Chapter 1 – Curtains Up

My name is Renette, after Madame de Pompadore, famed mistress to the King of France. I went to Lycee Montgrande, a small drama-school by the coast. I work at a theatre, Le petit illusion. It was opened by my grandfather after the Second World War and left to mother in his will. An only child, I had no brothers or sisters but mother tried; and my imaginary friend, poor Wiggle was supportive. Mother was a critically acclaimed cunt and successful stage manager at the theater. Creating depth is the floor plan, the design that is: how large to make the stage, how deep the horseshoe box, how large the auditorium?

We use drop and wing sets like the ladies of Sabo; some backgrounds are lowered down and some recycled and shifted as the stage is rotated, some pulled into focus across a sliding background. I painted some of them. It’s a salon of machines; sets may be changed and rotated as the story demands. There is great effort in hiding the frame around the performance, the frame of the illusion – a chariot and pole system, pulleys and strong ropes. When a set dried we covered it in rabbit-skin glue and mounted them, pushed them into frame, rotated the stage and brought the mockingbirds into focus.

salon of machines cabaret is a perfect setup. It’s not much different than older theatres, of the royal courts at the turn of the 17th century; they featured plays, opera and cabaret. Patrons paid for shows, writers paid to entertain, a hundred sous – the production is staged. My mother’s never failing, personal troupe, always masked, in some costume or another.

The structural plans were borrowed, plagiarized poorly from the Italian Commedia dell Arte, a poor man’s Petit Trianon or Hotel de Bourgogne, home to the mad Duchess of Burgundy. The shows are staged in-doors and lit by by real gas-lamps, burning away as they had in the Hague; we have galleries and chandeliers for day-time viewers, a prominent proscenium arch and vanishing point. It’d fit 600 at capacity.

The gallery was built in a horseshoe shape to prevent sharp angles, making it more organic; more Bernini less Art Deco. The arch framed the scene and set the vanishing point. It is the illusion of depth, the framing of illusion. The behind-the-scenes workers and I made most of that scenery, that window-dressing, all real but not too interesting. Not as things are: we wait for roles. Theatre, my father said, exists because Mother Nature is a bad writer. God is, that is to say, a hack. I disagree. Chimps beat men into space. Bees lose their minds without a queen.

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