'Stand by ladies and gentlemen, for the end of the opera and curtain calls.'
Sophie is seated on a high stool at the Prompt Corner of the stage, her face and headset lit up in the dark by several lamps. Before her is a bewildering array of switches and a bank of monitors, some of them labelled with torn off pieces of electrician's tape. She can see the stage from all angles. On her desk is a formidable slab of a document – all the cues for the entire show. She calls the singers to the stage. She calls wigs, makeup and dressers for the side-of-stage quick-changes, she cues up the special effects guys, the scene change guys, the lighting crew – everyone.
Sometimes I'll go the side of the stage to watch the curtain call. In one moment, the performers were Gods – in the next, fragile humans once again. In the glare of full lights, they are sweaty and exhausted yet exhilarated, still flying on adrenaline.
For particularly successful shows, especially on final nights, the roar of the audience can send chills up your spine. They whistle and cheer, stand up in their seats and stamp on the floors until the images in Sophie's monitors begin to tremble.
If the applause is rolling on, stage management will yell from the wings, 'Another one! Go for another one!' And the singers will stoop low again, until finally, the curtain drops.
The sound of the audience falls away like water down a drain, and the performers stampede back to their dressing rooms, pouring up and down the staircases backstage. Orchestra members will be stowing their instruments back into cases, the locks and catches clicking and clunking. Many of them will be making a long journey back to London, and there are trains to catch.
In the corridors, the post-show energy is still high and tight. Doors bang and costume rails rattle as the laundry gets sorted, flung into designated plastic baskets while showers hiss in the dressing rooms.
'Good night, see you next time!'
Within thirty minutes, everything is pretty much wrapped up. Wigs are back in their boxes. Costumes are back in the costume store. Washing machines are churning. Names on the dressing room doors are changed over for the following night.
Thunderous booms emanate throughout the building from the stage as the night crew work on changing over the massive sets. They'll be working on until the early hours, but for the rest of us, it's back out into the starry night, leaving behind a world of magic and landing once again, into reality.