Odd Voice Out
In The Vagabond Stage by Kell Cowley, the reader is introduced to Timony, the new apprentice in Makaydees' travelling theatre. In the first of his picaresque adventures, Timony finds himself on a perilous journey through the Elizabethan underworld, at the same time as he is getting to grips with his role playing the leading ladies in the troupe's tragedies. In The Player's Craft, we catch up with Timony two years down the road. Now that he is confident in his acting ability and has embraced his female roles, we find that a conflict is brewing between the young star and his playwright master over the future aspirations of their company.
Scene Two (excerpt)
“Your hair looks like a bird’s nest.”
I ran a hand through my scraggly curls and it took a moment to pull my fingers loose again. When they came free they brought with them a cluster of twigs and dirt. Makaydees took a comb from his pocket and stroked its bristles like he were testing the sharpness of a blade. I shuffled over to the dreaded seat and he set about raking the comb through my long locks, ripping apart the tangles and wrenching at my scalp.
“If I had a wig, I wouldn’t have to go through this torture every time,” I muttered, breaking the silence between us. “Real actors wear wigs, you know.”
“And what is a real actor, pray?”
“An actor who struts the boards of playhouses and palaces instead of roadsides. An actor who wears dresses with farthingales and furbelows, ruffs and puff sleeves. An actor who has fame, riches and roles that’ll be known through the ages.”
Tears stung my eyes as I took another stroke of the comb.
“Frills, frippery and empty poetry,” Makaydees retorted. ““Players such as that are nothing more than dolls for the rich to set dancing. Their only real talent is for sycophancy, making names for themselves through flattery. For whatever station it might earn them, their plays are worthless. There’s no life blood in licensed theatre these days. It all must be tamed to suit the sensibilities of the Puritans and Privy Council.”
“You don’t know that!” I protested. “Tis over a decade gone since you left London. And the word on the road has it that the city is now home to the best actors and playwrights England has ever seen.” I twisted my neck to meet his stare. “Is that why you won’t go back there, Mak? Because you don’t want to face the competition?”
I held the tears in my eyes a tantalising moment longer. I let them sparkle prettily before I blinked my lids and felt them slide down my cheeks.
“Don’t take on so.” He clasped my chin and turned me away. “I’ll admit that our repertoire has become tired. What I need is time and peace to write a new play. And not just any play. The time has come for me to write my masterpiece before my mind dulls with age and my back can no longer hunch over parchment.”
“I want to write it with you,” I dared to demand.
“I write my plays for you. Be grateful my quill favours the female parts. No city playhouse would allow its boy players to take the leading roles like I do.”
“But my girls never get to speak what they truly wish to say…and why can’t they ever live in the end?”
“Because nobody lives in the end. I won’t sell our audiences any lies. Though I like to think your girls lend a little grace to our collective certain doom.”
Makaydees ceased his brushing and stared pensively at his comb, now twined with the threads of my abused curls. He tapped my shoulder and nodded to the ladder in the wagon’s corner leading up to a poky crawl space where I made my bed.
“Go,” he ordered. “Get your beauty sleep.”
The Players Craft will be released by Odd Voice Out later in 2020. The Vagabond Stage is available now in Kindle and Paperback form through our books page.