That First Real Bow

Sweat dripped down my forehead, stinging my eyes and smearing part of my makeup. The last few minutes were filled with silence as the crowd had finally stopped crying and laughing. I looked around and noticed that my fellow actors were all attempting to compose themselves, some with a little more success than others. The previous moments were filled with several actors in an intense battle with prop swords and spears. Even though they were props, and it was opening night, every actor had poured every possible ounce of energy into the previous scenes. While the audience was still attempting to gather itself, I stole a glance to my left.

Charlie, one of my good friends in the theater department, stood there panting and blinking, clearly trying to shake the sweat from his eyes. Even though Charlie was tall and sinewy, he was currently hunched over like he was in pain. His curly brown hair was glittered with sand from the stage, and small drops of blood cascaded from his lower lip. The blood was not fake as I had accidentally caught him with the butt of my sword during the fight. He caught my gaze and winked at me. A sigh of relief left my lips knowing he wasn’t upset or truly hurt from our fight.

Turning my head slightly to the right, I noticed some of the stagehands taken aback by what they had just witnessed. Never during rehearsals did we ever go as hard as we did on the stage that night. Energy I didn’t even know was capable somehow surged through my entire body during the entire night’s performance. After a few more moments of silence, the audience erupted in cheers and provided us with a standing ovation. The entire cast and crew took their bows, but for a moment there, time stood absolutely still.

At one point in my life, I had spent every ounce of willpower searching for something that made me feel whole and complete. During my earlier years of life, I spent an enormous amount of time studying anything creative and related to fine arts. Music, writing, acting, singing; these were all favorite studies of mine. From an early age, I picked up the trumpet and was able to play it with a sense of ease. When I was only twelve years old, I had a poem published in a nationwide student writing magazine.

Taking bows had become second nature to me. I had done so many plays that being on stage was becoming a favorite pastime of mine. Unfortunately, I had never done anything too serious, nor had I ever been in any kind of lead role before. When I was finally cast in that big show along with my good friend, elation filled my entire body like an eight year old boy on Christmas morning. Finally, it was time for me to make my mark on the acting world.

Now even though it was always a dream to have a leading role in a play, I never could never have imagined exactly what that type of responsibility that role entailed. My director, a wonderful woman, sat me down to explain the importance of this role. Her physical appearance was never intimidating, and at first glance, somebody might mistake her for a lovely grandmother.

She was shorter than average with wavy brown and gray hair, a myriad of crow’s feet and wrinkles across her face, and these little pinched together lips that made her look like she was always upset. What looked like a confident swagger in her walk was actually a small limp from an earlier stage accident during her student years. Firmly planted on her hips, her hands were always stuck there like glue while her piercing brown eyes would tell the entire story non-verbally.

I don’t remember every single detail from her speech, but one quote in particular stands out in my memories. Right before she finished her spiel, she said, “You are the driver, the pilot, the pure force of action for this show. When you take your bow, you’ll never feel that way again, and you won’t be able to describe it.” Strange how a complicated, yet inspirational speech could hold so much power over my feelings. Boy, was she right.

While time was standing still, I remember thinking that I could die in the next five minutes and I would know that I had lived a luxurious life. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest that I was pretty sure it was going to leap out and flop on the ground like a cartoon character. The lights had come up on the house and I could see people I knew in the crowd, but that was the last thing on my mind at that moment. In those few frozen moments, I was home. My entire body was shaking, sweat was pouring down my body, and I could literally feel the blood rushing through my veins.

When time finally moved again, all of those feelings culminated in a penultimate cataclysm of elation. It was abundantly clear that my years of practice, my natural proclivity for performance, and the rush of thundering applause was finally paying off. Regardless of what may happen in the years to come, nothing will ever match up to the feeling of being on stage as a true leader for the first time.

After we took our bows and exited the stage, Charlie embraced me in a hug so tight, that not even my father had ever held me like that. We were both crying, and I’ll never forget the next few words he muttered. “Thank you so much.” He said them through stifled tears and choking breaths, but I understood the message perfectly. This was the first time either of us had experienced anything remotely like the emotional impact of becoming a character like that. Squeezing as hard as possible, I hugged him back and attempted to alleviate my tears by focusing on what we had just accomplished.

Regardless of whether or not I ever perform on stage again, and regardless of what I currently do with my life, there will never be another moment like the stage that night. Never again will I have the joy of taking that pivotal first real bow. My only true wish is that I could go back in time and experience it all over again for the very first time.

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