Got water?

Let me take you on a tour of the MPHS auditorium. More specifically… backstage. K’s office was located in the center of the backstage area – essentially a dead end accessible only from the stage. The auditorium had two backstage exits, one on each side of K’s office; both exits opened into short hallways. The exit stage left was useless, to some extent, as it only connected the band room to an outdoor courtyardish area facing the stadium. (The significance of outdoor? There is an alleged architectural confusion in our school’s location. Some contend that the school's designer believed the school would be located in Marysville California instead of Marysville Washington. Therefore, the classrooms and offices are scattered across the MPHS campus, forcing students to walk outside – and often in the rain – to get to their various educational destinations.) The hallway exit stage right connected the choir room to the visitor parking lot. Also in this hallway: two bathrooms, a water fountain, and access to the prop room/storage area.

Throughout my high school years, I was the stage manager for every theatrical production done at MPHS. I made a home for myself backstage. This area (and the adjoining band & choir rooms) hold many fond memories for me: improv acoustic jams in the choir room during rehearsals for Into the Woods, Sam teaching me my first few guitar chords, hanging out in the prop room with Mike Sarah and Stephanie, the rooftop access in the prop room (and Jon’s mysterious possession of a key that unlocked the rooftop access), and the many philosophical discussions with… well… with just about everyone involved in the drama club. MPHS’s backstage space also holds some painful memories, like the time Eric showed up in K’s office panicked and holding a handful of drug money.

And the hallways backstage are the home of one of my most embarrassing moments.

During evening dress rehearsals, and Friday night/Saturday night productions the entire performing arts building was ours. The cast members would arrive in costume or get dressed wherever they pleased. The lighting in the prop room was too dark to be used for a green room, so we used the choir room. Last minute preparations, hair & makeup, people pacing and reciting their lines… all of that was reserved for the choir room. For the most part the bathrooms were used as bathrooms. Those bathrooms were only intended for one person at a time, and on normal nights, that wasn’t an issue.

Student matinees were a different story. This show was held during school hours. Cast members were in class for the first part of the day and therefore couldn’t show up in costume. Classes were in session before and during the show, so the choir room was off limits. Cast members were then restricted to K’s office, the prop room and the bathrooms to get dressed. As for makeup… couldn’t do it backstage – too dark. Some tried to use the prop room, but the lighting there wasn’t good enough for most people. That left the bathrooms. The single occupant bathrooms turned into beehives of thrown elbows & clothing, makeup, hairspray, and cast members fighting over tiny mirrors. There was one further complication during our spring production of Neil Simon’s Rumors – the water fountain between the two bathrooms didn’t work. Not a problem during evening shows – inconvenient during the student matinee.

My friend Mike was one of the first cast members dressed and ready for the show. He was playing the part of a police officer – a small part not seen until the end of the first act. He finished getting dressed and applied his stage make up early to maximize his free time before the show started. As stage manager, my role (before the show) was to make sure the set was clean and props were prepared. A central plot point in Rumors involves the characters becoming gloriously drunk before the police show up in response to overheard gunshots. Since serving hard liquor to a bunch of high school students performing on stage would be both stupid and illegal, Mike helped me mix various sodas, teas, and juices to make non-alcoholic brews that looked like liquor. When we finished both bathrooms were still occupied by a gaggle of cast members. The guys were having an easier time getting dressed and ready. The costumes required for Rumors was formal wear - the guys were all done (dressed and makeup applied) long before the girls. By the time Mike and I finished making our mixed drinks, the guys were hanging out backstage and the girls had taken control of both bathrooms.

The choir room had a class in session, so the space available to wait for show time was limited. Some of the guys were pacing between the stage and the prop room. Some of the stage hands were bringing the non-alcoholic concoctions Mike and I created onto the stage. But Mike and I tried our best to relax. We sat on a bench in the hall outside the choir room, talked (about what I don’t remember), and waited for everyone to finish their pre-show preparations. We both had to use the bathroom (for the bathroom’s intended purpose), so we were also waiting on the girls to finish their makeup.

One of the choir students, Josh, stepped out of the choir room to fill up his water bottle. He tried the water fountain with out success. The boys bathroom was locked and the girls inside wouldn’t answer. So, Josh knocked on the girls room door. The door cracked open and the four or five girls inside asked Josh what he needed. He asked if they could fill up his water bottle, handed it to the girls, and returned to the choir room. We heard some muffled shouting, and then some laughter. Then, Angie stepped out of the bathroom, full water bottle in hand. Mike and I were the only two people in the hallway.

“Here,” said Angie. “Give this to Josh when he comes back.”

She handed us the bottle. Mike took it and put it down somewhere where Josh would see it. Several minutes later, the bell dismissing classes rang. Dozens of choir students filtered through the hall en route to their next class. Josh was not one of them; he must have used the exit on the other side of the choir room. He never returned to retrieve his water bottle.

There is one more thing I should mention about MPHS’ backstage areas. It could get exceedingly hot. And there was no air conditioning in those short hallways. Not only were Mike and I bored and waiting to use the restrooms, we were parched. Did I mention the water fountain didn’t work? Once it became clear that Josh had forgotten about his water bottle, we began eying it with increasing thirst. We caved. Mike opened the bottle and chugged half of it. He handed it to me and I finished it off. The water was cold and refreshing.

A few minutes before everyone needed to take their places, the girls vacated the bathrooms - hair up, makeup flawless, and dressed in their formal best. Angie and Sarah immediately noticed the empty water bottles.



Mike and I were puzzled. Why would they care. We shook our heads no.

“Who drank it?”

Mike and I looked at each other, still perplexed. “We did.”

Angie and Sarah’s eyes widened with amazement. Our brows furrowed in bewilderment. “That,” they said, “was toilet water.”

They could have warned us.

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