We walk to the venue in costume. It draws the odd look, but mostly it's indifferent. Everyone looks odd at the Fringe.
The venue stands clad in scaffolding. A sea of smokers mill about outside, beneath the steel lattice, inhaling quickly and chatting away. They're all performers or crew. There never seems to be any audience when we arrive. We head straight to the main bar and grab a cup or two of water. Some of the cast are already there, adjusting costumes, reading reviews. We high five and hug and smile. We're usually happy to see each other. I'm not sure how long that will last - will it keep for all 25 nights we perform? Will we start to sicken of the sight of each other? We joke about it, claiming it will come eventually; noting that 25 nights in a row is a long time and no matter how much we get along, tempers will fray and patience will stretch. Idiosyncrasies will turn into annoyances will turn into severe transgressions. All of that could happen, but it seems unlikely now. Our shows are going well. In spite of the rabbit warren, we find our space and enjoy it. And so in these last few minutes before the show we psyche each other up and I throw more than a few fighter-pilot thumbs up at the rest of the crew.
The show before us involves zombies, or some other form of the undead. Their cast emerges from the back stage door in varying stages of decomposition. They skip down the stairs towards the bar and we ask how their show went and they wish us broken legs for ours. I don't think they'll ever see ours. I've no intention of seeing theirs. It would ruin it for me, this simple ritual of well-wishing and impatience: courtesy at high speed.
Backstage and we have less than ten minutes to set up. We form a train, each grabbing a piece of set (it's composed mostly of antique luggage) and carrying it to the stage. Everyone finds their own we corner of the wing to call their own, to place their props and any extra costume they might need. Someone reads a book, someone else mutters their lines under their breath. Phones are checked and rechecked. Impatience builds energy. Every voice is a whisper and the smallest footstep sounds too loud. There's an extractor fan that wheezes out into the street, whose own racket often rises and ruptures the silence.
I fiddle with my phone and mutter my lines. I stretch out my irksome hip and will myself more energy. I check my costume and breathe deep.
The work lights turn off and the music starts. We hear the sound of the audience filing in and finding their seats. It's a mutter of an entrance, muffled by the curtains that separate us.
The hush settles and the stage lights hum. It's time.