A Set Painter’s Grand Escapade

Ray Mckay, Untitled. Alcohol markers, 2021


By Victoria Romero


        You’ve just completed another addition to the set pieces. This prompts a question:

        How long has it been since you began? 

        More than a year, definitely. Two? Five? Twenty? To be honest, it feels as though you’ve lived here your whole life.

        Because, well, you have.

        The Backstage is your residence. Your habitat, your fountain. Honestly, it has been for as long as you remember. Of all the Theatre’s autonomous residents, you became the set painter. Was it against your own will? 

        Wow. You’re not even sure.

        The question.

        Why are you questioning this now and not at an appropriately-questionable-time? You could’ve very well gotten out of this job sooner, goddammit!

        But alas, there is no shame in stupidity, my friend. Some things take longer for people to realize than others, even a lifelong set painter such as yourself.

        The realization.

        Do you have more left to realize? Ah, yes, of course. Your pink Mary Janes don’t quite fit the same way they did before. As a matter of fact, with the number of corrosive cleaning substances you’ve stepped on over the years, the rosy patent leather has transitioned to an uncouth, ashy gray. 

        Albeit not a terrible color, it does not go with the rest of the outfit you’ve worn over the years. It makes you a bit sad.

        The discomfort.

        Well, naturally. Corroded shoes are so uncomfortable. But nothing is quite as uncomfortable as your floral-print blouse worn under your apron. It once wore such beauty, but that was long ago. The ends of your sleeves are stained with lacquer and grossly adorned in gross grossness. 


        You wouldn’t be able to tell, anyway, working behind circuses and cycloramas. Your sense of smell has since been clogged with turpentine and acetone, odors so pungent you can taste them. It’s something you’ve gotten used to.

        The fatigue.

        A mirror lies conveniently a couple steps away from you. You gaze into it.

        Your eyes have almost sunk into their sockets, flesh no longer a golden sheen but a cold, dead slate. You’re frozen; you’re pale. You haven’t eaten. You haven’t sleepen. Slept. My bad. You’ve conjured up a good bunch of complaints to your boss about less-than-ideal work conditions.

        Not that you’d say them anytime soon, though. You’re too tired.

        The pain.

        Damn, your back hurts. A ton. You attempt to correct your slouch, but even lifting your head at the slightest sends a sharp, stinging pain into the crook of your neck. Your posture hasn’t been that bad, right? Your bones ache to the verge of breaking apart, but it can’t be that big of a deal.

        You only have half your spine sticking out. What a good look!

        The acceptance.

        Acceptance? How are you meant to accept this? 

        Your clothes are stained and drained of their once-lively patterns, and you haven’t realized until now.

        Your hair is full of cobwebs, which would be a good look if that was your thing. But it’s not, and you haven’t realized until now. 

        The Backstage has turned you into someone disgusting.

        And, somehow, you haven’t realized until now.

        A while passes as you struggle to snap your body back into a (passable) standing position. You have a plan set in motion: Get out of this hellhole of a Theatre. 

        The rewording.

        You realize that you may be acting just a bit overdramatic. Despite your god-awful state of being, this place shouldn’t be denoted to such a descriptor as a “hellhole”. You’ve had your good moments.

        The reminiscing.

        Ugh, enough with these!

        You take a pause from coming up with different verbs ending in -ing and look back on your years working as a set painter. 

        The different paintbrushes you’ve cycled through each time and their split bristles. The glorious reds, glimmering golds, fanciful pinks, deepest blacks, pearliest whites, grisly greens. The multiple scares from working with wood cutters and the gushing gashes they’ve periodically left behind on your peeling skin. You’ve adored it all.

        The charm of creation has only faded. Ah, yes. You’ve found yourself back at square one! Good work.

        Your fate.

        Enough wishy-washiness. You return back to your idea of complaining to your boss and giving him the earful. Though, he may not choose to listen to a practically-rotting-corpse. You finally accept the fact that you look pretty beyond unsightly. 

        If talking it out won’t work, you decide to take action on your own. You finally stand up straight. Cue the beginning of the finale!

        Your back hasn’t yet returned to its correct position, but what you’ve got now will do. After years of holding on, your Mary Janes finally fall apart. You untie your apron; the covered area of your blouse remains unscathed. You’d forgotten just how beautiful the fabric’s pattern was. 

        Your fingertips meet your cobweb-clogged locks. They brush through, untangling and untangling. Every single strand and follicle cries out in the agony of separation, yet freedom. You feel neater; cleaner.

        You’re almost there.

        The exit.

        Oh, we’re at the end! The exit… You realize you don’t know where the exit is.

        You turn your gaze toward the ceiling, the sky’s cerulean glow piercing your vision. Yet, like a bug to a zapper, you feel drawn to it. 

        You start to climb.

                Your fingers grab onto the sets above you. You raise yourself higher, higher, higher. Your feet hold onto the ropes, your hands reaching the curtains. You’re the size of the world, yet the size of a speck of dust. The sky above you looks extensive, but limited. The ground below you is nothing less than the size of a shoebox. You find the cramped space a challenge, yet you continue to climb. As you emerge from the other side, you realize you are the breadth of the Theatre itself.

                You’ve done it– you’re the Star of your Show.

                What will you do first?