My heart beats loudly against my ribcage, like that of a weakened gazelle running bewildered and exhausted from a fierce lion. I break into a sweat. I never sweat. My hands shake like an alcoholic deprived of her daily dosage. My mouth is dry, my throat tightens. I gasp for breath. I want to run, like that terrified gazelle. I care not where I run to, only that I am not here, now… such is stage fright
In ten minutes I will be standing in front of my audience. I can do this. I’m a trained actor from one of the best schools in London. During rehearsals I was confidant and off-book before anyone else. Why do I feel so vulnerable?
I hear the excitement of the crowd through the heavy velvet curtains. Friends calling over to other friends, laughter and the coughs. The small polite cough, the throaty cough and the downright disgusting phlemy cough. Who’s out there? Will I know anyone?
Jason said he was coming. I only met him a couple of months ago at an audition and he was fun and exciting. As an actor, he was good. Damn good. Would it be assuring to see him, or would I be under the scrutiny of his intense blue eyes?
“One minute to curtain,” yells the stage manager, rushing past me, clipboard in hand. He looks back and gives me a querulous look, making sure I was ready.
Backstage the cast are bustling around in their period costumes, primping and laughing, ready for the big moment. Am I the only nervous actor here? I wanted to yell. The heat is intense and the old dress I’m wearing smells of mold and is extremely itchy. My shoes grip my feet like Japanese foot binding. I feel the make-up melting and smudging my already stained ruffle. I can’t do this!
I find my mark on the stage floor. Other actors take their places, crew stand ready in the wings. The curtain rises. I stand there staring into blackness, my eyes adjust to the glaring stage lights. The audience have become part of the play. They are now an eager crowd of the Middle Ages, waiting for the horrific moment to occur.
I AM Lady Jane Grey.
The words flow easily.
“If I must die for England, so let it be. But first, hear my story”
I turn to my executioner – stage fright gives way to stage presence. Lady Jane’s blood courses through my veins.