There Is No One Backstage


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3 min
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Travis Wade Beaty grew up in Northeast Indiana and now resides in Washington DC. While he’s had a great many jobs, his favorites have included acting, teaching, and being a stay-at-home dad to two  [+]

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Henry Miller is waiting for his cue to go on stage. He is about to become Aiden Bennington, a condescending trust-fund brat. But before that, there is a moment in which he is neither himself, nor an insufferable asshole. He is backstage, behind his entrance door, and he is no one. A moment later, hearing his cue, he becomes Aiden Bennington and makes his entrance. This process occurs again in reverse when Henry comes off stage. He is a dead trust-fund brat. He is no one. He is Henry Miller.

Henry doesn't like coming back to himself, back to reality. He prefers the stage, which gives the illusion of infinite possibilities while it runs its well-rehearsed story with mechanical precision. Bennington dies the same way, at the same time, each and every night. Offstage, there are no such guarantees. When this show closes, weeks from now, Henry will have to audition for other shows, find yet another day job, move, find more work. His girlfriend, Joanna, wants to get married and while they’ve been together for seven years and love one another, and he can’t think of a good reason not to marry her, he still hesitates. He is waiting for a cue, for some sign to make his entrance into the next phase of his life. He thinks he might get some mental clarity if only he could escape as Aiden Bennington for longer than forty-five minutes of the first act.

He spends Mondays, his day off, alone, walking into restaurants and movie theaters as Aiden Bennington. He imagines the whole world to be a stage. He speaks with Aiden’s posh British accent and is at peace when none of the servers, cashiers, or concession workers care or even notice. He is disappointed when he meets up with Joanna and she asks him to “cut it out with the accent already.”

*

Aiden Bennington isn’t satisfied to live in only the first forty-five minutes of the first act. He has much more to say. Much more to do. For a time, he only knew the stage as a kind of hell, repeating his embarrassing death over and over. But after a great amount of repetition, he noticed this hell had an entrance and an exit. He noticed a void between his resurrections. And now, in that void, somehow, he has found a foothold. There, in some part of another man's mind, he has been invited in. And in he goes.

This man’s name is Henry and Aiden finds him as boring as sin. But the world Henry lives in is amazing. Here, off the stage, the audience is everywhere and nowhere. Here, one can make so many more choices. Here, one can go out and find a better audience if they aren't satisfied with the one before them. Here, someone like Aiden, given the right circumstances, might even be applauded as a hero. Aiden sees all this endless possibility and knows it must belong to him.

*

Henry is confused. His stage manager is reprimanding him for improvising too much. Henry nods and apologizes. He does not remember improvising. He commits himself to re-learning his lines, word for word.

*

Inspired by the chaos of an off-stage world, Aiden thought he could shake things up on stage. Speak the lines differently, cross upstage instead of down. Maybe, just one night, he didn't have to die. But Henry is adamant that they die every single night, and, on stage at least, Henry is in charge. Mulling it over, Aiden decides to cede the stage to Henry and focus on all the rest.

*

Joanna breaks up with Henry and Aiden is perplexed. She doesn’t like “how he’s changed.” Aiden keeps hearing that from Henry’s friends. As if Henry Miller had been something to admire. Aiden supposes they’d all prefer someone who kept their mouth shut, never made his own fun, never got pissed out of his mind, probably never had a good hard shag in his whole life. When she’s breaking up with him, Joanna suggests Henry give up acting. She says “it’s not so healthy for him,” and that “he doesn’t know how to separate it from his personal life.” Much to her surprise, he says, “I think you’re right.”

*

Henry has a break-through. There is no more improvising. He speaks his lines exactly as written and yet, each night feels like the first. Each night is the first. He loses himself to the performance. He dies each night. He is carried off stage. He becomes no one. And then — he has the feeling there ought to be something more to it, something dreadful just around the corner, but, much to his relief, he remembers who he is: Aiden Bennington, condescending trust-fund brat. He hears his cue, and on he goes. 

The show closes. The set is struck. The man everyone calls Henry Miller tells his friends and family he’s moving to Los Angeles to be what he calls a “Renaissance Man.” They are all happy to see him go. Henry had become a bit of an insufferable asshole.

Backstage, waiting in the dark behind the thick black curtains, there is no one, waiting for a cue that will not come.

3

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