Manipulations Backstage

She liked spending time in the playhouse when she needed to hide.

She would curl up in the wings in a pile of pillows and cushions, and watch the rehearsals, give her two rings to the cause and help with scripts, stage prompts and dress rehearsals. Much cheaper than going to a ready performance.

It wasn’t long before the troupe began using her for other things, though.

The first day, they needed her to show facial expressions, body movement, stage reactions. She could help out, it was simple, low effort, didn’t disrupt her overly. “Vitória, d’you think the lead should be upstage centre or downstage left for the reveal?”

The second, Lorenzo wanted help with characterization; he came to her frustrated, unsure of his Couros character. She read quickly over the script prompts, tossed it aside, and said the first thing that came to mind. “Play it this way. The Captain is cursed. He’s been manipulated by the Witch.” The troupe agreed that it would be a controversial direction to take the play, a fresh approach, and they dove into rewrites.

By the third day it became usual for the apprentices to come to her, “Tori, Tori, can you show us how to be sad? How about angry?” And they had had schooling. Carlita was a night mage, she had given them a crib sheet, barely concealed in a student’s palm, of how to phrase the question so that Vitória would not be curse-bound to rebel– or would rebel in the way they wanted.

After the third day, she had noticed the manipulations. How they would ask about Roberto to get her to cry, heaping sobs and heavy tears that fell just so, perfect to portray heartbreak. How bringing up boats got her thinking about Asavea, and she’d twist her fingers and fret, gaze looking behind her in just such an ideal way for an Apprentice character’s fearful motions. As if the manipulation itself wasn’t bad enough, she could not abide their imitations and mimicry of her justly-felt emotions.

The next time they came to find her, they instead found all the cursed masks on the stage, each and every one taken from their resting places in storage, each dressed and tied on a mannequin, posed across the stage in a startling rendition of a scene from ‘the Butcher Carravagio’. Each one artfully portraying an emotion they had asked of her, manipulated her into.

She heard that it took them 8 days to put the masks back into the Vaults, all the costumes and props back where they belonged. They did not come to her again for help on portraying emotions, and she avoided the playhouse for the rest of the season.