Mrs Greenwood stands powerfully in front of the stage, watching silently as her students trickle in. Orlando Knavesmire is the last one to enter, sauntering in with his hands in his pockets and not a care in the world. She shakes her head in annoyance and sucks on her teeth.
“I assume all of you have seen the cast list by now and are aware of your roles.” There is a general murmur of agreement among the group of fifteen year olds.
“Let’s start with the first scene. Get into position.” A rush of bodies head towards the stage, some disappearing into the wings. One boy hangs behinds, visibly nervous.
“What is the matter, Miles dear?” The boy squeezes his hands together and smiles timidly.
“I have been cast as Santa…” He hesitates, so the teacher nods supportively. “There must have been a mistake. I’m not even taking drama lessons.” He stops, looking up at the lady bashfully through his glasses.
“There has been no mistake Miles. I want this cast to be as strong as possible, and I believe that you would make the perfect Santa Claus. I’d like you to try, please.” The shy boy flushes an embarrassed shade of red.
“Sorry.” He whispers, before trudging up the stairs and getting into position.
With Miles now stood in the centre of the stage, the rehearsal can begin. Hattie bounds on, scriptless, having already learnt all her lines.
“It’s almost time, Santa! You need to get ready to set off.” She beams, full of energy.
“In fact, actually, Miles, I think you should start off stage then come on as she says that. Yes? Good. Let’s do that line again.” Mrs Greenwood interrupts, making a note on her script. Miles quickly makes his way off stage, glad to be out of the limelight, if only for a brief moment. Hattie bounds back on, just as enthusiastic as last time, to repeat her line.
“It’s almost time, Santa! You need to get ready to set off.” She smiles supportively at Miles, who blinks at her through his thick glasses then down at his script.
“I, uh, um…” He trails off as he tries to find his line.
“Oh yes, Mrs Claus, I will go and get ready now.” He says mechanically, struggling to hold his tears back as he sees Orlando’s friends at the back of the auditorium, laughing at him.
“You must get a move on, you haven’t much time!” Hattie says as Molly, Orlando and Sam (the students playing elves 1, 2 and 3) trudge on. Molly and Sam are pretending to drag a bag of presents behind them, as they don’t yet have the props. Orlando should be doing this too but instead he saunters on with his hands in his pockets and his rolled-up script tucked under his arm.
“Here you are, Santa Claus!” Molly beams at Miles. There is an awkward silence and everyone turns to look at Orlando, who is smiling cockily at his friends.
“Orlando! Pay attention! It’s your line.” Mrs Greenwood snaps at him, turning to glare at his gaggle of friends at the back.
“Oh right. Um, yeah, here are the presents.”
“They’re all ready to go on the sleigh.” Sam squeaks, obviously trying to do an elf voice but just ending up sounding like his voice is breaking. This prompts another outburst of laughter from Orlando’s gang at the back.
“I appreciate the effort Sam, but perhaps let’s save elf voices until a bit later, yes?” Mrs Greenwood tucks her pen behind her ear after marking something on her script then stands up, gesturing around the stage as she directs the students.
“Now Molly, Orlando and Sam, you put the bag of presents onto the sleigh. Yes, Orlando, I know there is currently no bag or sleigh, you’ll just have to pretend. Now Kelsey, Kelsey, where are you? There you are, you should have come on stage with the elves, okay? As they lift the bag up you’re going to shuffle to the side, like you’ve been dropped out of the sack, okay? Now it’s important that no-one notices you, so no-one look in Kelsey’s direction, okay? Once the bag in on the sleigh, Miles, you climb in. Then the sleigh is going to be pulled off. Just walk off for now, we’ll get the sleigh soon enough. Elves and Mrs Claus, you all wave as Santa leaves, then turn and walk off stage on the opposite side. Okay? Now the only person that should be left on stage is Kelsey. Now, Kelsey, it’s your line.” She sits back down again, taking the pen from behind her ear and making another scribbled note on the side of her script.
“Oh no, they’ve left me behind! A child is going to be very disappointed when they wake up tomorrow with no present.”
After a good hour or so of rehearsals, things are beginning to end and Miles takes the opportunity to hide backstage. Unfortunately for him, Orlando and his gang of friends are already there, all smirking in his direction.
“Great work, Miles.” One of them calls out sarcastically. “I can practically see your confidence growing.” He turns back to his friends, who all begin to laugh, Orlando surprisingly looking quite uncomfortable. Out of the corner of his eye, Miles spots June, the Remembered Present, hanging around the outskirts of a group of girls and trying to ignore Miles’ teasing. He looks away from the group of boys and stares at his feet, not knowing what to do. They seemingly find this hilarious though, shouting a new onslaught of ‘banter’ at him.
At this, June has had enough, and turns around, taking a few steps towards them.
“Hey.” She blushes a furious red, “Stop, please. Miles hasn’t done anything…” She trails off, joining Miles by staring bashfully at her own feet.
“Who’re you to speak?” Jeers one of the boys, “His girlfriend?” They laugh again, one of them saying,
“Can’t be. The guy’s obviously gay.” This receives even more laughter, but not from Orlando, who is looking even more uneasy. Miles’ glasses fog up from his embarrassment, worsened by the tears welling in his eyes.
Footsteps pound loudly towards them from the stage. Neither of the two shy students dare to look up.
“For goodness sake!” Cries Hattie, “Leave the poor guy alone.” she shakes her head, “None of you can act as well as Miles, and I know for a fact that one of you,” She says, glaring pointedly at Orlando, “Has a secret that he would certainly not want any of you to find out by mistake.” The colour drains from Orlando’s face as he shakes his head.
“Please Hattie, no.” She smiles sadly,
“I wouldn’t. It is you that will tell them some day.” She nods knowingly as Orlando rakes his hand through his hair, ignoring the questioning stares from his friends.
“Miles, mate. Sorry.” He pauses, “That was quite uncalled for… It was mainly them though… not me.” He nods in the direction of his group of friends. None of the others apologise, but Hattie doesn’t press them anymore, instead leading June and Miles out of the hall and into the corridor outside.
“What’s Orlando’s secret?” June asks Hattie with nervous excitement.
“Nothing bad, I promise. But I know he wants to tell people; he is just scared.” She pauses, “It’s his secret to tell though, sorry.” June shrugs in response.
“Thanks for that…” Miles pipes up quietly. “Really. Thank you.”
“Ignore what they said, you were great, really.” Hattie said as she skipped away, back to where Mrs Greenwood was sitting so they could talk about drama stuff. June gave him a weak smile before melting away into the shadows, leaving Miles standing on his own in the wings. Well, he wasn’t technically alone, as half of the year group were milling around him, but he was alone in his own little bubble, just him and his thoughts.
He leans against the cool wall for a few moments, invisible to the rest of the world as his mind races. He doesn’t know what to do; he knows what he wants to do, but that isn’t necessarily what he should do. He sighs, making a decision hastily and walking back onto the stage. He clears his throat fairly loudly, blushing when people turn to look at him, Orlando, June and Hattie among the faces staring up at him. Mrs Greenwood frowns up at him,
“Are you alright, Miles?” She asks, slightly irritated that her conversation with Hattie on how the first scene should be set out is interrupted.
“I’d like to make an announcement.” He says, stuttering over his words as everyone looks up at him in silence.
“I’m quitting the show.” The portly drama teacher looks taken aback by this sudden surge of confidence.
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible, Miles. Look at what you just did there, look how you projected your voice and the confidence you spoke with. You are my Santa Claus.” And with that, she walks out, leaving Miles, slightly stunned on the stage, and the rest of the cast looking up at him in shock.
“Miles!” Hattie runs towards him excitedly, “That was brilliant.” She smiles warmly, “I knew you would find your feet on the stage!”
“Err, actually… I wanted to quit.” He tells her sheepishly, “Doesn’t really look like I have much of choice though.” He shrugs,
“So you’ll do it?”
“Looks like it, doesn’t it? I’m not allowed to quit even if I want to.” Miles snaps at her in a sudden burst of anger, catching sight of Orlando’s group of friends at the back laughing and doing mean impressions of him. Hattie looks slightly taken aback at meek Miles finally speaking out for himself, but recovers herself quickly.
“Hey, why don’t you come and practice your lines with me? I said I’d meet June tomorrow lunch so we can block out some of the scenes as she’s going to be missing a couple of the rehearsals – why don’t you come along and we can practice?”
“Uh, yeah, okay. Thanks Hattie.” Miles says quiety. “I’m sorry for snapping at you. I’m just a bit nervous about this whole thing… I’ve never been the main part for anything before.”
“Really?” Hattie asks, genuinely surprised, “Obviously you’ve never tried out properly.” Miles shrugs, not wanting to admit that she is in fact correct with her assumption. “Right, sorry Miles, but I’ve got to go… my mum’s texted that she is waiting outside.”
“Okay then,” Miles smiles goodbye as Hattie waves, beginning to walk away. Looking up, he can see that the hall has practically emptied of students, most of them having left to go home.
Just as Miles has picked up all his things and is about to leave, Orlando rushes up to him, surprisingly not surrounded by his group of friends.
“Miles…” He bites his lip, “Hi.”
“Um, hello?” Miles replies.
“I just wanted to say… err.” Orlando pauses, obviously not very comfortable with the situation. “If you want to go through lines or something, that would be cool. I mean, we’re in a lot of scenes together and I could do with someone to practice with so… ” He hesitates, “And err, sorry about earlier. Seriously, they go too far sometimes.” Miles ducks his head shyly,
“No worries.” He smiles and runs his hand through his dark hair. “Actually, I was going to go through lines with Hattie and June.”
“Oh,” Orlando says, deflated, quickly hiding his disappointment.
“You can come, if you want… That’s what I meant, when I said about June and Hattie…” He trails off.
“Uh, sure, I guess. When are you doing it?” He asks, obviously a bit flustered at the proposition.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll come. Tomorrow lunchtime. Right, I’ll be there.” He says, nodding his head, then turning and briskly leaving, leaving Miles standing alone in the auditorium.
“Right, bye then…” Miles calls to Orlando’s back. He shakes his head, knowing that it will be hard work, but he might just end up enjoying the play after all.