More Beast than Beauty
I am stood in the dark. I can hear the stiff conversation between the two girls on the stage, forced and badly delivered. My arms stick out at odd angles at my sides, my costume restricting movement. I wear a pop up washing basket with arm holes, covered in brown felt and a clock face stuck to the front. The moustache attached to my face itches, but I can’t move my hands to scratch at it. Crackly music starts playing from the ancient CD player. I waddle closer to the edge of the wings and look to the stage, where twenty or so of the smallest children skip onto the stage, ready to do a dance. There is heavy smoke in the air, and it hisses as it’s released from the smoke machine onto the stage, hovering around the ankles of the children.
Beside me, a girl double my height sports a fake beard and moustache. She’s acting as The Beast. She looks down at me and smiles. I return the gesture timidly. She scares me a little. She says to me I am small. I say to her she is big. She frowns. We don’t speak again.
The song ends and applause comes from the audience. Now it’s my turn. I waddle on stage with the Beast and Belle, a Candlestick making her way onto the stage from the opposite side. I can’t see the audience; the bright lights make it impossible to see more than a few metres ahead. I try my best to remember all my lines, and I awkwardly gesture with my hands, the way I was taught to by my drama teacher. The Candlestick makes a joke and the audience laughs. Then more characters come on stage and I move over to the Candlestick. We pretend to talk while the Beast and Belle converse, mouthing the word rhubarb at each other because we were told that’s what the professionals do when they haven’t got lines. Then, suddenly, there is silence. All the younger kids start to whisper. I don’t because it’s unprofessional and we’re not supposed to. But someone has forgotten to come on stage. One of the main characters, in fact. That’s so unprofessional. I’ve never forgot to go on stage, and I’m only eight.
The girl is quickly shoved onto stage by the drama teacher, and I feel a little smug. I never liked that girl. Looking sheepish, she delivers her line and the play continues. I steel myself for the next dance routine which I have to participate in. I can’t dance. Even without the costume. The music to Be Our Guest begins to play from the tinny CD player and I run to get into place. Immediately, I go the wrong way and bump into the boy next to me. I stumble about a bit, thankfully in time to the music, then continue. But half way through the dance, my moustache begins to slip. It slides down my face, hanging by a hair as it hovers over my lips. Several of the parents chuckle, and then others join in. I try to attach the moustache back to my face, but of course, my arms refuse to move. I hear my sister snort in the crowd and my face burns. My arms. They’re stuck in the costume. The dance ends, but my time on stage does not, and I spend another five minutes struggling through my lines, trying not to laugh hysterically, cry or run away as the moustache tickles my lips.