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Circumstances - 21. The Interview

The interview wasn’t really an interview. It was a conversation between friends – actually, friends of friends. Leo had been given a call about Gael and was hesitant to follow up because he really wasn’t interested in teaching that year. He had a lot of commercial work lined up, but the friend made Gael, his students, and his directing sound so interesting that Leo decided to give it a chance.

He’d been up late the night before, with the usual final tech rehearsals, and when he met Gael, it was on the stage of his college theater. It wasn’t a bad stage, but it was too large, too badly rigged, and too echoy in the old auditorium to be much fun.

“We’re getting a new theater,” Gael began. “A hexagonal, very flexible, black box.”

“When?” Leo asked.

“Soon,” Gael replied, but he didn’t seem convinced, and it obviously wasn’t going to happen that year. “Unfortunately, it keeps getting pushed back – delayed – and some of the most attractive aspects are eliminated, or at least reduced, when the budgets get cut.”

“Can I see the plans?”

“Sure.” And he quickly produced them from his office just offstage.

As Leo looked at the plans, he immediately thought, “This is too flexible. It’s trying to do too many things at once, and it won’t succeed at any.” The building was also as much too small as the rambling old theater he was being interviewed in was too big. “I feel like Goldilocks,” he thought. “But I’m probably being too choosy, and it’s only part-time job.” Also, being a wise man and used to working in collaborations, he only offered compliments.

“That’s really nice. Your students should be very happy.”

“We like it – at least, we think we will. First, we have to see what’s actually built.”

A moment-or-two, just after he and Gael had rolled up the plans and gone back onstage, six of Gael’s students flooded in. There was a rehearsal set onstage, all bare wood and levels, and each student seemed to find a comfortable place to collapse.

“Man, what a test!” one of them said. His name turned out to be Jon.

“It wasn’t that bad,” offered a woman soon identified as Nedra.

“I agree with him,” proclaimed Chris, pointing. “It’s like nothing we prepped for.”

“I thought it was just what we studied,” said a woman named Birgit. “If anything, it was too easy.“

“Easy!“ Jon exclaimed. “If that was easy, you can sleep with me tonight!”

Except he put it more bluntly, and a woman named Laurel seemed to look at him possessively. Jon turned to her, assuring, “Don’t worry – I’m kidding – you know that. She’d rather have sex with a ten-dicked Martian then bear to see me naked.”

“You and your sci-fi,” Birgit said, laughing. “Besides, I’ve seen you undressed.”

“That was onstage – in flattering light. Plus, you were sitting way out in the house, too far away.”

“I still saw everything.”

“But she wasn’t interested,“ Chris promised Laurel. “So don’t sweat it.”

“What test are you talking about?“ Leo gently interrupted.. They seemed like an interesting group, and Gael took a moment to introduce him.

“Leo’s the lighting designer we’re going to work with,” he finished. Though Leo looked at him, wanting to say, “You haven’t even offered me the job.” But, again, he merely smiled.

Then he went on. “What test?” he asked again.

“The GRE,” Jon complained.

“I didn’t think it was hard, either,” Leo admitted.

“That was a hundred years ago,” Jon shot, though Laurel was close enough to nudge him.

“Be nice,” Gael said, diplomatically, and Laurel secretly smiled.

“She has the makings of a good actor,” Leo thought. “And beyond academia.”

“Why are you all taking the GRE?” he asked instead.

“We’re seniors,“ Nedra explained. “Hoping to get into grad school next fall.”

“There’s no hope involved,” Gael corrected.

“Well, not for her,” Birgit added.

“None of you’ll have trouble getting into grad school,” Gael guaranteed them. “I’ve prepared you from the start.”

“Not academically,” Birgit seemed to tease. “You always had me sewing. There was no time for books.”

“You stopped buying them anyhow,” Chris reminded her. “For the last three years. You’ve used mine.“

“Yours have the best annotations,“ Birgit told him. “You ought to see Nedra’s – Pristine!”

“They are,” Nedra admitted. “My mother taught me never to write in margins.”

“But she always gets the most money back when she sells them,” a man named Clem pointed out. Like Laurel, he’d largely been watching, though seeming amused. “And the reps say they’re good as new.”

“They probably sell them that way, too,” Jon grumbled. “Crooked reps.”

“Let them earn their money,” Nedra insisted. “They have a rotten life – going from campus to campus.”

“Hitting on all the pretty girls,” Chris poked.

“And the less pretty ones?” Laurel asked.

“Hey, I’ve been hit on, too,” Chris said. “And I wasn’t even shaved.”

“Yon Christopher has a lean and grubby look,” Jon cracked.

“And Nedra gets decent grades, too,” Clem went on. “Maybe the best of all of ours.”

“You won’t have any trouble getting into grad schools,” Gael repeated. “None of you.”

“But who was the first to complain about the test?” Chris asked.

At that point, it looked like the discussion could go on forever, and Leo would never get back to talking with Gael. Then a young, preppy, blonde woman entered, with someone who could have been her twin. Closer, she proved to be her mother.

The younger woman – Julie – smiled at Gael as if they’d met before, and said, “Good... your students are back. Now I can ask questions.”

Her mother seemed to give her a warning glance, but Julie sailed on – into a series of questions, each targeting a different one of the students but basically asking, “Are you on financial aid, or a scholarship, and what kind? The type that’s a free grant or one that needs to be repaid? Because, in my way of thinking, that isn’t a scholarship at all.”

And maybe because Julie was beautiful, Clem, Chris, and Jon just rolled over and answered anything she asked, no matter how personal. And maybe because they’d be graduating before Julie rolled in, Nedra, Birgit, and Laurel didn’t seem to consider her any kind of threat and were as open. Pretty quickly, from what Leo heard, he gathered that none of the students were paid much, especially compared to the cost of tuition and room and board at the college – Leo had checked that before meeting Gael. The figures were all in the low thousands, though they were all no-strings grants.

“You’ve also got to be careful,” Nedra warned Julie, “that the money a college promises is given all four years. Some schools trap you the first year with almost full rides, but the next year, it’s cut in half, then half again, and the last year, they offer nothing.”

“When it’s too late to transfer,” Clem added. “That’s where most of the debt piles up – paying for senior year.”

Julie smiled when they told this then said she already knew.

“She’s very good at research,” her mother confirmed.

“Maybe she should have taken my GRE,” Jon complained.

“What’s that?” Julie asked, and while the six of them explained, Gael looked at me, grinning.

Birgit also told Julie that the group of them lived together on the second floor of an old rented house. “It’s cheaper than paying for dorms and the cafeteria.”

“Though we still eat in the snack bar a lot,” Nedra admitted. “Which is dumb, since we could walk the block home – we’re that close.”

“But it’s more social,” Laurel offered. “And we’re not eating the same peanut butter and jelly.”

“No, you’re eating the same overpriced salad – small salad,” Jon said.

“And from a plastic box... which is just killing whales,” Clem reminded them.

“At least, we’re not eating whales,” Laurel joked.

“Peanut butter and whale fat – ummm,” Chris said, licking his lips.

“We’ve lived together for three years,’ Birgit went on, more usefully. “Even with overpaying in the snack bar – and we all do that, mostly for lunch – we save a lot.”

“Probably forty grand a year each, times the six of us, times the three years,” Clem added up

“Three quarters of a million dollars,” Nedra calculated.

“That’s a lot of whale blubber,” Jon cracked.

“It also makes for a great acting company,” Gael told Julie.

“They’re all your actors?” she asked.

“No – but they’re the core. Except Birgit. She’s our costume designer.”

“She’s also the entire crew – sometimes,” Nedra said. “And she makes almost everything herself.”

“We pitch in,” Chris insisted.

“That’s a surprise,“ Julie said.

“Why? You think guys can’t sew?” Chris seemed offended, but it was clear he was faking.

“We don’t trust him with more than straight seams,” Clem confided. Then he grinned. “Of course, they don’t let me do more than fill the steamer.”

“Isn’t that like boiling water?” Julie asked. “Anyone can do it.”

“That’s the joke.” Clem turned to Gael. “Give her a scholarship – a big one.”

“That would be great,” Julie said. “But I’ve still got to go to the highest bidder. Acting’s my strength but money’s our weakness.”

“We’re not exactly poor,” her mother said quietly.

“That makes it harder to get financial aid,” Jon warned.

“Said the boy millionaire of Scarsdale.”

Jon started to flip Chris off then remembered Julie and her mom.

“Don’t choose a bad program for good money,” Birgit advised.

Julie shrugged. “I can always transfer and lose a year. I don’t care how long it takes me to finish. So long as someone else pays.”

“Darling...” her mother began to interrupt. But she got no further because Julie gave her a smile. Still, it seemed she knew they needed to be moving on. So she thanked everyone and swept out.

“Good presence,” Jon praised. “And she knows it – it’s natural.”

“She’s very good,” Gael informed them. “I’ve seen her in three plays and’ve shown interest. Or she wouldn’t have stopped by.”

“That’s all she’ll do,” Chris cautioned.

“I know,” Gael admitted. “We’re a small program and can’t compete.”

“Why do you say that?” Nedra asked.

“Look how little we give you – when you’re worth so much more.”

The rest of the group sided with Gael, but Nedra disagreed.

“You give us opportunities we wouldn’t get at bigger schools.”

“Or so he tells us,” Jon poked. “Over and over.”

“He does. Where else would you be playing Prospero?”

“And money may turn up,” Gael insisted. “You nyever knyow.”

When everyone cracked up, it seemed it was a familiar punchline, maybe from an earlier season.

“Now all of you get out of here,” Gael continued. “And quit worrying about that test. You did fine – you’ll see. And I need to talk with this guy about a job.”

The group obediently scrammed, and Leo and Gael talked for several more hours: In the theater. In the snack bar. Walking around campus. Over an early dinner. They touched on minimalism. Theatricality. Tiny budgets. Focusing on the actors. And a few dozen other things. It was a hard sell and a ramble, but Leo eventually gave in.

“That’s great,” Gael said, grinning. “Because I’ve never seen anyone mix color in the air the way you do. “It looks natural, but of course it’s not. It’s just wonderful.”

“Thanks.” Of course, that simple “Thanks,” meant somehow fitting Gael’s always expanding ideas into Leo’s busy schedule.

“Why can’t we do this?” Gael often seemed to be asking. “I saw it in…” and then he’d name this or that show on Broadway. “It looked easy.”

Leo laughed. “That ‘easy” little effect you want cost fifty grand.”

“No way possible!” Gael exclaimed.

“It’s all lenses... and LEDs... and computers... And a crew who knows how to run them.”

“Well, how close can we get?”

“For a buck thirty-five? We’ll see.”

And Gael was laughing.

Gael laughed a lot, and Leo said, “We’ll see,” a lot over that year, and every project they did together was fun. But Leo was still wise enough not to stay at the school longer.

“That’s too bad,” Gael sadly accepted. “We work so well together.”

Leo couldn’t deny that – there’d always been a connection – and he sometimes wondered how far that could go. Over their last business dinner, Gael made that clear: “I always hoped we’d take that connection offstage.”

Leo smiled but was thinking, “That’s not gonna happen – not as long as you keep sleeping with students.”

It was something he’d become aware of over the year but had nothing to do with his leaving the job – he was simply too busy. But girls. Boys. Men. Women. Guest actors. Local performers. The only thing Gael’s “friends” had in common was they were over eighteen

Still, Leo thought carefully before he spoke – and again considered politely remaining silent. Though, finally – casually – he admitted, “I never could brook teachers sleeping with students.”

“Brook?” Gael bantered, grabbing onto the word and not what he’d done.

Leo grinned back. “Something I picked up from an English film.”

“Well, it's bloody affected,” Gael growled, in a plebeian Manchester voice. Then they both laughed – but also stared at each other until it was easier to quietly eat. Though the tension just increased their connection.

“Why is everybody always hitting on me?” Leo asked comically, during dessert.

“Because you’re so hittable.” Gael air punched across the narrow table.

“Could you swear off your students?” Leo wondered.

“How about a month for every time I see you?”

“You can do better.”

Gael considered. “No... I really can’t... And they’re all adults... free-agents... it’s never forced... They’re as curious as I am.”

“You’re gonna get old, pretty soon.”

“Don’t you be counting along.” They laughed. “And I may lose interest in you first.”

Leo had to admit Gael was something. But he had commitments.

“Is that why you hired me?” he asked, as they left the diner

“No... it was always about your lighting.” Gael hesitated. “Though so much is always about sex.”

“Maybe to you.”

Gael shrugged.

“Maybe.”

He thought for a moment then shrugged again.

“I’m afraid I’m already taken,” Leo finally admitted – they were at his car. “And overextended at that. And a guy’s got to think of his reputation.”

They looked at each other, waiting to see who’d crack up first.

“I can be patient,” Gael gambled. “It often gets me everything.”

Leo looked at him.

“I’ll save you the waiting.” He opened his shirt a button, as a promise. “But this is a one-shot deal.”

And it was.

2019 by Richard Eisbrouch
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