When the lights go off, everything changes. The chatter of the audience dulls to a hum then silence. The feeling of anticipation hangs heavy in the air.
The first actor walks confidently across the stage and the audience starts to relax. Backstage, I try not to let my nerves show. I sit still as my make up is applied and concentrate on breathing in and breathing out, once then twice then again and again.
As my time comes closer, I stand in the wings, listening out for my cue. My body teems with adrenaline, desperate to turn and run. But I don’t. My feet carry me on stage step by step until I see the glare of the lights. I open my mouth and start to speak. For a split second which feels like a year, the sound of my own voice distracts me and I can’t remember what to do next. Then I am flying, carried away by the performance, transported. I am not a plain Yorkshire schoolgirl, I am a Siamese princess. When I talk, people listen, when I sing, people smile. The gloomy moors retreat and I smell the exotic spices and fragrant jasmine of old Siam. I can feel the sunshine on my face.
The scenes come and go, the scenery shifts and changes, actors walk on and walk off, songs are sung, characters laugh, love and die. Then, in the blink of an eye, the curtain drops to a roar from the audience.
The lights dazzle us as we bask in the applause. The dead have come back to life, the lost ones found. We join hands, the company a band of brothers, bow and smile. My cheeks ache and I think my heart will burst with the sheer joy of being a part of this.
Then the curtain falls, the lights go off, and I am Sarah again. It’s late, I’m tired and I haven’t done my maths homework.
I rub off the make-up with a baby wipe and chuck it in the bin. My silk dress is hung on a rail for tomorrow night and swapped for my jeans and jumper.
I slink out of the stage door, smaller and alone.