly, and without warning, the death bell tolls; “Places!” screams Megahn. We all fall deathly silent, and make our way to the stage. I bid my co stars a fond “break a leg!” and disappear to the little blue corner of the stage that is my office. The curtain slides open slightly, and Kayla and Megahn take the stage to give the play’s introduction. The crowd roars with delight, and Kayla gives her speech about how hard we’ve worked for this moment, and about how phones should be turned off during the performance.

The lights dim, and Ken (The Criminal), Claire (The Princess), Nate (The Athlete), Devin (The Brain), and Emma (The Basket Case) take the stage in their weird, uncomfortable poses. Devin recites his opening monologue, nailing every single word with precision and finesse, the whole speech culminating to that one amazing line: “We were brainwashed.” The crowd applauses as the lights go down, everybody rushing to their spots. I pick up my pencil and start doodling on the paper I have sitting on my desk, attempting to give the illusion that I’m doing important work, when I’m actually just drawing pictures of unicorns and writing lyrics from songs I know.


The lights come back up and my body tenses, waiting anxiously for my cue to get out of my chair. Claire, accompanied by Nick (who portrays Bender of the other cast, but tonight is portraying Claire’s father), walk onstage and give their opening schpiel. Nick exits and I hear Savannah’s elegantly shrill voice resonating throughout the auditorium, giving the first line of her and Devin’s opening dialogue:


S: Is this the first or the last time we do this?

D: Last…

S: Well get in there and use that time to your advantage.

D: But we’re not allowed to do anything! We have to just sit there and do nothing!

S: Well mister, you find a way to study!

Savannah exits and Devin makes his way on to the stage. Next come Nate and Cole, who give off an air of testosterone-fueled contempt for one another (which is quite a testament to their acting skills; they’re both very nice people, and get along quite well). Cole exits, and Nate walks to his seat on stage. After a few seconds of suspenseful silence, Ken stomps his way up the back stairs, and obnoxiously takes his seat onstage.

It’s at this moment that I get up from my chair, exit my office, and approach the library door. I feel a strange sensation wash over me, which I can only describe as “Zen, but in the sense that you’re about to fight a bear.” I open the library door and take the stage, finally looking at the crowd- holy crap, that’s a lot of people. My palms are sweating, but I don’t get deterred, slowly and methodically walking downstage, shifting my scowl from the audience to the cast. I utter my first line, “Well, well, here we are…” and suddenly, I realize something horrifying… I have to pee.

I suppress my bladder by sheer force of will, and finish the scene with a final scowl at Ken before exiting the library. As I turn toward my exit point I hear a shrill scream come from the audience: “WOO!! SAM!!!” … that would be my mother, who apparently doesn’t understand that we are at a play, not a baseball game. Regardless of my cynicism, I still have to stop myself from grinning at knowing my parents are in attendance.

I return to my office and heave a sigh of relief, knowing I didn’t screw anything up. Then, all of a sudden, I forget my next cue. After about 4 seconds of panic, I suddenly remember it again, and all is right with the world. I sit in my small, blue office, doodling on my scrap of paper, drinking my non-existent coffee, and listening to my co stars do things on the other side of the stage. I chuckle heartily at lines such as “I am a walrus,” “You’re pretty sexy when you’re angry,” and of course “Hot Beef Injection.”

After a few minutes, I hear my cue to get up and leave my office. I slam the office door behind me, and meander over to my next spot, behind the library door. I take this opportunity to converse with my friend Alma Romero, who is in charge of operating the library door (a very important task, central to the success of the whole play). We joke about something stupid, probably just laughing about how large my trousers are, when Ken suddenly approaches the library door. He fiddles with one of the hinges, before running back to his seat and starting his screaming match with Nate. Alma slams the door shut behind him, and I take my position, ready to wrench the door open and start my screaming match with mister Cavanaugh. I hear my cue, “SHUT UP!”; it’s go time.


I angrily storm the stage, screaming first, then becoming eerily calm. I pace the stage like a shark stalking its prey, glaring at each actor individually, demanding information about the closed library door. The scene goes quite well from this point on, with the entire cast hitting their lines nearly perfectly. Ken and I launch into our “fighting for dominance” dialogue, the tension becoming so thick you could cut it with a knife. After what feels like an eternity of being face-to-face with Ken, I return to my office, and the scene ends with a final “SCREW YOU!” from Ken before the lights go down.

The next few scenes go well, with very little going wrong. In fact, aside from one slip from one of the actors and a can of soda exploding in Emma’s face, it all went smoother than a decorative ball of mud. Now it’s time for the setup for one of my favorite parts of the whole play: The Running Scene. I gracefully spill my nonexistent coffee on myself, declare “Oh, crap!,” and make my way downstage until I’m walking right past the audience. I mutter angrily to myself as I stomp across the auditorium to my hiding spot, where I watch and wait patiently for my next cue. I can’t help but smile at the other actors getting their peeking-around-the-corner-while-stacked-on-top-of-each-other thing right, and I watch as they make their way around the auditorium to Ken’s locker. Upon hearing the line “Do you approve of this?” I exit my hiding spot and start meandering towards the nearest aisle. From behind me I hear Nate exclaim “Oh, F-!” as Devin slams his hand over Nate’s mouth to silence the inevitable expletive. With that statement, the music starts up and I turn around and take a nice, leisurely stroll around the auditorium, occasionally stopping to harass or joke with an audience member. The music cuts out and Ken begins singing his song “I WANT TO BE AN AIRBORNE RANGER…” cueing me to start angrily running around the auditorium screaming, before making the final confrontation of the first act. I grab Ken by the collar of his shirt, and shove him back to the stage, muttering angrily under my breath. The lights dim, and Intermission begins.

I spend intermission backstage with the rest of the cast, laughing and freaking out about how big the audience is. I take a moment to enjoy a Salted Nut Roll (which are surprisingly tasty), gifted to me by the man, the myth, the legend himself, Mr. Jason Sarmiento, who shares my liking of the oddly-named Salted Nut Roll. After finishing my treat, I have a few more minutes to get back in the zone before having to be back on stage. I drink some water, laugh with Devin, do a little dance, and take my place behind the Library door. After a few moments, Ken joins me behind the Library door while everyone else gets in their spots on stage. The lights go down and the curtains open. I take a hold of the Library door handle with my right hand, and firmly grasp Ken’s shirt collar with my left. The lights come up and I throw the door open, shove Ken into the Library, and command him to “Get your stuff, let’s go.” I yell at him about his “I don’t care” attitude, before telling his fellow actors about how much of a failure he’ll be.

I drag Ken out of the Library and into my office where I start yelling at him, telling him how he’ll be a failure who never amounts to anything, before finally threatening to beat him up. I then throw off my jacket and start trying to entice him to fight me. I throw a punch at him but pull back at the last second, causing him to flinch and look like a weakling. I turn around, pick up my jacket, and exit the office. The lights go down, and Ken rushes backstage to be ready for his next scene.

I reenter my office, sit at my desk, and wait for Ken to come crashing back on stage. Upon hearing his line “I forgot my pencil” I stand up, exclaim “God dammit!” and storm out of my office, slamming the door behind me. Backstage, between my office’s door and the Library door, I lift up the back of my jacket so my friend Maggie Campbell (who is portraying Carla, the janitor of the play) can stuff a handful of toilet paper down the back of my pants, leaving me with a toilet paper tail. I storm the stage, and say what may be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever said: “What was that ruckus?” Throughout the whole scene I do my best to keep my hips squared directly toward the audience so as not to spoil the joke of me having toilet paper sticking out of my pants. After a bout of confused yelling, I utter my final line of the scene “I will not be made a fool of,” turn around, and quickly walk out of the library. I hear the audience laughing behind me, and can’t help but grin stupidly at the toilet-based joke (yes, I’m immature).

After pulling the toilet paper from my rear, I walk off stage and take my place in the Basement, next to the filing cabinet in front of the audience. I hear the “brownie”-fueled giggling of my co stars, and wait patiently for one of my other favorite moments in the show: The Athlete’s Dance. The music starts up, and I hear Nate jump onstage. I can’t look around, so I can only imagine what is going on behind me based on the audience’s laughter (I like to imagine it goes something like this).

The music dies down, and the lights come up on me. I recite my line making fun of a student’s mental illness, and Maggie joins me in the Basement. She questions my reasons for looking through confidential files, before extorting $50 out of me. The Basement lights go down, and the lights on stage come back up.

The scene progresses behind me, when suddenly Maggie reappears in the Basement, holding two Root Beers. She hands one to me, and we start quietly ad-libbing about how much the kids suck. We set up our little hanging-out furniture (two metal stools and a small table made of plywood) and sit down. We continue our ad-libbing, until we hear the final lines of the scene going on behind us, when Maggie looks me dead in the eye and says “I’m selling dead batteries, free of charge.” I somehow manage to stay in character while we chuckle together as our lights come up. We both take a swig of our Root Beers, being so in sync that the audience starts laughing at us, causing me to want to laugh more. Maggie and I go through our scene, somehow managing to keep our laughter suppressed. Once the lights go back down we walk backstage, where I let out a hearty belch (the Root Beer was very fizzy) and take a seat, as I no longer show up in the play.


The rest of the show goes very well, with the actors putting such emotion into their lines it reduced some audience members to tears. The actors say their final line together: “Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club” and put their fists in the air (a la Judd Nelson at the end of the movie). The lights go down and the audience erupts into thunderous applause, standing up in their seats and cheering for such a quality performance. We all take the stage for our bows, and then go backstage for our post-performance ritual (which, sadly, is classified) before running screaming through the halls to greet our friends awaiting us outside the auditorium. We all receive hugs, flowers, and applause from friends and family and people who don’t even know who we are. I spot my parents through the crowd and wave hello, before weaving through the crowd to speak to them. They state how good the show was (I’m pretty sure my dad was on the verge of tears, so that was cool) and congratulate me on my performance. After a few more minutes of talking to people I return backstage, take off my mic and costume, and get ready for one of my favorite BHS Theatre traditions: Dinner at Shari’s with the cast. We spend the next few hours eating and laughing together, all of us excited for the next few performances. Slowly but surely we all trickle out of the restaurant and return to our homes, drained both emotionally and physically, ready for a good night’s rest.


Other Author’s Note: Looking back on this night fills me with excitement and terror as the emotions I felt that night come flooding back to me. Theater has provided me with an amazing performing outlet, and introduced to remarkable, talented people that I might not have ever known existed if I hadn’t joined Theater. Be it Band, Choir, Theater, or just doing something stupid on video with your friends, I highly recommend giving performance art a shot; I realize it’s not for everyone, but who knows? You might enjoy it.


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