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The Troupe

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Gargoyle mask
Years ago, my school's drama club did a performance of an ancient Greek play that some of the graduates in our language department had been collaborating on translating. I wasn’t too clear on the plot, but I knew it was one of those plays where the actors would all be wearing masks with exaggerated features and gaping mouths designed to amplify their voices, like they did thousands of years ago at the old amphitheaters. I was lucky enough to be involved in the play by getting to make some of these masks.

Rather than research how the masks would amplify the actor’s voice, we just built hidden microphone headsets into the masks themselves. The mics were of course connected by radio signal to the stereo system of the auditorium. That way we could still have the mic headsets without the actors having to wear them over their masks. I tried one on out when we were testing them and they were all really cool, if a little hokey-looking.

Anyway, the translation of the play had been in the works for about a year, and the actual production and casting and rehearsal and other various preparations had taken until about May of the school year after that. I went to the kind of school where there would be a lot of interest in a play like this being performed, so as you might imagine, this meant some serious anticipation and excitement had built up around this play. It seemed the entire school was looking forward to it, hell, I didn’t know anyone connected with the school who wasn’t going. Long story short, the actors had full house to perform for, and this play was kind of a big deal on campus.

When opening night rolled around, I had hoped to get a good chance to wish the actors good luck and to impress some of the girls with my imagined theater savvy by saying break a leg, but I didn’t see any around the auditorium, and when I tried to get back stage, I wasn’t allowed back there. I thought this was kinda weird since I’d actually had a hand in production by making some of the props, but I shrugged it off and took my seat.

After a while, the lights finally dimmed and the murmuring of the crowd died down. The curtain rose and the stage lights lit for the opening scene, and immediately I knew something was a little off. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realized what it was. I might not have known most of the actors very well, and they may have been wearing masks, but their body shapes were different than I had learned to match up with their respective masks from watching the rehearsals. When I noticed this, I realized another thing. The masks they were wearing weren’t the ones we had made. The ones the actors were wearing looked somehow more grotesque, yet authentic than the ones we had made.

Everyone’s voices were different too. They didn’t just sound like different people, which I was certain they were once Aphrodite entered a scene and I didn't recognise her voice as belonging to the best-looking of the actresses. The voices kind of sounded like they were speaking through a megaphone, the kind without a speaker in it where it’s just a hollow cone. I wasn’t the only one who noticed something was off either, I could see and faintly hear people in the audience whispering to each other. If it hadn't been so dark in our seats, I know I'd have seen worried looks on everyone's faces.

Things took another turn for the weird when an actor wearing a mask for a character I wasn’t even aware of being in the play entered the stage maybe two-thirds of the way through. More than any of the others, this actor’s mask made me think of a gargoyle. As soon as this character appeared, all the actors on stage… started speaking in Greek. The audience was completely lost and confused at this point, and lost all track of what was happening when the events of the play began to deviate from the original storyline.

Characters who should have been on the same side began to bicker and shout at each other. Zeus got abusive his children. Herakles curled up into a fetal position and gave up when faced with a monster whose cries and growling could be heard from offstage, an effect I swear we had never made anything to simulate. Demeter turned her back on some starving peasants, and Aphrodite was dragged away screaming by gods who she was known to have seduced who tore at her clothes, her screams continuing long after she was taken offstage. The dead rebelled against and trampled Hades.

There seemed to be a lot more actors in the play than I remembered, unless they were changing costumes very quickly. Actors were never harmed as far as I could tell, but the content of the play had gotten disturbing. All the while, the actor in the gargoyle mask was nearby when bad things happened, but no one on stage paid him any mind. Finally, this actor would glide over to each character in the play and seemed to stab them in the back or in the heart or slit their throats, and the actors would mock fall over dead. Even characters who were supposed to be dead returned to the stage, only to be murdered.

When it was all over, and every character but the man in the gargoyle mask had died, this mysterious actor took a bow, alone, and the stage lights dimmed as the curtain fell. Campus security investigated backstage when I and some others in the production crew told them something was wrong, and they found no one. It was later found that nobody could report seeing any actors enter or leave the auditorium, and the drama students who were meant to perform that night, as well as the masks and costumes used that night, were never seen again.

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