189 The Star and the Flower
Without a curtain or introduction but only a piece of wooden board separating the stage and the preparation room, the group of people had their debut on this simple theater. It was also the first formal presentation of their lives.
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"This story happened in the king's city of a kingdom. In the outer city, there was a beautiful and kind-hearted girl..."
At this narration, Irene slowly walked to the center of the stage. She was wearing a dirty gray robe, her hair was coiled on her head, and her face was patted with black ash.
She carefully swept the ground with a broom, bending over from time to time to erase the dirt with the corner of her robe.
After a few days of rehearsal, Irene had remembered the whole process by heart. It was a simple story: a common girl who had lost her mother was bullied at home. Out of kindness, she accidentally saved a witch's life, and the witch used magic power to send this girl to a ball held by the prince. Then, the girl fell in love with the prince at first sight. The magic power had a time limit so the girl had to hurriedly leave the ball but left one of her crystal shoes in panic. After that, the prince searched the whole city for this pretty girl and finally found her in the outer city, and then the two of them lived together happily ever after.
The story was simple and easy to understand. Its plot was not a love story between a prince and princess as it commonly was at that time. Instead, it was about a common girl, who due to her kind nature, gained help from a witch and won a prince's affection. The transformation of Cinderella, the leading character of this play, from tolerating the suppression of her stepsisters to bravely resisting it, was the main part the actress needed to perform on.
Yet to Irene's surprise, May handed over the leading character for her to act.
Irene was extremely joyous merely by performing on the same stage with the Star of the Western Region. As the pillar actress of the stronghold Theater, May had enough pride and confidence to play the leading role in any play. But in the show Cinderella, she requested to play Cinderella's half-sister.
At first, Irene had problems believing it. But after May repeatedly emphasizing that it was a show to train new performers, Irene unwillingly took the leading role.
In the following rehearsal, Irene exerted all her effort: she not only practiced every scene over and over again but also kind of forced May, who was sleeping in the same room with her, to teach her acting skills after the candle was put out before sleep. She simply did not want to disappoint May for giving her this opportunity.
Luckily, Irene was not inexperienced. Looking at the numerous eyes staring at her off the stage, she relaxed her body and re-acted the way she had practiced countless times during the rehearsal. Up until then, she felt everything was fine and she did not make any mistakes. When Rosia, who was acting as the witch, forgot her lines, Irene even encouraged her with eye contact.
"You can have half of my oatmeal. Don't eat too fast. It's still hot."
"Thanks, you kind girl. I'll pay you back."
When Rosia walked to the backstage with a stoop, the applaud came from the audience. Irene was relieved. If it had happened in the Stronghold Theater during the official performance, it would definitely be intolerable. The nobles would have booed the actress, rather than applaud with benevolence.
Right then, May Eden went on the stage.
This act of the play was about the first conflict Cinderella had with her elder sister. After being bullied and insulted, Cinderella could only react by crying. She would sob silently in the basement looking at her mother's portrait.
But when May stood in front of her, Irene found the atmosphere from the audience suddenly changed.
May, the star of the theater, stopped being silent as she normally was during the rehearsal. Instead, she became the ruler of the stage. Her arrogant manner, proper body movement, and unconcealed contempt gave Irene a strong oppression.
"Oh, look at this girl. What're you doing under daylight other than working? Daydreaming?"
"You miserable creature. Go wash my dress!"
"Don't be clumsy anymore. This dress is for an official banquet. You can't afford to ruin it."
May gave Irene a hard push. According to the script, Irene was supposed to fall on the ground. But looking at May's cold gaze, Irene involuntarily stepped back and stumbled, which led to her falling on the ground with her elbow heavily hitting the floor. After that, there came a burning pain.
"You're useless..." May stopped staring at her and walked to the center of the stage. Looking at the silent audience in the square, she started her monologue.
"She's worthy of her fame." Margaret could not help but praise May with a low voice. "She drew everybody's attention with a few words. She totally gives life to this character she plays."
"Indeed impressive." Roland nodded. "But isn't she too talented? The disgust and contempt she showed toward Irene are so real that I could feel her ruthlessness while sitting in the audience section. Her emotional appeal was so strong that it could be felt from the audience's looks... but, she isn't the leading actress. Irene's poor-to-fair acting looks so inferior by comparison. If it goes on like this, I'm afraid the attention the supporting role gets will exceed the leading role."
Irene felt at a loss.
She understood she must stand up right away. May's monologue mainly expressed her craving for the prince, which served to lead out the royal ball, so it would not last long. Irene needed to leave the stage before the scene changed. But at that moment, she felt the familiarity she gained during the rehearsals left her and for the first time, the stage appeared strange to her.
"Is that all you're capable of?" Irene felt disappointed at herself.
"When May finished her performance and walked by Irene, her waving dress touching Irene's face, Irene came back to senses. Through May's cold expression, Irene could feel what the Star of the Western Region meant to say to her. She understood that May could not pull her up because the characters they played were on the opposite sides. If May reached out a hand to her, this play would be ruined. She bit her lips so heavily that she could feel the taste of blood. Watching May's figure disappearing to the back of the clapboard, Irene tried to climb up and follow May, but at that time Gait and Sam had run on the stage carrying props with them. Sam took the opportunity when he put a bucket beside Irene to whisper to her, "You're in the next scene anyway. Keep acting. Be strong!"
Irene understood that it was against the rules not to exit the previous scene, but indeed... she had missed the chance.
The audience then witnessed something spectacular—Cinderella sat in the middle of the stage motionlessly, and yet the surrounding scene was shifted from a living room to a basement. A beautiful round table and wooden chairs were replaced by wine buckets and cane baskets. The staff moved back and forth carrying props, while Irene remained in the middle of the stage with one position as if she was frozen in time.
The following plot was that Cinderella was prisoned in the basement, then a witch showed and rescued her. The witch not only gave her clothes but also summoned a carriage to take her to the palace.
"Remember, you can only stay there till midnight. Before the midnight clock sounds, you must leave the palace, or the clothes and carriage will all disappear."
"Ah... yes. I see. Thank you."
Irene was still at a loss. She used to peek at May's performance from backstage. At that time, she was impressed by this woman who could act freely and smile brightly in front of 1,000 viewers. Now when she stood on the stage looking at this shining star right in front of her, she fully understood how astonishing May's acting skills were.
Perhaps this was the distance between the star and the flower?
After Rosia and Irene finished their lines, there came the first climax of the show—the royal ball. In order to achieve a grand effect, all the actors went on stage for this scene, except for Irene and May. Gait, Sam, Rosia, and Tida would all put on masks to act as noble dancers. The one who played the prince was Irene's lover—Ferlin Eltek.