Understudies! Diary of a Dancer Doing Two Shows of “Phantom of the Opera” On the Same Night at the Venetian in Vegas
6:00 p.m. I start hair, makeup, and gossip procedures. The dance captain may or may not come in and tell me I missed my footlight in Hannibal last night. Guys, I really have no idea which one is my footlight. I’m supposed to count bulbs but I only remember that after I’ve already gotten too close to them to see them all.
6:30 p.m. The call over the PA is HALF-HOUR. I go do ab-work and a short barre in the warm-up room, then put on my wireless mike.
6:55 p.m. The call is FIVE MINUTES. I put on my Slave Girl costume.
6:59 p.m. The call is PLACES. This is also my personal call time in the wig room for my Slave Girl wig.
7:00 p.m. TOP OF THE SHOW. For most of the prologue I hang out in the stairwell, stretching and trying to visualize which one is my footlight. We have to be upstage in our places for Hannibal by the time the overture aka “the big music” begins.
7:08 p.m. I miss my footlight in the Hannibal dance.
7:10 p.m. Hannibal is our exposition scene where we introduce our characters to the audience and while they’re getting know us we are also getting to know them. Audiences have extremely different collective personalities. Some are smart, they follow the plot right away and have reactions to the interpersonal strife onstage which other nights falls flat while the house fills with the sound of brain-machinery gnashing inside a thousand-plus heads. Some audiences are warm, clapping longer and louder than we’re used to and swallowing up some important lines. I can tell a good audience by how they respond to the humor in Hannibal. If they get the subtle jokes but pass on the obvious one then they’re a little too “holier than thou” and we’re gonna have to work for it. If the subtle jokes go over their heads but they guffaw on the obvious joke then they’re gonna loooove the show no matter how much we screw up. If they respond to all the jokes with hearty laughter then they are probably drunk.
During most of this scene I’m sitting on the floor downstage, right next to the footlights. Our orchestra pit is small; the first row of seats is only a step or two away from me. It can be very difficult not to make eye contact with the people sitting there while I pretend to scour the theater for signs of the fiendish Phantom. Sometimes I can’t resist checking them out and the intensity with which they return my gaze still rouses me every time.
7:15 p.m. First quick change, from Slave Girl into Degas. I almost always forget to change from the emerald green panties to the white panties. My dresser thought this was hilarious the first time I did it. Now she routinely says, “Panties!” as soon as I get to her.
7:20 p.m. I get to whisper a joke to one of the other girls as part of the Degas dance/scene. When I can’t think of anything I just go with a string of unrelated obscenities.
7:30 p.m. Here begins our 20 minutes of downtime. I have been using this time to write letters full of wisdom, non sequiturs, and at least partially covered in sweat. If you want one send me your address.
7:47 p.m. I almost fall over putting on my Sylvan Glade tutu. I can never find the damn leghole in the panties with all of that skirt.
7:51 p.m. The actor who plays one of the managers says the line, “Maestro, the ballet! NOW!” and backstage we all say “LATER!” when he says “NOW!” because we are comedians.
7:55 p.m. Trickiest moment of the show for me, I have to start off moving stage left but somehow get all the way over to right-of-center in three counts.
7:58 p.m. I must remember not to back up, or I will fall in an open trap door.
8:00 p.m. Second quick change from Sylvan Glade into Masquerade.
8:08 p.m. All the other dancers are pre-set on a huge piece of scenery but as the Monkey I am in the “Little Band” with three of the singers, chilling in the wings. We sing a song the dance captain made up called “Courtney’s Twelve” that is supposed to help us know exactly when to go onstage, but mostly serves as a group-bonding butt-wiggle extravaganza before we almost miss our entrance because we’re shaking our booties.
8:10 p.m. Masquerade, my favorite dance. Hopefully I don’t eff it up.
8:15 p.m. Back in the dressing room for our final costume change. If it was the last show of the night I’d remove the pins of my hair prep through the mesh of my wig cap, and usually I start doing this before I realize we have a whole other show to do, and so then I have to re-prep my hair all over again so it stays flat under the wigs.
8:20 p.m. Get back into costume for Degas. Because we are about to be trapped up in a stairwell stage right with nothing to do and no way to get to the dressing room, I have learned to stow away a few letter-writing materials inside the bodice of my costume, underneath my tights.
8:22 p.m. Run onstage for Don Juan Panic, praying the letter-writing materials don’t start raining from underneath my skirt.
8:24 p.m. Start writing letters in the backstage right stairwell.
8:30 p.m. Scramble to the monitor to watch the conductor for offstage singing with the chorus. Feel embarrassed because the real singers can hear me miss the high notes.
8:33 p.m. SHOW CURTAIN Here ensues a ridiculous scramble to re-set the stage for bows. It’s as choreographed as any dance: let this person go in front of you, wait until that piece of scenery moves, then go to your mark. It is pitch dark and when I get halfway to my mark trap doors open on either side of my path to swallow up the candelabras. It makes me think of Indiana Jones, and so far my stomach has turned over every single time it happens. Gotta hustle into place, though, because as soon as those traps snap closed the curtain needs to open on the ballerina tableau.
8:34 p.m. Assuming whoever is playing the Phantom doesn’t let his ego get so over-sized that we actually spend the rest of our lives waiting for him to finish congratulating the audience on how well they are applauding him, we take our company bows.
8:35 p.m. FINAL CURTAIN
8:36 p.m. We run downstairs, pulling off our wigs and mikes as we run, unhooking our costumes so that when we hit the dressing room door we are almost entirely undressed.
8:37 p.m. Relaxation in the green room. Eating of yummy things. Taking care of company business like autographing posters to be auctioned for charity or discussing who is sleeping with who, provided that “who” and “who” are not present.
8:50 p.m. Wearing an ugly newsboy cap I found in the dressing room over my wig cap, sweatpants over my tights, and my dressing gown over my leotard I hack my way through the forest of tourists queueing up for our second show and purchase my second tea at Bouchon Bakery.
9:05 p.m. The call is HALF-HOUR for the second show. I write more letters, brush my teeth, and refresh my lipstick.
9:20 p.m. The call is FIFTEEN MINUTES and I think I will die if we don’t just get on with it already.
9:34 p.m. The call is PLACES. My hairdresser wants to know how my Slave Girl wig got so destroyed in the first show.
9:43 p.m. I miss my footlight in the Hannibal dance.
9:50 p.m. “PANTIES! For Christ’s sake.”
9:55 p.m. “I wanted to tell you a joke with the word â€˜fart’ in it because â€˜fart’ is a guaranteed laugh but then I forgot to think of one until right now so this is going to have to suffice for your joke tonight.”
10:05 p.m. p.m. “Dear friend, I’ve heard that Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result. Well here I am doing the same thing over and over again and trying to get it to always be the same, but somehow it keeps being different …”
10:26 p.m. p.m. “Maestro, the ballet! NOW!” (“LATER!”)
10:33 p.m. p.m. Trapdoortrapdoortrapdoortrapdoor
10:43 p.m. p.m. “One and two, three four fi-ive and a six, seven-eight, nine-and-ten, and e-lev-en and a-twel-elve!” *booty shaking*
10:50 p.m. p.m. This time I really CAN take out my prep pins.
10:57 p.m. p.m. It’s really not very comfortable to run with paper and pen tucked in your tights.
11:08 p.m. p.m. SHOW CURTAIN; trap-door induced cold-sweat
11:09 p.m. p.m. GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY, PHANTOM. (Although if I were the Phantom I’d probably milk it too.)
11:10 p.m. p.m. FINAL CURTAIN; nakedness; refreshingly cool makeup towelettes, hair unleashed and freely flowing; normal people clothes; laugh; sing; talk; leave.
Zorica is a ballet dancer living and dancing (and singing!) in Las Vegas, Nevada. She wears Freed pointe shoes, prefers Sleeping Beauty to Swan Lake, and plays beer pong Wednesday nights at Green Valley Ranch.