“My brother likes being judged . He exhilarates in the fact that he’s better than others . That’s why he enjoys getting tested most of the time . But . . . ”
Maru understood just what Geunsoo was worried about .
“He’d dig his own grave the moment he makes a small mistake . ”
“He might’ve changed a little bit since middle school . But traumas of such calibre don’t get fixed very easily . If he’s recovered, then it’s something to be celebrated . But I personally think he’s going to suffer from quite a bit of humiliation today . ”
“But at the same time, don’t you want him to succeed? You must know better than anyone how exhilarating it is to be an actor . ”
Geunsoo grinned at that .
“You’re right . I would love to see my brother go through the proper steps and become an actor . I want him to experience failure and utter hopelessness . Only then can he start thinking about acting more seriously . He’s already experienced failure in studying before, so he’s fine if he fails in it again . But what about acting? Tests are like a duel with your own self, but acting is different . The pressure from the audience can’t be ignored . ”
“You sound pretty confident that Geunseok would fail . ”
“Who knows? He might not . But something tells me that won’t be the case . It’s not like knowing that changes anything though, so I’m just waiting . ”
The man sounded pretty calm, but it was obvious that he was feeling nervous himself . He was tapping his arm with his finger constantly .
“It’s strange, isn’t it? I don’t want my brother to take up acting, but I would love to get on stage with him . That’s exactly why he needs to suffer from failure . If he manages to stand back up by himself afterwards… Then the monster of acting would really reach out to him . That’s when I really plan on helping him out . ”
The doors of the auditorium closed right then, with the speakers saying the first play was about to begin . Maru noticed the judges in the front taking out their papers . Maru thought for a second about how Geunseok would be right behind those curtains just now .
‘Hold on . ’
In the future, Geunsoo becomes an actor who makes a permanent impact on the world of Korean entertainment . Then what about Geunseok? Maru didn’t recall seeing the name anywhere .
It wasn’t because he couldn’t remember the name in his memory . Quite the contrary . In the future that Maru knew, Geunsoo mentioned in an interview about a brother that was working as a normal salaryman .
“What if he doesn’t end up being able to recover, and… tries to rely on you again?”
“I’ll have to console him again . He’s family, after all . I’ll stop him from going into acting, though . This industry isn’t a very kind one, especially not for kids like Geunseok . If you want to achieve your dreams, you need the courage to be able to give it up . Those who can’t will be used and used until they get thrown away . I don’t want my brother to live a life like that . ”
Geunsoo ended the conversation coldly with just that . A person who wants to chase their dream should have the courage to give it up . Maru didn’t expect to hear his father’s exact words here .
When the lights in the auditorium turned off, the audience became quiet and directed their attention to the stage . Geunsoo looked at the stage with short huffs . He was glaring intensely, like an appraiser at an antique store .
Maru decided to just focus on the show for now as well . There was nothing he could do right now . Perhaps Geunsoo’s worry for his brother didn’t warrant another thought . Maybe the play could end perfectly, and Geunseok would be able to chase after his brother with no worries .
But the nervousness Maru felt from Geunseok this morning, and Geunsoo’s reaction held bad omens .
‘Hopefully things will end well . ’
The only thing he could do was to pray .
* * *
Yurim was momentarily confused about where she was . The moment she looked out to the audience seats, she became unable to breathe . There were a lot of people there .
They were all here to see their play . That alone made her feel incredibly nervous .
‘Calm down . ’
She gripped the phone next to her on the desk . This phone held a special meaning to her . Back when Yurim was still in the second grade of middle school, raving about her new phone, a black van stopped in front of her .
Several men in black shirts stepped off, asking her where the nearby elementary school was .
Right then, the first thing her mind thought of was the recent string of disappearances in the news . Something about people snatching middle schoolers to send to some far-off island . Yurim looked around in fear, but there was no one around and it was late in the day as well . She regretted everything just then .
She should’ve listened to her mom . She should’ve come back home early .
The men in black slowly approached her . She couldn’t move . She was paralyzed in fear .
The phone rang right there . It was mom .
That woke her right up . She screamed at the men and backed off . The men didn’t give chase . They got right into their cars and ran away . Yurim hadn’t let go of her phone since . It was her lucky charm . Without it, she wouldn’t even be here right now .
‘I can do it . ’
She gripped her phone tightly . It calmed her a little bit . Some of her friends thought she was weird for being so attached to her phone, but it couldn’t be helped . Being without it made her feel really nervous .
Right then, someone’s hand touched her phone hand gently . It was Soyeon . The first friend Yurim made in high school . The girl was a great person who cared about Yurim’s well-being .
“We can do it . ”
“Yeah . ”
It was difficult for her to make friends after that incident, especially due to the reserved nature she developed from it . But Soyeon approached her first . Yurim recalled the girl’s words upon their first meeting . ‘Your hair’s such a pretty color,’ Soyeon had said .
Yurim put down her phone . With her friend by her side, she wouldn’t need to worry about anything .
“Fighting . ”
“Yeah, fighting . ”
Right then, they got the signal to get ready . The two of them took a deep breath in together .
“Come over here,” Miso called out .
The twelve of them all gathered at once .
“I’m not going to tell you to do well, or not to get nervous . You’ll see when you get on stage that things will be different from before . But it’ll be alright . Just throw yourselves in there . You’ll find that your body reacts almost on its own thanks to all the practices you’ve done . Don’t let fear and nervousness paralyze you . Take it all in . It’s only natural to feel afraid . ”
Miso stretched her hand out to the middle of the circle after a short clap . The twelve hands all gathered in the middle with it .
Yurim felt the nervousness melt from her body with just that . The others must’ve felt similarly, judging by their smiles .
Geunseok looked a little strange . He didn’t look nervous . But he seemed to be putting on some sort of an air about him .
“Geunseok, I told you, didn’t I? Don’t try to do well . Just do what you can . Trust in all the work you’ve done till now . Understand?” Miso asked . She seemed to have noticed as well .
Yurim decided to stop worrying about it . Right . She’ll just try to reap the rewards from the practices .
“The show is about to begin,” one of the staff members reminded them .
Now, this was the true beginning .
* * *
Geunseok thought that this was his first step to becoming more like his brother . Since these were the exact steps his brother once took, Geunseok would have to as well . After getting first place here, he would go onto nationals and get first place there .
“Phew . ”
The lights on the stage turned on, the sofa and the table shining under it . The sounds from the TV started playing as well .
It was no different from the dress rehearsal . There was no need to tremble .
Geunseok could see the audience seats from the curtain . Out of everyone there, the three people at the front stood out to him the most .
In the meantime, Minsung and Joonghyuk’s scene began . At the same time, the trio’s pens started moving in their hands . Even from the dark audience seats, the shiny reflection from the pens stood out to Geunseok .
‘They must be the judges . ’
There was a need to look good in front of these people, Geunseok decided . He would try to direct his gaze to them as much as possible, to make himself more memorable to them .
‘It’s my turn . ’
He stepped in after confirming that Minsung left the stage . His steps were natural . Good . As long as he kept going like this, nothing would go wrong .
* * *
The show was going on perfectly . Each scene transitioned seamlessly . The pronunciation and the projection of the club members were great as well . Their movements seemed experienced and natural, too .
Clearly, this was the result of their practices .
They really were doing it perfectly . At this rate, the entire thing would finish without a hitch, and the entire crew would be greeted with applause in the end .
Maru turned to look at Geunsoo . The man looked… conflicted . He looked at Geunseok whenever it became the boy’s turn to take the stage . Whenever Geunseok finished a monologue safely, Geunsoo would sigh in relief .
“It’ll end well, don’t worry,” Maru whispered .
Geunsoo just smiled lightly in response .
* * *
“Kids these days are so irresponsible!”
Dojin and Daemyung stepped onto the stage with a big footfall . Geunseok could only applaud the two in his head . They came in so cleanly . Even better than usual . He really felt like he was getting scolded by adults here .
Perfect . The play today was perfect .
The two friends behind him spoke out in unison . He’d heard the same line over a hundred times already .
Again, perfect .
Geunseok glanced over at the judges sitting in front . He couldn’t discern their faces, but he did see one of them nod in satisfaction . Good . They were doing well .
‘Nice, we’ll be able to score nicely . ’
The play was reaching the climax at this point . As long as he did everything well from now, they should take first place with ease .
‘Maybe I’ll even get an acting award . ’
Geunseok’s brother had gotten all sorts of acting awards straight from the regionals all the way to the nationals . He even received the award for best actor in the nationals .
Getting an award here was the least Geunseok could do . He’ll get one for sure . He didn’t feel nervous at all . As a matter of fact, there was only confidence in his head . He’ll be the one to end this play perfectly for sure!
Somewhere out in the seats, a kid cried out . Where? Geunseok turned to look at the audience . There was a kid on one side . The mother quickly took the boy outside . Not a big problem . But right then, he noticed something .
‘Why’s it so quiet?’
He couldn’t hear his friends talk . They should be saying their lines about now . What’s up? They had all simultaneously stopped speaking for some reason .
He felt his insides start to burn furiously . What, they forgot their lines just because of a single kid? Unacceptable . They couldn’t move on unless someone finished here . Geunseok looked in front of him . If he looked back now, the others would only get more shocked . The only thing he could do was trust that the others would remember their lines .
Right then, his eyes met with one of the judge’s .
It was an interesting feeling, like a single spotlight was focused on just that judge . He could see the judge’s expressions clearly, even . The man had a very big frown on his face . That was bad .
There was no helping it now . Geunseok decided to turn around to let the others know about their mishap .
But right then, someone grabbed his shoulder . This wasn’t in the script . Why? As soon as he turned his head, he realized exactly why .
Taejoon was looking at him wide-eyed, with Iseul quickly saying ‘h-hey Jungsoo, are you mad because of the mister?’ at him . That line wasn’t in the script .
At the same time, he realized something .
His friends weren’t the ones who missed a line .
It was him .
* * *
Maru scratched his eyebrows as he closed one of his eyes . He couldn’t bear watching for much longer . But at the same time, he knew he had to keep watching . In the end, he just decided to close one of them to try to keep his cool .
Geunseok messed up his timing . The problem was, he didn’t even know that his timing was off . The first thing he did when the kid cried a while back was to just stare at the kid . In that short while, Taejoon and Iseul had already finished their lines .
After that, Geunseok just stared forward silently . Just what was he looking at?
“Kids who grew up on praises can’t live without it . That’s how they were raised, so they become sensitive to people who judge them . Of course, it’s important for an actor to be aware of what the audience is thinking . But the most important quality of an actor is to be in sync with other actors on the stage . An actor too focused on the audience won’t realize his mistake when he makes one . A common mistake amateur actors make . ”
Geunsoo stood up, and quietly left the auditorium . The time Geunseok looked at the audience silently was around 15 seconds . Those few seconds of silence felt incredibly long to the audience .
“DId something happen?”
“What’s he doing?”
People started whispering all around Maru . The audience were sensitive to changes on stage . They could very easily catch onto an actor’s mistakes . They knew instantly that this silence was unintended .
In the end, Iseul stepped forward . But by then, it was all too late .
‘It’s not like we can criticize them, though . They’re just beginners . ’
As a matter of fact, Iseul probably deserved praise for having the courage to step in like that . The girl opened her mouth . Geunseok’s shoulders shook a little bit, and the boy finally managed to look backwards . He seemed to have realized what happened .
The boy stuttered out a few words in shock . His charisma from seconds before was nowhere to be seen . Very uncharacteristic of who he was playing .
If Geunseok behaved like this in the beginning, things would’ve been fine . Jungsoo started off as a nervous boy after all . But they were stepping things up into the final scene at this point .
The main character by now should’ve matured, and have the convictions to go toe-to-toe against his father .
But Geunseok stuttered nervously just now . The entire character of Jungsoo just crumbled right there . The structure of the entire place collapsed . But worst of all, Geunseok was just staring into one section of the audience as if he was frozen .
Maru realized what was happening . The boy was looking at the judges . Almost as if he was trying to say that all this wasn’t supposed to happen .
And then, darkness .
It was the last scene . The table in the middle of the stage was set up . The conversation here would mark the end of the play .
Maru sighed . The seed of nervousness lingering from Geunseok this morning had finally bloomed .
“ . . . Hopefully they don’t get too set back by this,” Soojin whispered .
She was looking at the stage with a saddened look .
The lights turned on again, illuminating the actors who were seated around the table . And a few minutes later, the play ended .
The club members all stepped into the stage joyfully with a calming music playing in the background . They looked like they completely forgot about what happened moments prior . Geunseok stepped onto the stage after everyone else .
He looked like he was utterly dead inside .
The club bowed towards the audience . Maru bowed towards the club members in return .
Good work for the last three months .
And with that, the first play on the first day of regionals in the Southern part of Gyeongi province came to an end .