I stepped quietly behind the red velvet curtain, listening to the chatter of the audience as they filed in and found their seats. Shadows played on the walls of the set, spilling from the dim work lights around the stage manager’s desk; she signaled the five-minute call to show time and I mentally reviewed my opening lines. I looked down at my hands, hoping they were not too swollen, hoping I would be able to manage the tray of glasses I carried offstage in the second act. Old lady RA seemed to be in hiding, but I felt her heat in my blood. The opening music played, the lights faded, and I took my place on stage, waiting for the curtain to lift…
The last show I did was four years ago, after the first year of my diagnosis. I hadn’t thought about returning to the stage until a director friend of mine asked if I would be interested in being in his show as the lead. I hesitated, unsure if the old lady would grant me the energy for rehearsals and performance. The challenge for me was not the multitude of lines I’d have to memorize (hoping that old RA fog would subside) but the ability to lift and carry a tray of glasses for each show. I was not sure my hands would cooperate; despite my misgivings, I agreed to do it.
During rehearsals, I learned to reign in the frantic movement of my anxious character, to cautiously lift the tray, in spite of my shaking hands; the glasses, the ones we had been warned not to break for they were required for the full run of the show, clanked ominously against each other night after night. Each performance, I dreaded that moment, hoping that I would not need to deal with the consequence of one of those glasses sliding from the precarious tray in my hands. Somehow, over the weeks, I managed to complete my task, with only a few near misses. In the final performance, I handed the tray to the stage manager for the last time, and celebrated a tiny victory. I had successfully stemmed the tide of the old lady, like a lion tamer commanding the wild fierceness of his cats; I had mustered the energy to restore a part of my life altered by arthritis.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.