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The Show at the Barn Theater

the show at the barn theater


Estimated reading time — 15 minutes

I performed my heart out on stage, but I don’t think it was enough. It was like moving through tar, with every action every word being forced out of my body like how I was being forced to act on this stage of suspense. Their eyes seem to pierce my soul as I acted out my scene. I began to sweat, and my body started to shiver like it was slowly freezing with fear. I felt tears run down my face. My dreams, my hopes, all were about to be crushed by this ghastly audience. My mind started to race with the events of my life. My parents’ divorce, my first kiss, my friends, what led me to this nightmare.

Class was beginning to end as the students began packing their bags and getting up from their seats. Mr. Matthews, the professor, was wiping sweat from his forehead when he said, “Remember guys, this Friday auditions for the play will begin. I really want to see some of you guys there.” I got up from my seat and as the rest of the class was leaving, I walked towards Mr. Matthews desk and I noticed him rummaging through his things, ready to leave. “Hey Professor, what kind of play are we doing this time around?” I asked. He took a second to gather his thoughts then he replied, “Oh I’m doing something a bit different this year. I’m, uh, doing a play I wrote myself.” I looked at him with bright eyes, not expecting this answer. “Really? That’s awesome! What’s it about?” After I asked this the look on his face became more of annoyance than him simply thinking. “Look Jake I have some work to finish. If you want to know more about it come to auditions Friday, please.” He quickly gathered his things and left the room. “Wow. He left before some of the students did. Must be in a rush.” Joanna said next to me. “Guess so. He normally doesn’t brush us off like that though.” I was a bit perplexed, but I simply thought he was busy. Productions are busy during this time of year and a big chunk of students in the theater program are graduating.

“You gonna audition for the play?” Joanna leaned over and asked me. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” I replied. We were walking out into the hallway, leaving the classroom. “I don’t know, last production you didn’t quite hit the ball.” She said as she swung an imaginary baseball bat. “Don’t lie, your just jealous I was nominated best actor in the program.” I smirked back. I was damn good at acting, and I wanted people to know. This was my last semester at college before graduation, and I wanted to go out with a bang. I wanted to be on my way to performing for hundreds, maybe thousands of people. I dreamt big and I loved it. With each passing semester I grew closer to that dream and whatever production was happening this semester, I wanted to be the star. Joanna let out a sarcastic laugh, “Ok, hopefully you can have that spunk for auditions. I hear this semester the director is putting on something special.” I looked at her and said, “Yeah, I know. Matthews told me that we’re doing a play he wrote himself. We’ve never done an original play before, so that’s pretty cool.” Joanna gained a huge grin of joy on her face. “That’s so exciting! An original play by one of our own professors is gonna be amazing! If he can gain a full house with production of another play, imagine what it’ll be like with one he wrote himself!” I was excited too but a bit calmer. “I’m excited too, but I’m just wondering if, I don’t know, this semester might be different.” “Different how?” Joanna looked at me with slight confusion. “Well, you’ve seen how he’s been acting, he’s just not what he used to be.” “Can you blame him though? Those guys who went missing last year still haven’t been found.” A group of guys suddenly disappeared last semester and Mr. Matthews took it pretty hard. They were a part of his production team and when they went missing, he lost a major part of his team. Everyone in the theater program knew of Mr. Matthews. He’s been working at the college since I can remember. He directed nearly every production our college put on and each time he did, it was a success. Full house and everything. People loved him. But throughout last semester and this semester he started acting differently. More agitated during his classes, pickier on the assignments, and less cheerful overall when normally he was quite happy. We understood why.

We walked by some flyers on the theater board. One was a missing poster that read “Missing Person: Johnathan Clark. If you have any information regarding Jonathan’s disappearance, please contact local authorities.” Another white flyer with black text on the board read “Prepare a monologue and give it your best shot for your chance to be in this year’s production! Auditions start this Friday. Talk to Professor Matthews for more information.”, with a time and building location on the bottom right corner. Building F4 at 7pm. F4 was the auditorium. I stopped and stared at the flyers. “Not as colorful as it used to be huh?” A voice said behind us. A guy with curly brown hair walked up to us smiling, swinging his backpack at his side. “I know right?” Joanna said, “I feel so bad. Maybe we could help him out somehow.” I kept looking at the flyer, wondering what Mr. Matthews had in store this time. “It doesn’t even say what the play is, how does he know people will come?” Seth asked. “He’s doing one he wrote himself. It’ll be a surprise! Cool right?” Joanna said joyfully. “Sure, I guess.” Seth replied, not as enthusiastically. I perked up and said, “I mean, I’m going regardless. I don’t know about you two.” “You kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world on my last semester here!” Joanna exclaimed. “Same here.” Seth chimed in. “Can’t let you hog all the spotlights.” He punched me in the shoulder and walked past us. “See you Friday!” he yelled. I took one last look at the missing persons poster before we walked off. Joanna and I both walked out of the performing arts building, said our goodbyes and parted ways.

Friday quickly came upon us, and the auditions were being held in the performing arts building stage where all the productions came to life. When I arrived at the stage Mr. Matthews was nowhere to be seen and only a few other students were there. The theater had a capacity of about 168, and every single seat was empty. The lights were dim and the dark, brick like red of the stage and seats weren’t too appealing to the eyes. Staring into the emptiness from the stage gave off an eerie aura as if you were to be utterly alone in your performance, only having the lines you needed to recite and your own thoughts to keep you company. But that was not the case. Even when no one was around there was always an invisible audience looking down at you silently judging your every move, every breath and they were asking, “are you good enough?”, and in that non-existent audience was yourself. You are your own worst critic after all. This was the harsh reality of my trade. Only after practice, trails, and tribulations can one gain the skills needed to ignore those judgments and perfect the art. I just so happened to be gifted with those skills. After a few minutes of us students staring at our phones waiting for others to show up, Seth and Joanna walked in. I waved to them, and they walked over to me. “Always feels good to be back on here huh?” Seth said. “True that” I replied. “Any sign of Matthews?” Joanna asked. “Nope, just us.” I surveyed over the auditorium, hoping to maybe find a glimpse of where he was hiding. “What monologue you pick out?” Seth asked me. “Dawn in Nevada, where Mr. Humphries talks to Sabrina.” I told him. “Oh, that’s a good one!” Joanna said. Suddenly the lights shot on with a loud click. They were way brighter than usual, and it gave us all a startle. We saw Mr. Matthews sitting in the nosebleeds with his legs crossed. “Alright, I know you’ve all been through this many times, but just as a reminder you all will present and perform your monologues and afterwards, I will choose those who I think should be in the play.” He spoke with a loud voice, and it seemed like he was talking at us rather than to us from his position. Joanna nudged me saying, “Most important? I thought you were full of yourself.” “Paul why don’t you go first. The rest of you sit down.” Matthews yelled. So, Paul stood up straight and began his speech, “What do you mean I didn’t get the job?!” he shouted.

Paul wasn’t bad at acting. I could see he was really trying. My pride always gets the better of me though. I was better. In total there was about 6 of us and the monologues varied in length, but the whole audition process did not take very long. I was last and finished my monologue strong. “And like the sunrise follows the night, I must shine!” The others clapped for me, and I blushed as I went back my seat. After we all gave our speeches, Mr. Matthews came down from the top all the way on stage. He got on stage with the rest of us and said, “Good job everyone. Jake, I’ll have you stay. The rest of you can go. Thank you.” He said those words in a shaky voice. Almost as if he was nervous about something soon to happen. “Wait what?” Seth said. “Don’t you need multiple people”? Joanna asked. “Not this time. You guys were great, but I made up my mind so thank you.” “So that’s it?” Seth asked, “You don’t need time to like, think it over?” Mr. Matthews adjusted his glasses, “I already have.” They all looked at me and I didn’t know how to act. I was thrilled to be the center of attention, but I wanted my friends to be with me. “Mr. Matthews, I appreciate the extra spotlight, but I think you should give them another chance.” I told him. He started tapping his foot on the ground then said, “Jake, I only need you. End of story.” I turned to my friends, and they shook their heads. They walked out of the auditorium talking amongst themselves. Joanna looked back at me before walking out of sight. “Alright, follow me please.”

He led me outside towards the back of the building where a single green minivan was in the parking lot. It seemed to shine from the reflection of the moonlight, almost beckoning us to take a drive. “What are we doing Mr. Matthews?” I asked him. “Relocating. Now please get in.” Mr. Matthews opened the side door and gestured his hand to the inside. “Wait I have a few questions Mr. Matthews.” He grew more agitated. “Look do you want to be in this production or not? I am telling you it as an opportunity you do not want to miss.” I stared blankly at the van. Professors taking students to other locations was not exactly abnormal, the choir did it all the time for rehearsals and shows. This situation, however, seemed a bit suspicious. “Can you at least tell me where we’re headed?” I asked. “The Barn theater on 1st street.” Matthews replied. There was a pause. “I got permission to use it for tonight. Like I said this is an important opportunity now please let’s go, we cannot be late.” He looked at his watch, took a deep breath, then gave me a smile. He turned to me and said, “Jake, I know your dream of fame. I’m giving you a chance to get your name out there.” His demeanor changed to the more usual Mr. Matthews. I couldn’t help but feel special. He was thinking of me and fueling my hopes. He always has. So, with a bit of hesitation, we got inside the van, and he drove us to the local theater.

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It was a short drive, maybe 15 minutes. We sat mostly in silence until Matthews decided to talk. “You know you were always the best actor involved in each production.” He said. “Thanks, I guess.” I was a bit uncomfortable. We never had any conversations outside of the stage or classroom. Something didn’t feel right. “The monologue you chose, where you talk about the sunrise, really suites you. You’re probably the best student I’ve had. You’re going to do great things.” He said. The way he said that made me think he was buttering me up. For what, I didn’t know, but I started to think that my professor had an ulterior motive. Maybe his friendly demeanor was just a front. He seemed jittery, bouncing his knees, and constantly wiping his face. I didn’t know what to think. Maybe I was meeting other actors from around here? Perhaps he was going to show me a project he’s been working on, or the progress made on his play. My hands started to sweat, and I occasionally wiped them on my pant legs. I was gripping the edges of my shirt and I was ready to act if need be. I trusted him, but I couldn’t know what would happen until we got to our destination. I was trying to be ready for anything. We arrived at the theater and our green van was the only vehicle in the lot. There were no streetlights around the building, so the only accompaniment in the lot was us, the building, and the night. The Barn Theater was the first theater built in the town. It showed signs of wear and tear after being used for so many years. The walls were cracked, and it had a great lack of color. We got out of the van and Mr. Matthews took me to the side of the building where we entered through the side door right into the auditorium. The theater was old and small, with only a capacity of about 60 people. The seats looked torn and seemed as though they would fall apart if someone pushed a bit too hard. There was a dim light, but it was a disgusting yellow. Like the yellow of an egg yolk. I couldn’t shake the feeling of familiarity even though I’ve never been in this place before. It’s probably because I’ve grown so accustomed to the stage that each new location I visit feels the same. Or perhaps this place holds a bone chilling secret. The silence was enormous as neither of us made a sound. The professor led me past the curtain towards the right of backstage where there was an electrical panel with pieces of tape attached near the switches. The tape was labeled things like “Back” and “Front”. Mr. Matthews hit all the switches except one. I peeked my head out from around the corner of the backstage curtain and watched as the seats and the rest of the theater faded into black. A dark void could be seen from the edge of the stage, where the only light from the dim yellow overheads directly above us was visible. The dark seemed to transition flawlessly from the light of the stage and if one were to step off the stage into the dark, it seemed like they would never be seen again. “Ok.” Matthews said as he took a deep breath. I turned back and he continued, “I’m going to tell you what exactly is going to happen. You are going on that stage and performing your monologue. You might not see them yet but there will be an audience. Do not show signs of breaking character no matter what. Do you understand?” His voice was that of concern and he seemed scared. “Who’s in the audience?” I asked. Then doors suddenly began to open.

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It sounded like a crowd of people walked into the room laughing and talking. Male and female voices and voices of children, each one was unique, but they all talked over each other like a chaotic sea of noise. I looked out from the curtain backstage, but saw nothing, heard nothing. The voices suddenly stopped, like they knew I was there, but I couldn’t see them. Then a pair of white dots appeared, and they moved. As if they were moons floating in space, they glided through the void in unison. Suddenly they stopped and turned to face me. They were so small yet stood out so much in the pitch-black void. I felt a pit in my stomach and the hairs on my skin stood up. I looked back at the professor, face becoming pale, and I heard whispers behind me. The voices began talking again but quieter this time. Like they were talking about me behind me back. What exactly was out there? Was this a joke? I wanted to glance back again but Matthews put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t,” he said, “Not yet. Let them get settled in.” I heard shuffling and people sitting down. A bit more incoherent chatting, then silence once again. “Wait, what exactly is going on? Who’s out there?” I asked him with conviction. I wasn’t going out there until I knew what I was getting into. He sighed and said, “I don’t know. All I can say is that they are an audience that shows no mercy. I’m the provider of their entertainment. I’m sorry but I have to do this. You have to do this.” I turned around to look out into the stage and saw nothing but pitch black. I don’t know what he got me into, but I didn’t have much of a choice. There were no exits backstage which meant the only way out was off the main stage. I felt uncertainty upon arrival. Now, however, I felt fear. My breathing became fast and my body started to shiver. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I wanted to be home, wanted to go lie down in my apartment and forget this night ever happened. I’ve never feared performing on stage before, but this was different. Acting on stage for a mystery audience that I knew nothing about and couldn’t even see along with a professor that was testing my trust truly put me in a terrifying position. This wasn’t just stage fright. This was the fear of the unknown. My choices were limited, and I didn’t want to risk bolting for the darkness covered exit and meeting whatever was in the void. So, I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, and walked on to the stage.

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At first, there was nothing. Just the dark, the nasty yellow light, and my own thoughts. My own criticisms. Then the pair of white dots returned. They were staring directly at me through the darkness. I stared back and said, “Hello.” The dots did not move, frozen in time, then blinked. They were eyes. I felt sweat drip down my forehead and out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr. Matthews crossing his arms. He looked extremely nervous. As was I. A females voice suddenly said, “Hello. What’s your name?” I was taken aback. Her voice sounded sweet and calming. I gathered my thoughts and replied, “My name is Jake.” Two more white dots appeared next to the first pair and a man’s voice said, “And what will you be performing for us today, Jake?” His voice was strong and affirming. “A monologue from ‘Dawn in Nevada’.” I said. Then more dots began appearing. The empty void now looked like a magnificently starry night. The eyes blinked sporadically, with each pair going dark then lighting up again. They lined up across the dark wall and they even reached the top of the ceiling. There were so many it was difficult to focus. There was no way there were only 60 members in the audience. There had to be 100’s. The yellow lights felt like they were burning my skin. Performing for this sea of white eyes was unlike any pressure I’ve ever felt. There was no escape from their gaze no matter how hard I tried to block them out. This was a spotlight I did not want to be in. It felt like time had stopped with me being condemned to a fate of constant judgment from these anonymous viewers. Nonetheless I fixed my shirt, cleared my voice, and started my monologue.

“You call that a dress?” I had to force those words out of my mouth as if they got caught in my throat. “I could show you true fashion.” I pressed on. Those damn eyes were still blinking, watching my every move, my every breath. “The fact you never sought me out sooner is quite insulting.” I was feeling more confident. I continued with my monologue, getting more lost in my scene. I soon found a way to cope with the eyes. Until they stopped blinking. Were they getting bigger? The eyes were getting brighter, growing. “I can’t believe you.” I yelled, trying to embrace my characters emotion. The voices came back and began to murmur. My speech was faltering, and so was my confidence. I quietly muttered out, “I never thought we would be here.” A wave of cold air washed over me as I started to get distracted by the eyes. Were they satisfied? Was I doing well? Were they entertained? I was nearing the end of my speech and I needed to find any semblance of strength to finish this off. But I couldn’t. I began to cry with the tears trickling down my face. “I never thought I would be here.” I said with teary eyes. The voices stopped and the eyes froze in space. “All I wanted was to dream and to act. To prove to everyone who thought I would fail wrong! I didn’t ask for this!” I wiped the tears from my face, growing in anger. Standing up straight I said, “I don’t know what you are, but I don’t care. This is my moment! You are here to watch me; your entertainment is me; you are in my world! No matter how dark you make it, like the sunrise follows the night I must shine!”

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I stood on that stage with my arms in the air. For that moment I felt like I was in control. The true power of an actor. There was a wave of silence that engulfed the area that seemed to last forever. I started to feel sick to my stomach. What if I really screwed up? I turned to see Mr. Matthews, but he was nowhere to be found. I simply had to stare at the hundreds of eyes evaluating my performance. Then, underneath one pair of eyes, a smile emerged. A big, toothy grin appeared out of seemingly nowhere, and there were more. Every single pair of eyes eventually had a smile forming. They weren’t just eyes anymore. They were faces. Petrification is the only way to describe what I felt. I froze, feeling like each bead of sweat turned into ice. I was making sure not to move a single inch as to cause a disruption. My stomach had other plans. I fell to my knees and threw up what felt like all my insides onto the stage. This was it, I thought to myself. I closed my eyes as I prepared for an unknown fate. I looked up and I was closer to the faces. The smiles they wore seemed to be made of real teeth and the eyes looked like stars, with the light pulsating. Their stare felt hot as my gaze met theirs. Finally, a noise broke through the quiet. It was not what I expected. They were clapping for me. I sat in disbelief as the sounds of them congratulating me filled the room. After a few moments of this, the faces split into two groups. One on the left and one the right. In between them was a long gap of nothingness and at the end of that line, a light. The light of day. The clapping roared through the air, and it only grew louder as I stood back on my feet and walked through the gap. Making my way towards the end, passing each grotesque grinning face, I ran through the exit and found myself outside.

The sun was out and upon exiting the building I could hear town life. I looked back to see where I left, but the exit was gone. Not only that, but the entire building looked extremely broken down, more so than when we first arrived. I fell to my knees, trying to catch my breath. I found myself in the front parking lot where Mr. Matthews and I parked, and I noticed the green van was gone. After taking some time to regain my strength, I got back up and started walking to my college. I eventually made it back home and did not go to classes that day. I did not tell anyone about what happened, but Mr. Matthews no longer showed up to class. After a few days, a missing persons flyer was on the theater board. It showed Mr. Matthews with big red text above his picture saying, Missing Person. I wonder what happened to him and if that audience of horror ever let anyone really go. I imagine not. I no longer wanted to think about it. I’d hope they forgotten about me as well. That same day I was walking through the hallways after class and noticed a door was open. The room was so dark inside, I couldn’t see what was in it except for a pair of glowing white dots.

Credit: KoolBiggieJ

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