A table, a royal ball, and a new love for theatre

Ellie McDowell

More stories from Ellie McDowell

It takes a village
April 19, 2023

Rebekah McDowell, Ellie McDowell

Various pictures from the nights of the shows. I will never forget these memories.

One of the best decisions I have ever made was joining the stage crew for Cinderella.

There were multiple moments where I thought maybe I had made a mistake, but now I know that every piece of the show that made me second guess my decision was just a teaching moment—a time to show me that not all good things are easy.

The first week of preparation was a blur. I remember lots of wood stain fumes, paint all over me and my clothes, and a lot of running around. I had gained the nickname of “Table” and already had multiple new friends. By the Sunday before the show opened, I was exhausted.

Monday started Hell Week. Dress rehearsals meant finally using the set pieces we had worked so hard to make. There were still so many pieces that weren’t complete, but we were working with what we had. I can vouch for the fact that Hell Week lives up to its name.

Monday was mediocre. It was stressful because there were so many set changes and just a lot going on. I was worried about how the show was going to go.

Tuesday was the first day I wondered if maybe I had made a mistake. By the end of the day, I was tired, overwhelmed, and stressed, and every little thing upset me.

In the second scene, Prince Topher—played by senior Logan Verlinde—rides in on a fake horse. Her name is Buttercup, and honestly, I hate her. She took so much time to construct, and then we spent even more time pulling apart yarn for the horse hair. We were gluing horse hair on this papier-mâché stallion until 10:15 the night before our first dress rehearsal show.

She was ugly. Poor Buttercup really needed some extensions in some places, but she was complete. I, on the other hand, was in pieces. Tuesday night was a whirlwind of tears, anxiety, and frustration.

This carried over into Wednesday morning, which was a day full of dress rehearsal shows. I walked into the Fine Arts Center (FAC) ready to have a panic attack at some point during the day. I nearly did, but that wasn’t the reason I almost quit the show on Wednesday evening.

Our biggest set is nearly 500 pounds. It takes ten people to move it. Four people can move it, but it takes a lot longer and can potentially be dangerous. We learned this the hard way.

During our second dress rehearsal show the day before opening night, the beautiful star drop was flown in, and it was time to prepare for a ballroom scene. This meant moving that 500-pound prop: the palace stairs—a prop that I refused to touch after what happened next. These stairs can easily be confused with the small set that is pushed out when Prince Topher and Cinderella—played by senior Grace Hudkins—run “outside” during one of the scenes. However, the set of stairs I’m talking about is a giant set of stairs that stretches across the entire stage.

It was time to move this set, and there were only three of us ready to move. We were about to miss our cue, so we started to move it. Everything was going fine for the most part. One of the actors, Russell Baird, saw that we were moving fairly slowly and came over to help us. His unexpected push ended up being a little bit more than necessary, and we had to move it back so that we hit our spike. In doing this, I didn’t notice my foot was directly in the way. My fast reflexes and Russell bearing some of the weight is probably all that kept my foot from breaking.

I was rendered virtually useless for the rest of the performance and proceeded to spend a solid part of the night in Urgent Care making sure my foot wasn’t broken. The good news was I had yet to break any bones. The bad news was I might not be able to do any of the shows because I was in so much pain I could barely stand.

I wanted to quit. I had put so much time and effort into these set pieces, and I had done everything right, yet I still got hurt, and the show was being taken from me. However, I was encouraged to stay when I got numerous text messages asking me for updates. People actually cared about me and wanted to make sure I was okay. People I had never talked to until two weeks ago were suddenly asking me if I was okay.

I stayed, and thank goodness I did. Opening night, I couldn’t do much. I watched, and I found a love for something I didn’t know I had. Watching Grace and Logan perform was magical, and the entire cast was phenomenal. I got to see the entirety of a show I had been working on for weeks but hadn’t seen yet.

Because I had to sit and watch the show the first night, I got to have real conversations with some of the cast members, and I made a lot of new friends. I found that I absolutely love theatre.

Thank you, FHC theatre, for letting me attend the ball.

During the show on Friday night and both shows on Saturday, I was able to move smaller set pieces. I finally got to experience the making of the magic that was happening on stage. In a review of the show by sophomore Arpita Das, she said, “This enchantment was created and executed by the stage crew incredibly, and the emotion and passion they added to each scene was astounding.” Knowing that people felt the magic and loved the show just made me realize how important stuff like this is.

Through all of my worries after joining the FHC theatre department, I don’t regret it. I don’t regret being a part of the magic that was Cinderella. I learned a lot about my own resilience and the magic of theatre.

Taking a chance on Cinderella was a decision I will never regret. This experience will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Thank you, FHC Theatre, for letting me attend the ball.