There was once a performer named Rabbit, and in the beginning she was really splendid. She was curvy and yet sweet, as an ingénue should be; her hair was a lovely brown with a bright glossy sheen, she had long naturally dark lashes, and her cheeks were round and pink. During the Christmas season, when she played roles suitable for a sweet ingénue, the effect was particularly charming.
There were always other performers on stage. Performers playing various roles in the Christmas program: a rat king, a nutcracker, some fairies, but Rabbit was quite the best of all. For at least two hours the audience thought they loved her, and then the show was over, the families went to dinner, and the great hustle and bustle for Christmas preparation began and in all the excitement, the ingénue Rabbit was forgotten.
For a long time she lived in the world of extras and the background chorus, and no one thought very much about her. She was naturally shy, and not having a degree in the performing arts, some of the more formally educated performers quite snubbed her. The technically trained performers were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas and pretended they were Real. The Shakespearean fight choreographer who had performed in London for two seasons and lost most of his hearing, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his swords in technical terms. Rabbit could not claim to be technically trained in anything, for she didn’t know if what she really wanted to perform even existed or if there was training involved and she thought that anyone without a formal degree or certification program must be quite out-of-date and never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the veteran military performer with the limp, put on airs and pretended that his military experience gave him special insights into the performing arts. Between then all, poor Rabbit was made to feel herself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to her at all was the performer known as Horse.
Horse had performed longer in this theater than any of the other performers. He was so old that his brown hair was bald in patches and showed the age spots through his sparse hairs, and most of the joints in his body were creaky from performing previous tricks or movements of amazement on the stage. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of technical performers arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by crack or break and leave the performing arts, and he knew they were only amateurs at heart, and would never turn into anything else. For the magic of the performing arts is very strange and wonderful, and only those performers that are old and wise and experienced like Horse understand all about it.
“What is REAL?” asked Rabbit one day, when they were sitting side by side in the green room, before the others got there to get ready for the show that night. “Does it mean having a television show or an Oscar or a lot of awards?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When an audience loves you when they see you performing onstage – not just watches you, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” Rabbit asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your naivety has worn off, your fresh perspective has dropped out, and some even get loose in the pants and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said Rabbit. And then she wished she had not said it, for she thought Horse might be sensitive. But Horse only smiled.
“The audiences made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
Rabbit sighed. She thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to her. She longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing old and, perhaps, shabby was rather sad. She wished that she could become Real without these uncomfortable things happening to her.
There was a person called The Producer who ruled the stage. Sometimes The Producer took no notice of the performers hanging about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, The Producer would go swooping about like a great wind and hustled them onto or off of the stage and sometimes even out of the theater. The Producer called this “casting” and the performers all hated it, particularly the aging ones. Rabbit didn’t mind it so much because so far she had only been thrown about inside the theater, even though the places weren’t particularly good ones.
One evening, when the show was about to go on, The Producer couldn’t find a dancer that always closed the first set of the show. The Producer was in a hurry and it was too much trouble to hunt for someone entirely new at show time, so The Producer simply looked about, and seeing that the green room door was open, The Producer made a swoop.
“Here,” The Producer said, “can you dance?” You’ll do to go on at the end of the first set.” And he threw a costume at Rabbit, told her the music choice, and when the time came, Rabbit was thrown by herself out onto the stage.
That night, and for many nights after, Rabbit danced a solo at the end of the first set. At first she found it rather nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, for she didn’t really know what she was doing or how well she was doing it (or not.) Sometimes Rabbit was so nervous and discombobulated that she could scarcely breathe. And she missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the green room, when the focus was on the stage so the back rooms were silent, and her talks with Horse. But very soon, she grew to like it, for the audience used to clap and applaud and sometimes even recognized her and gave her flowers after the show was over. After The Producer had gone home for the evening, leaving the theater for the stagehands and performers to ready for the next show, some diligent audience member might hang out at the performer stage entrance to catch a close-up glimpse of a performer or ask for an autograph. And when the nights were cold and the audience had vanished from the theater, Rabbit loved to snuggle into her coat and scarf and dream how it might be one day to be on a really big stage in a really big theater with a really appreciative audience. She would still be dreaming when she reached home and snuggled into her little bed with her blankets up under her chin and her arms gently clasped around her body all night long.
And so time went on, and little Rabbit was very happy – so happy that she never noticed that her hair was getting thinner and starting to grey, that her legs were getting creaky and her toes popped, that her eyes were developing wrinkles, and that her costumes were losing their beads and rhinestones.
One Spring came, and there were long daytime rehearsals for a new show put on by The Producer. They had dances, and singing, and lines to be learned for this lovely magical new show that was about to be produced. And once, when The Producer was called away suddenly for a meeting with his bankers, Rabbit was left with some time on her own in the theater. She was there very late and overheard The Producer coming back, bringing the bankers with him for a tour of the new theater improvements and stage sets. They were talking about the new production.
“Must you have your aging Rabbit in the role?” the banker said. “Fancy all that fuss for an old dame – and an amateur at that.”
The Producer gritted his teeth and tried to talk politely to the banker.
“Give me Rabbit anytime!” The Producer said. “She isn’t an amateur, she’s professional. She’s REAL!”
When Rabbit heard that she was happy, for she knew that what Horse had said was true at last. The theater magic had happened to her, and that she was an amateur no longer. She was Real. The Producer himself had said it.
That night she was almost too happy to sleep and so much love stirred in her little heart that it almost burst. And in her wrinkle-surrounded eyes, that had long ago lost their naivety, there came a look of wisdom and beauty, so that even The Producer noticed it next morning in the theater, and said, “I declare if Rabbit hasn’t got quite a knowing expression.”
That was a wonderful summer. The Producer opened the new show and every night when the audience came to the show, Rabbit would perform to rapturous applause. She felt wrapped in the love of the audience throughout the whole show and then afterwards she would be content knowing that she was Real through the love of the audience. Daytimes were spent in new rehearsals with The Producer planning new shows or sometimes just going for walks, or tea, or going to the costume designer to discuss and fit new costume ideas. One afternoon, while Rabbit was as the costumers, she saw two elegant beings walk into the shop.
They were performers like herself, but quite young and well-toned. They must have had a lot of personal funds or a very wealthy producer because they had very fancy clothing which fit them like a second skin, instead of staying a floppy rumpled mess like hers often did. Their feet padded softly on the ground, and they crept quite close to her, whispering back and forth to each other behind elegantly cupped hands while Rabbit starred hard at them to try to find some flaw in the seemingly perfect façade.
They stared at Rabbit, and Rabbit stared back. All of the time their lips were twisted in a smirk.
“Why haven’t we seen you performing in the big theater?” one of them asked.
“I don’t feel like it” said Rabbit, for she didn’t want to explain that she was not technically trained.
“Ho!” said one of the performers. “It’s as easy as anything, with the proper training,” And he a gave a big jump in the air and slid effortlessly into the splits.
“I don’t believe you can!” said the other performer.
“I can!” said Rabbit. “I can jump and do the splits higher than anything!” She meant in her dreams, but of course she didn’t want to say so.
“Can you dance en pointe?” asked the performer.
That was a dreadful question for Rabbit had no formal dance training at all and couldn’t even abide wearing those uncomfortable pointed shoes, let alone dance in them. She sat in straight-backed chair and tried to tuck her feet out of sight.
“I just don’t want to!” Rabbit said.
But the performers had very sharp eyes and this one spied her feet and looked.
“Look at her huge feet!” He called out. “Fancy a dancer with such big feet. Do they even make pointe shoes that large?” And he began to laugh.
“I do dance en pointe,” cried Rabbit. “My feet are not big! It is just the angle you see them!”
“Then stretch out your feet and show me, like this!” said the performer. And he began to twirl and spin until Rabbit got dizzy just watching him.
“ I don’t like dancing,” Rabbit said. “I do other things as a performer.”
But all the while, Rabbit was longing to dance and she felt like she would give anything in the world to be able to dance beautifully.
The perfomer stopped dancing, and came quite close. He came so close that his long luxurious hair brushed up against Rabbit’s cheek, and then he opened his mouth and jumped backwards suddenly.
“She isn’t a performer at all! She is not a professional performer! She isn’t Real!”
“I am Real!” said Rabbit. “I am Real! I am Professional! The Producer said so!” And she nearly began to cry.
Just then the door opened, and The Producer came inside, and with a stamp of feet and a fling of hair, the two performers disappeared out the door.
“Come back and perform with me!” thought Rabbit. “Oh, do come back! I know I am Real!”
But there was nothing voiced and there was no responding answer. Rabbit felt all alone.
“Oh dear!” Rabbit thought. “Why did they run away like that? Why couldn’t they stop and talk to me?”
For a long time, Rabbit stayed, pretending to look at costume designs and hoping that they would come back. But as the day progressed and show time neared, the performers did not return, and The Producer took her back to the theater.
Years passed, and Rabbit grew older with more wrinkles, but The Producer loved her on stage just as much. Rabbit’s hair was dyed to keep away the grey, and her wrinkles were hidden with makeup and sparkles, and in some places she began to lose her shape a bit, as she was no longer an ingénue, except to The Producer. To The Producer, Rabbit was always young and beautiful and that was all that Rabbit cared about. She didn’t mind how she looked to other people, because theater magic had made her Real, and when you are real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.
And then, one day, The Producer was ill.
His face grew flushed, and he grabbed at his chest. The paramedics came and rushed him off to the emergency room. They said it was a heart attack and it was very bad, but The Producer was still alive. Rabbit went to the hospital, when she could, because she knew The Producer needed her, but she knew The Producer needed her more on stage because they needed to make money and The Producer would have to pay the bills and now pay the hospital, as well.
It was a long weary time, for The Producer was too ill to plan new things, and Rabbit found it rather dull with no new shows and costumes and acts to plan. But she settled down patiently into the current production, and looked forward to the time when The Producer should be well again, and they should have rehearsals for new shows and plan new costumes, and make new art for theater. All sorts of delightful things Rabbit planned, and while The Producer lay half asleep in the hospital, Rabbit would creep up close to The Producer’s pillow and whisper them in his ear.
But presently, The Producer got worse and then The Producer died.
The funeral was a bright, sunny morning, and the windows stood wide open. After the funeral, the performers and stage crew gathered together in front of the grave talking about the future of the theater. New Producers were going to buy the theater and produce new shows. They were coming by the theater tonight to talk about plans for the next production.
The New Producers were a triumvirate, and very young, and very decisive. They told the performer cast about the plans for the next show, involving an ingénue, and pirates, at the seaside in the summer. “Hurrah!” thought Rabbit. “The next show will be featuring the seaside! I would love to portray the seaside.”
Just then the New Producers caught sight of Rabbit.
“What about this old thing?” The New Producers asked. “That?” said The New Producers. “Why, she can never play an ingénue! Fire her at once! What? Nonsense! Get a new ingénue! We can’t have that performing here any more!”
And so after the show that night, Rabbit was handed her severance pay and a box for her personal items and then she was escorted out of the theater with her meager possessions as she was not allowed to keep her rhinestoned costumes, even though most of them were worn and shabby by now. She would have to find a job as rent would come soon enough and she didn’t know what she would be now that she wasn’t an ingénue anymore.
That night The New Producers were pleased. They would create a new show and find new performers. Real perfomers. Professional performers. They would have splendid talent in the new show and that was a such a wonderful thing that The New Producers could think of nothing else. And while The New Producers were dreaming of the new show, Rabbit sat in her home thinking. She felt very lonely. She was scared and shivering a little because she had always performed in this little theater, never anywhere else. And now she was no longer wanted. She thought of those long hours in rehearsal and the long hours performing – about how happy she and The Producer had been – and a great sadness came over her. She seemed to see all the rehearsals and all the shows pass before her, each more beautiful than the other. She thought of Horse, so wise and gentle, and the wisdom that he had shared with her. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become a Real performer if it all ended like this? And a tear trickled down her wrinkled face and fell to the ground.
And then a strange thing happened. She decided she would audition for other shows. At the bigger theaters. So she went, without her rhinestoned costumes and without her own musicians. And she auditioned. She came onto the stage in the big theater and she did her thing – a little dancing, a little singing, a little talking. She performed. Because she knew, because the audience told her many many times, that she was Real. And then she finished, but there was no applause. Only silence and then a “Thank you,” as she was dragged offstage by the stage manager.
She put on her coat to leave and a woman came up next to her. “Rabbit,” she said, “don’t you know who I am?” Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to Rabbit that this woman was familiar, but she couldn’t think where.
“I am the BIG and Powerful Producer,” she said. “I take care of performers that the audiences have loved, that audiences still love. When you are no longer the ingénue, then I come and take you into the theater, because you have developed skill and wisdom and strength, you have mastered your craft, and I give you other roles, and I turn you into something Real, I turn you into a professional performer.”
“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked Rabbit.
“You were Real to your audiences,” The BIG and Powerful Producer said, “because they loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one.” And The BIG and Powerful Producer took Rabbit into rehearsal. It was still afternoon. The rehearsal room was large and well lit and did nothing to hide the wrinkles around Rabbit’s wise eyes. The cast was rehearsing, dancing in sparkling shoes on the hard wood floor, but when they saw The BIG and Powerful Producer they all stopped dancing and stood round in a ring to stare at her. “I’ve brought you a new cast member,” The BIG and Powerful Producer said. “You must be very kind to her because she is wise and talented and has a lot to offer us in this theater.”
And she shook Rabbit’s hand and then held it in her own. “Perform, Rabbit, and prepare for the world.”
But Rabbit stood quite still for a moment and never moved. For when she saw the cast members dancing around her, she suddenly remembered that she couldn’t really dance, and she wasn’t trained, and she had big clumsy feet. Then, as someone gently brushed against her, she looked down at her big strong legs, her dancer’s legs, that she worked hard at developing in rehearsals at the other, smaller theater.
She could dance! She was beautiful! Maybe she wasn’t an ingénue, but she was amazing and talented, and she had so much to offer to the world from her experience in The Producer’s theater. She gave a leap and a spin and the joy of moving was so great that she danced and twirled around the room as the others did and grew so excited that when at last she stopped to look for The BIG and Powerful Producer, she had gone.
Rabbit was a Real Performer at least, at home with the other real performers.
Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the New Producers went out to the BIG theater to come up with new ideas for their productions, because the audiences were not what they should be and their performers where new and unfocused. And while the New Producers were watching the show, one of the lead performers came on stage. She had wrinkles on her face and places where it looked like the grey hairs were peeking out near her hairline. About her face and voice there was something familiar, so that The New Producers talked to each other:
“Why, that looks just like Rabbit that we fired when we took over the theater!”
But The New Producers never knew that it was their old Rabbit, on stage as a Real Performer and more fabulous than ever before.