Chapter 83

“Did something good happen?” Dojin asked.

Maru took a look at himself through the mirror. Sure enough, he was grinning like a kid.

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“Kids wouldn’t understand.”

“Ugh, again with the adult bullshit.”

Maru dodged Dojin’s attempted headlock and stood up. The smile from after meeting her still hasn’t left him. The air was sweet, and the nervousness from before was gone. Maru realized once again how much meaning she held in his life. He wanted nothing more than to start a family with her again and live a happy life. He wanted to meet their daughter again if he could. Surely this would be the case if god was benevolent.

“You don’t seem nervous, despite being in your first play.”

Daemyung seemed very curious about Maru's behaviour. After all, the boy was struggling to keep his breathing normal. Actually, now that Maru looked around a bit, everyone else was like this. Even Dojin seemed a little nervous.

“Yeah.”

“You really aren’t nervous?”

“Not at all. Are you?”

“A little. Actually, a lot. I’m even more nervous than before. That’s odd.”

“You have a lot of lines this time. And even a solo scene. Plus… we definitely can’t fail this time,” Dojin said.

Everyone in the room turned to look at Dojin. The surprise of realizing the cause of the nervousness washed over everyone. Dojin quickly covered his mouth, but the deed was already done.

“Right. We can’t fail,” Joonghyuk said.

Maru sent a small glance over to the second years: Joonghyuk, Yoonjung, Danmi, Minsung. They all seemed even more nervous than the first years. Most likely because of the fact that this would be their last chance to act. He recalled Joonghyuk informing him about the second years’ plan on retiring after the winter competition. They would stay in the club even in their third years, but no longer active to this extent.

This play, as a result, probably meant a lot to the second years. The prelims for the winter competition would start right after this festival. Starting off strong here would give the club a bit of confidence before going in for the real thing. This festival purely existed for them to measure their current skill before the actual competition.

“You guys all heard, right? The instructor’s invited several critics for this.”

Everyone nodded. They all heard the news this morning. Miso said she invited a few critics to review the club’s work as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Thanks to this, the pressure on the club went up by another degree.

‘She’s going off strong.’

Miso is most likely putting the pressure on them on purpose. During the summer prelims, the club messed up after getting interrupted by the audience. Geunseok’s mistake was the cause, but the entire club became messed up as a result. Due to this, Miso must’ve decided to train the club members’ mental fortitude a bit. She would beat them like a blacksmith forging a piece of metal. After enough heat, hammering, and quenching, the metal should become hard. A human’s mind was similar to this. With enough pressure, experience, and time, it would mature.

‘If we do this successfully, the stage fright for most of the club should disappear.’

Of course, something completely unexpected could happen as well. If any one of the steps in the blacksmithing process went wrong, the metal would turn incredibly brittle and turn into something that would shatter easily. What would Miso’s strategy do for the students? Would they mature, or would they crack under the pressure?

‘We still have time.’

Even if they mess up here, there was still plenty of time to recover. Miso was probably pressuring them with all that in mind. Once the club successfully finishes here, they’d be able to work on the next play much easier. Otherwise, they’d need some more time to recover again.

“It’ll be like summer all over again. We’re getting reviewed, but there’s no need to be afraid or worried. You’re probably nervous. I feel the same. But, it’s as the instructor always told us, we need to embrace this nervousness. We need to get used to it. We can finish this play with no mistakes. We can show the audience how complete we are.”

Joonghyuk stretched out his hand. Everyone else did the same.

“Joonghyuk said everything I was supposed to say. But I’m still the president, so I should say something, right?”

Yoonjung smiled brightly.

“Blue Sky!”

The club threw their hands down.

“Fighting!!”

With that,

“Please get ready. Blue Sky will be up next.”

The staff marked the beginning of their play.

* * *

“Are you really okay with not going?”

“I’m on break for today,” Miso said, looking between Ganghwan and Geunsoo.

She told the kids that she brought experienced critics, but there really was no way that she could call on people like that. So she just dragged in two of her friends, with a bit of threat mixed in.

“How are the kids?”

“Perfect.”

“Well, that’s good to hear.”

Ganghwan leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed.

“The chair’s nice and comfy. I think I’ll sleep well on this.”

“You’re gonna sleep?”

“I mean, you said they were perfect. There’s nothing more boring than a perfect play.”

Geunsoo nodded in agreement and prepared to sleep. Miso pouted and pinched the cheeks of her friends.

“Watch, you bastards, watch.”

“Ouch ouch! I get it, I get it! Let go!”

“It hurts.”

Geunsoo and Ganghwan returned to a sitting position in a hurry. They were both actors carrying big expectations in their respective fields. Geunsoo was slowly getting popular through an independent film, and Ganghwan often got good reviews through his plays. They were both very good friends, and also the perfect critics for this play.

‘They’ll help for sure.’

Before the play started, Miso asked the two of them to review the play, along with some technical advice as well. Miso thought of herself as a critic, but she knew she was clouded by bias from their time spent together. Plus, she knew better than anyone that the club didn’t need compliments right now.

“Aren’t you expecting too much out of a high school play?”

Ganghwan said, rubbing his sleepy eyes.

“They were burned hard once already. They’re going to get first place this time, just you watch. I won’t let it happen again.”

“Isn’t that just for your pride?”

“Do you really have to state the obvious?”

“Well, that was an obvious lie.”

Miso stared at Ganghwan, who was smiling at her, before turning to Geunsoo.

“Did you call your brother?”

“Yeah. He still sounded pretty edgy, but not sad anymore. I think the trauma from the last play’s gone… Is it because of that mentor Junmin introduced him to?”

“Probably. She seemed pretty talented. She said she’d start off by complimenting him.”

“Complimenting...”

Geunsoo didn’t seem to like the word.

“Well, just watch for now. Try to come up with something you can tell them.”

Miso sighed and turned back to look at the stage. Finally, the play was beginning.

‘It’s his first play, too.’

Maru’s first play. The boy hadn’t shown anything special so far. He was good at progressing through the play, but he lacked the ability to attract empathy from the audience.

‘Man, I’m expecting way too much out of the boy.’

Miso changed her thoughts. She shouldn’t expect too much here. Talent didn’t just bloom out of nowhere. Today, she just needed to focus on seeing what Han Maru, the amateur, was capable of.

But… on one side, she couldn’t help but get a little excited.

Miso thought back to the first day she took Maru to the Blue Sky theater. When she watched the boy read a script calmly on the stage, she realized she needed to put him on the stage. After several months, she finally managed to get him there.

‘I know I shouldn’t expect much, but I just can’t help it.’

* * *

“There are so many people, gosh. I think all 600 seats are filled,” Soyeon said nervously.

“They’re not here to see us. They’re just here because of the event that takes place afterward.”

Taejoon tried to respond calmly, but his voice was trembling a bit. The boy was right, though. There was a regional talent competition that took place after the acting event. That was probably what filled all 686 seats here.

“Alright, get ready. We just need to do as well as practice. Got it?” Yoonjung said.

The president’s words made everyone nod.

“Good luck, Maru.”

“Yup.”

The play would begin with Maru’s appearance. The ‘teenager’ character barely interacted with other actors. Instead, conversing with the audience. He would talk to the audience to engage them with the story.

* * *

“A character who breaks down the wall between the stage and the seats.”

“The teenager is the critical factor in getting the audience engaged.”

Geunsoo and Ganghwan were talking.

“Miso chose this play of all things?” Geunsoo whispered so that Miso wouldn’t be able to hear.

“I hear everything, Geunsoo.”

Geunsoo shrugged and leaned back.

“He’s not wrong. If the teenager does badly, the entire play will go askew.”

“Yup, that’s exactly the issue.”

Geunsoo nodded at Ganghwan’s insight. He didn’t know much about Maru, only that Maru was a bit odd. But that didn’t make the boy automatically good at acting. As far as he was aware, the boy was just an oddly mature kid who liked to worry a lot.

Acting, through someone like that kid…

He knew Miso liked to compliment Maru a lot. Would the boy live up to her words?

“It’s beginning.”

Ganghwan gestured towards the stage with his chin. The curtains of the stage lifted, and the lights slowly dimmed.

* * *

The audience became completely silent. All 600 of them. That didn’t sound like that many, but Maru was well aware of how big of a number this was, after working in the field himself. All of these people were quiet.

Suddenly, he became even more aware of the fact that he was on stage. Not that it made him nervous. As a matter of fact…

“How interesting,” he muttered.

That’s right. It was interesting. He was curious how the 600 people would look at him. As soon as he steps out onto that dark stage, he felt something change within. How? He had no idea.

He was stepping into the unknown. And yet… He wasn’t afraid at all. Was something wrong with him? Was this a blessing? He hadn’t a clue. The audience’s breaths were clear to his ears. This was the breath of 600 people.

Maru opened his eyes. The glow sticker on the floor was the first thing to come into his vision. He focused on the x-shaped one in particular.

That was where the spotlight would be. He saw how it worked during the rehearsal. The operator up above would control it for him. The stage was completely dark. He couldn’t see the audience, and the only source of light he had was a single glow sticker on the floor.

“It began.”

Someone’s voice. He didn’t know who it was from, but he was thankful for it anyway. It snapped him out of his daydream.

Maru started walking forward. Silently. Step, step. He tried not to make a sound. Eventually, he arrived at the center. It’s been ten seconds since the darkness came onto the stage. The audience should’ve gotten used to the darkness at this point. Perhaps some of them even recognized him on stage.

He could see the audience, too.

As soon as he realized that, a feeling of absolute comfort settled inside his stomach. At the same time, he felt himself cooling off. The temperature of his head cooled, and the heat in his chest flared just a little bit.

He never experienced this feeling before. But for some reason, he was confident that he would get used to it. Why? He wasn’t even sure he would continue acting right now.

Maru tried stepping on the floor a little bit. The sound of his feet hitting wood reverberated across the stage. He couldn’t see anything, but the sound helped him visualize the rest of the stage.

Whisper, whisper. He could hear people talking.

Maru stepped on the floor again. He could see colors within the darkness. A slight hint of color that started filling up the rest of the stage.

This was the stage.

Maru raised his head. He could see the audience. They were all enveloped in darkness, but somehow, he could make them all out.

600 people.

As he expected, this was an amazing number of people. His vision was entirely encompassed by people. He felt his breathing slow down, he was getting calmer now. As if he was visiting his hometown during the spring. It felt like he could just fall asleep right now.

Right then, the spotlight turned on around him. For a brief second, he couldn’t see the audience anymore.

His head spun for a second.

Maru closed his eyes. He could hear someone say ‘it must be beginning’ somewhere in front of him.

That’s right. The play is beginning. Maru raised his right hand and stroked his hair. He put that hand in his pocket with a relaxed demeanor and started walking to the right. The spotlight followed him. Maru raised his head a bit and looked up at the light. Then, he turned left. Again, the spotlight followed him.

The audience was following his movements too.

Now, instead of looking up at the light, Maru looked straight into the audience.

“Um, who are you guys looking at? Could it be me, by any chance?”

This was the first line that would crumble the wall between the stage and the seats.

Maru became the teenager.

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