Chapter 498

The stage sunken in the darkness calmed him. He felt like he was in a space where all sound was cut off. The sound of breathing, the sound of his thumping heart, the sound of his clothes rustling all made him feel lax. Solitude, depending on the person, was the best kind of rest.

Eventually, the lights turned on, signifying the start of the play, and once the noise from the audience seats died down, the scattered tension gathered on the stage. The moment the high density of tension turned into just the right amount of pressure, Maru once again confirmed that he was in his best state.

On the stage were his club members. Daemyung at the center was saying his lines without any mistakes, and the club members lying down behind him were acting individually while waiting for their turn.

There were no mistakes, and the momentum was okay as well.

Everything was going well without any problems, but Maru couldn’t help but smile bitterly.

Maybe they shouldn’t have watched after all - he muttered to himself behind the side curtain.

Today was the 2nd day of the southern Gyeonggi preliminaries. Maru hesitated when he saw the list of schools posted outside Anyang Hall. Hwasoo High and Myunghwa High. The two schools in front of Woosung Engineering High were the two schools that pushed Woosung High to 3rd place and went to the finals. Myunghwa High had her, and Hwasoo High had Heewon. Myunghwa High boasted the greatest skills in the Gyeonggi province, and that went without saying. Meanwhile, Hwasoo High did impressive performances centered around Heewon. In order to advance to the regional finals, there was a need to beat one of these two schools at least.

Myunghwa High was first, Hwasoo High was second. Woosung Engineering High was 5th in turn, so there was plenty of time left. As the plays started in the morning and ended late in the afternoon, their original plan was to practice in the opening next to the hall, but the performances of Myunghwa High and Hwasoo High were things that attracted the acting club’s attention.

They wondered whether they should watch or not.

They weren’t the type of people who would make a mistake just because they lacked an hour or two of practice. If they were that bad, then they wouldn’t even be aiming for the grand prize in the first place. They clearly wanted to know what the people who won against them last year were like.

At that moment, Daemyung quietly called over Maru. Taesik had said that he was going to join them in the afternoon, so the decision was up to Daemyung. Before he even asked what Daemyung was going to do, he said that he wanted to see the plays.

Honestly, Maru thought that it might be dangerous. Actors who had consolidated their own system of acting would not be easily influenced by other people’s acting. However, that didn’t apply to the club members here. If they experienced a fresh shock or were deeply impressed by someone else’s acting, they might subconsciously change their acting style. If they showed an acting style that they didn’t even practice because they judged that they decided on a better acting style, that would become a variable in itself. Becoming ‘better’ at acting meant becoming different from before. The other club members might feel that discrepancy and panic slightly. Practicing was done in order to decrease mistakes, which creates a frame for everyone, but a sudden change in someone’s actions may break that frame.

High school plays were usually done in a fashion where everyone followed the instructions to a tee rather than watching others’ every action and then sharing their emotions and acting naturally according to that. That was natural. They had to show a completed play in such a short time, so they did not have the time to learn properly. So rather than striving towards completion step by step, they would try to fit themselves into an already completed script.

Blue Sky’s play was at a decent completion rate in Maru’s eyes. They would be able to show the audience a decent play without any mistakes if they brought themselves under just enough pressure before the play began.

Daemyung’s point was regarding that.

Not making any mistakes and achieving results. While they were similar, they were definitely not the same.

They weren’t able to follow Myunghwa High in terms of completion rate. Over there, they even held auditions before starting to practice for a play. Furthermore, their facilities and support from the school couldn’t be compared to Woosung High’s either.

In terms of being ‘impressive’, Hwasoo High was ahead of them. Woosung High might be ahead of them in terms of completion rate, but Heewon’s stage energy was enough to cover up trivial mistakes as though they had never happened.

Being average in every field was Woosung High’s advantage as well as disadvantage. In this situation, Daemyung said that they should watch the plays of the two schools as a means for them to advance to the finals. It was similar to cramming for an exam, in a sense. Daemyung said that while there was the risk of ruining the frame of their play, there was also the opportunity for them to improve.

The only way Woosung High with its inferior number of members and support could win against those two was to watch the other teams acting and improve themselves in a short period of time. Daemyung seemed convinced about that.

-Also, if we watch the plays of schools that are ahead of us, they may stimulate us to do better. If we find a point we’re better at, our confidence levels will rise as well.

Of course, Daemyung was thinking about the inverse effects as well. Maru told him that they should talk to the other members about it, and the other club members immediately said that they should watch it as though they had been waiting for Daemyung to say that.

Daemyung emphasized that they shouldn’t think too deeply as they watched the play, and the club members nodded vigorously. Even Dowook said that they should go in quickly. It seemed that the loss from last time had frustrated him quite a lot as well.

After putting their possessions on one side of the waiting room, they quietly entered the hall. They might distract the people on stage if they wore patient clothes - their stage costumes - so they changed into ordinary clothes.

They waited around 10 minutes for Myunghwa High’s play to start. There were sixteen people on stage. The number of staff members moving around during blackouts was quite high as well.

Maru watched the stage with his mouth firmly shut. Myunghwa High’s play was one where they modified Hamlet into a modern version, and the basic code seemed to be humor. When the line ‘To be or not to be: that is the question’ came from a passerby, the audience laughed. The structure of the play, the acting of the actors, the acoustic and light controls - everything seemed perfect to the point that he couldn’t think of it as a high school play anymore. The fast-paced music that sounded in the middle of the play seemed to be created by them as well as the voices of the actors could be heard from it. The actors moved according to the music as though it was a musical, and despite the complex movement lines, they did not clash with each other even once.

We can’t win against that - he heard those words next to him. Aram was the one who said that and no one seemed to disagree. Daemyung said that they should find something to learn from in a small voice, but everyone had become an ordinary audience member and was just watching them. It was just that overwhelming. It clearly showed why Myunghwa High swept the national prizes for the past several years.

Maru looked at her, who was combing her hair in a funny manner in one corner of the stage. She seemed to doubt her own acting skills, but in Maru’s eyes, they were incredibly good. She was the one that shined the most among the sixteen actors on stage. Of course, it might be because he was lovestruck with her.

After Myunghwa High’s play ended, the club members left and everyone sighed. However, they didn’t seem to be depressed. They were probably just surprised because Myunghwa High did unexpectedly well.

While they took a break, Daemyung gathered everyone and had a talk. They quickly gathered opinions, analyzed them, and shared them with everyone else. They changed their acting while being careful to not change it too much.

After that, they entered again and watched Hwasoo High’s performance.

Hwasoo High’s stage definitely lacked in the level of completion. The simple-looking lights and sound seemed even a little bland compared to Myunghwa High’s musical-like play. However, the situation was completely reversed ever since Heewon came on stage. The bland-looking production instead emphasized Heewon. It could even be said to be contrast effectiveness. Maru thought that they had made a splendid choice. As a newly-found club, they would not be able to win against the other schools when it came to the completion rate of the play. They had to make a decision, and by boldly abandoning things they did not need, they managed to gain a deep impression. Everyone supported Heewon so that he could shine on stage. They showed the audience that this stage was purely for Heewon. When Heewon took control of the stage and the play reached its peak, the audience turned freakishly silent.

If Myunghwa High brought out the emotional expressions from the audience, Hwasoo High did not even give them time to do that as they pushed ahead. Maru could not decide which one was better. However, he could say for sure that both of these plays did not lose out compared to the plays he watched in Daehak-ro, albeit in different ways.

Myunghwa High had brought the overall level to a very high level through combined harmony, while Hwasoo High had gained control over the stage with just one main character.

The club members didn’t say much after the play ended and they left the hall. Maru understood how they felt. Myunghwa High definitely had points that could be called ‘technique’. Those were things that they could follow, reference, and bring into their own play. However, when it came to Hwasoo High, honestly speaking, they were at a level where Woosung High had to teach them, except for just one - Heewon. Heewon’s acting wasn’t something that they could do something about after just watching him once. It felt different from watching him at Hwasoo High. It felt like a properly armed general had stepped into the front lines. He gave off a completely different pressure from when he was practicing.

They did read-throughs until the play started and burned with passion. They forgot about the things they couldn’t imitate and brought in the things they could follow. Eventually, Woosung High’s turn came and they were now standing on stage.

Maru looked at the acting of the club members from the edge of the side curtain. Fortunately, they were just like they were during practice. Daemyung’s vocal tone was a little high, and it seemed to be his way of inducing the audience to laugh. Myunghwa High’s stage code was humor, just like Woosung High. They were likely going to be compared to Myunghwa High rather than Hwasoo High since Hwasoo High went with tragedy. They had to bring their skills up as much as possible. Daemyung was showing an amount of change that did not change the flow of the whole play.

‘Good, you’re doing good.’

Everyone else seemed to be digesting the sudden change in acting as well. When Jiyoon started crying and blew her nose on Daemyung’s clothes, the audience laughed more than Maru had expected. Joining the flow, everyone became more daring. It seemed that Heewon’s acting had influenced them positively. The audience also noticed the confidence contained in their play. A play that did not contain any hesitation heightened the immersion rate of the audience.

Whenever he went on stage for his various trivial roles, Maru thought ‘maybe’. The situation was improving by the moment. They were fired up more than they were during practice and they expressed their emotions vigorously, but clearly. They also acted boldly as though they had thrown away any kind of embarrassment. He could see that they were bringing out the best in each other. There were parts that looked more awkward than practice, but that didn’t lead to making mistakes.

Their acting knitted tighter together. They were perfectly in sync. Maru thought that they were lucky. The coin they threw hoping for heads was spinning around and was falling tails first. He looked forward to the results. They were still lacking in their individual traits compared to the other two schools, but they seemed to have a chance of winning when everything was averaged out. He thought that they might be able to win against Hwasoo High depending on how the examiners did the scores.

Just then - he didn’t know where it started, but - the flow of the play was cut off once. It continued just as usual after that, and there seemed to be no problems, but Maru could clearly feel the difference.

They almost stumbled and fell over - that was the emotion he felt from everyone on stage. There were no mistakes. The play continued just like before.

However, the joy in it was broken. Their acting became more firm. They became perfect as though they would not allow a mistake to happen. At the same time, the fun that excited Maru, the passion that he could clearly feel despite being in the side curtains, had turned cold. The cogwheels that didn’t fit slightly, but turned with interesting sounds, had now become cogwheels manufactured to perfection and turned without making a single noise.

Maru watched from the side curtain as the stage reached its end.

“Well done,” he said to himself in a small voice as he waited for the curtain call.

The music they prepared started flowing out, and Maru stood at the very end and took a bow while grabbing Aram’s hand. The music ended and the curtains fell. When the audience clapped and they walked down the stage, Aram said ‘sorry’ in a very shaky voice. Maru realized where the flow of the play had been cut off.

“No. You did well. We did really well. We were just… a bit lacking. It’s no one’s fault, you don’t need to apologize.”

As soon as Daemyung’s words ended, Aram, who always acted boldly, collapsed on the spot and started crying. She was crying like a little child, Jiyoon was crying with her next to her, and the other club members were saying that it was okay. Maru faintly smiled and patted Aram’s shoulder before starting to clean up the props.

Their play was over, and the only thing left now was to clean up.

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KTLChamber's Thoughts

So this was what 'The foolishness of knowing nothing. Ignorance' was referring to in the previous chapter?

Editor's Note:
And so, the ground beneath our feet has collapsed as this novel starts to slowly fall into the darkness...
Seriously though, the past few chaps have felt like the author was setting up this novel to take a seriously dark turn.