Title: The Play’s The Thing – Sequel to ‘The Young Performers’
Characters: Jack, Ianto, Andy, assorted OCs
Word Count: 3459
Summary: The three boys work and play their way through Secondary School, learning a lot about all kinds of things along the way.
Warnings: Completely AU, set in a universe where Torchwood doesn’t exist.
Written For: My cottoncandy_bingo square Play.
Beta: The wonderful zazajb, my advisor in all things school related. Thanks so much, your advice and assistance have been invaluable!
Disclaimer: I don’t own Torchwood or any of the characters. Which is sad.
A/N: This is the fourth in a series of AU stories for different prompts on my bingo card, following Jack and Ianto through their school years and beyond. There are seven in total, of wildly varying lengths, this one being the longest.
A/N2: Yes, I know the quote I’ve used as the title of this one is from a different play by Shakespeare, but it still seemed apt for this part of the story.
Growing up was bringing a lot of changes into Jack, Ianto and Andy’s lives.
Secondary school turned out to be a lot bigger than they were accustomed to; instead of just three classes in each year there were six, with over thirty pupils in each class instead of the twenty or so there used to be in their primary school classes.
Andy found himself in a class full of kids he didn’t know, but thankfully his easygoing nature and sense of humour soon won him friends.
Jack and Ianto were grateful that at least they’d been assigned to the same class, even though they couldn’t sit together anymore. The teachers insisted on the class being seated in alphabetical order, which meant there were four other kids between them. It was the first of a number of disappointments they had to face in their first year at their new school.
Shortly after term started, the two friends discovered that while there was indeed a drama club at the school, it was only for years 10 and 11.
“Well that sucks!” Jack said as he sat down hard on the low wall beside Ianto at morning break. He winced at the painful impact. “Ow!”
“Serves you right,” Ianto laughed, but he quickly sobered at the expression of unrelenting gloom on Jack’s face.
Under other circumstances, he would have given Jack a comforting hug, but they’d quickly learned that holding hands and hugging got them picked on teased and pushed around. While the bullying hadn’t lasted beyond Jack punching the ringleader in the nose at the bus stop after school, they’d made a pact to keep such behaviour to the safety of their own homes in future. The older kids could be mean.
“Just because we can’t join the official drama club doesn’t mean we can’t have our own unofficial one. We could get together at breaks and act out scenes from plays. It would be good practice. I bet Andy would join us, and maybe some of the other kids from our old school.”
Jack sat up straighter and gazed at Ianto in admiration.
“That’s a great idea! We should talk to Andy at lunch.”
Andy was enthusiastic about the idea and talked several of his new friends into joining the little club. Kathy, Eugene, Tommy and Beth from their old school also joined, giving them a ‘cast’ of eleven; seven boys and four girls. They met informally twice a week at lunch, taking turns bringing a scene from a play or movie script for the little group to act out. It was fun trying different things and since there were only four girls in the group, sometimes Jack would get to read one of the female roles, much to his delight.
Lessons were harder and they all had more homework, and consequently less time to have fun. Sport was also a compulsory subject, so Jack and Ianto played rugby and basketball in winter and did various track and field events through spring and into summer. Both boys were growing steadily, with Jack always just a little taller than his friend. Ianto appeared skinny but it was deceptive and he could run faster than Jack, though not by much.
They both enjoyed all the physical activity, despite the inevitable scrapes and bruises, but theatre and all it involved remained their first love, so naturally as the summer term approached and the end of year plays were announced, the pair counted down the days, impatiently waiting for the auditions to begin.
When the day finally arrived, they fidgeted through their classes, itching to get to the school hall and dreaming of the fun they would have. Despite getting there as fast as they could after the end of their final class of the day, they found there was already quite a queue. With the greater number of students at secondary school, they really should have expected that, but it took them by surprise to see the throngs of hopeful would-be actors waiting to audition.
“Well, it’ll probably be like this when we first start auditioning for real plays,” Ianto told Jack. “I guess we should get used to it. We’ll just have to do our best to impress whichever teacher is in charge. D’you know who it is?”
“I heard someone say it’s Mr Murphy, the geography teacher.” Neither Jack nor Ianto had met Mr Murphy; they’d opted to take history instead of geography, on the grounds that a good understanding of British history would be useful if they auditioned for any historical plays in the future.
“Huh. Wonder what he’s like.”
“Beats me. Well, here goes nothing.”
They clasped hands and spoke at the same time.
“Break a leg!”
It was the final disappointment of a disappointing year. They were hardly given a chance to audition; Mr Murphy barely glanced at them before calling for the next person. Trudging out of the hall afterwards, Jack was fuming at the injustice.
“I can’t believe we didn’t get cast in the play!” he exclaimed. “It was blatant favouritism!” Apparently, Mr Murphy had been a teacher at one of the other local primary schools before he’d accepted a post with the geography department at the start of the school year and almost all the students he cast in the play had been pupils he knew from his old school.
“Well, you could have been in it,” Ianto replied.
“Oh, sure. Walk on, hand something to someone, walk off again,” he huffed. “Anyone could do that.”
“I bet you’d have done it better though.”
“We’ll get parts next year.” Ianto refused to give up hope. “For a start, it won’t be Mr Murphy in charge of the Year 8 production so he won’t get to play favourites.”
“But that’s a whole year away! What are we going to do until then?”
“Keep our drama club going over summer and just learn as much as we can. Come on.”
He grabbed Jack by the arm and started to pull him down the corridor.
“Where are we going now?”
“We’re signing up to help with scenery and costumes. If we can’t act in the play this time, we’ll learn what we can about all the other stuff that goes into putting on a production. It’ll help when we’re professional actors if we can lend a hand behind the scenes. The more experience we have, the easier it’ll be to get jobs. It won’t be as good as actually being in the play, but we can still be part of it and help make it as good as it can be.”
Working behind the scenes turned out to be quite an education. They tried their hands at everything from constructing sets to creating costumes and even helping the cast to learn their lines. During the play itself, Robin Hood this year, they moved scenery, helped with wardrobe and made sure the young actors didn’t miss their cues. Ianto stood in the wings when he wasn’t needed elsewhere, to prompt anyone who forgot their lines, his photographic memory once again making him invaluable.
The two performances of the play went reasonably smoothly. None of the scenery collapsed, nobody missed their cues, only three of the cast forgot lines briefly and as far as anyone could tell, no one in the audience noticed.
Robin managed to break the string on his bow and Maid Marion got stage fright and froze, but that happened during a scene where she really didn’t have to do anything, so it didn’t cause any problems.
After the final show ended, Jack marched up to Mr Murphy, towing Ianto behind him, and asked if he’d photograph them in front of the castle set they’d helped build. Even though they hadn’t acted in the play this time, they were proud of what they’d accomplished and Jack thought they should have a record of their first time working as stage hands.
“You were right, Ianto. If we’re going to be professional actors one day, we should learn about everything to do with putting on a play, not just the acting part. We might want to produce a play ourselves one day, so we should know how it’s done. We did a good job on this one; that’s something worth remembering.”
Ianto nodded agreement.
“I guess we can’t expect to get cast in every play we audition for. There could be dozens of other actors all hoping to be cast in the roles we want and we might not always be the best choice for the part. But set-builders and wardrobe people are needed too. Working behind the scenes might give us a chance in the future to learn from more experienced actors, even if it’s just by watching them. And I’ve read that some small touring companies do everything themselves anyway to cut down on costs. We can volunteer to help backstage again next year if we don’t get to act; at least this way we still get to be involved.”
“I missed being on stage though,” Jack said with a wistful smile.
“I know. Me too.”
That year, the summer seemed to go on forever, but at the same time, passed by much too fast. Soon they were shopping for new school uniforms because they’d outgrown everything they were wearing at the end of the previous school year.
“It’s ridiculous,” grumbled Ianto. “Mam says I’m growing like a weed, my favourite jeans are too short already. It’s not worth buying anything really nice when I barely get to wear it before I’ve outgrown it.” He and Jack were being dragged around the shops by their mothers, unhappy because there were far better things to be doing with their last few days of freedom.
“On the bright side, we haven’t shot up as fast as Andy.”
They’d run into their friend earlier that day, the first time they’d seen him since the holidays had started. He’d been spending the summer helping out on his grandparents’ farm and they’d been astonished to find he was now several inches taller than they were.
“Must be all the… umm… fertilizer on the farm,” Ianto grinned.
“Yeah. Bet his grandma mistook him for a beanpole. God, I hope we’re nearly done here. My feet hurt.”
“Mine too. I can’t believe summer’s nearly over! We’ll be back at school next week.”
“Back to the grind of lessons and too much homework. Oh joy. Well, at least we’re still in the same class. That’s something to be thankful for.”
“As long as we’re together, we can get through anything.” Ianto briefly squeezed his friend’s hand. “Nothing else really matters.”
“We’ll always be together, Ianto, no matter what. That’s a promise.”
Term started, and they settled back into the now familiar routine, days and weeks blending together. The Christmas holidays came and went; the days grew gradually longer and warmer as spring arrived and the boys started to get restless again, waiting for the Year 8 play to be announced. They were thirteen now, moody teenagers, and yet to each other they were unchanged. Older yes; taller, stronger, their voices starting to change, but in everything that mattered to them, they were still just Jack and Ianto. They understood each other’s moods without even needing to think about it and even now, there was no one else either one of them would rather be with. While all their friends were getting distracted by girls, they vowed to each other that no mere girl would ever come between them.
“Who needs girls anyway?” Jack grumbled to his mother.
She just laughed.
“You’ll change your tune in a year or so, when some pretty girl smiles at you and the butterflies start fluttering around inside you.”
“Huh. Never gonna happen.”
He didn’t bother telling his mother that those butterflies were already old friends; he’d felt them fluttering the first time he’d ever laid eyes on Ianto, and they’d never stopped since.
When the boys returned to school again after Easter, they immediately made a beeline for the notice board, checking for that all-important announcement, and there it was. Year 8 would be performing a play about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Jack’s eyes lingered on one particular role, that of Guinevere, imagining himself in a flowing dress and maybe a crown. Ianto instinctively knew what he was thinking.
“It’s not a very big role though, it’s way down the cast list.”
“Yeah. Maybe we could audition as a couple of knights instead, that would be pretty cool. We can’t really expect to land one of the main roles when we weren’t even in the play last year. You’re only as good as your last play. None of the teachers here ever saw us in Oliver Twist.”
“That was a great play,” Ianto said with a smile, a faraway look in his eyes as he remembered. He turned to Jack. “Auditions are after school on Friday. We should stop by the library, see if scripts are available.”
“You think they might be?”
“Dunno, but it’s worth a try. We should just have time before class if we hurry.”
They had to walk right past the school library on their way to their homeroom, so they slipped in quickly to ask the librarian.
“Excuse me, Mrs Brooks.”
“Yes, boys, what can I do for you?” Mrs Brooks looked up from repairing a book. Ianto couldn’t understand why anyone would damage books; they were gateways to the world of the imagination. He and Jack had always read a lot and were well known to the librarian already.
“We were wondering if there was a script available for the Year 8 play,” Ianto told her. “Auditions are Friday and we want to be prepared.”
“It just so happens that there is. The scripts for the plays are always the library’s responsibility, but hardly anyone ever thinks to borrow a copy for auditioning. Now let me see. Which play is it?” She reached to leaf through the contents of the box by her desk.
“Ah yes, here you are!” She pulled out two scripts and handed them to the boys. “Now, take good care of them and don’t forget to return them to me if you don’t get cast, they’ll be needed for rehearsals.”
“You’re welcome. Good luck with the auditions,” she called after them as they hurried out the door.
Out in the corridor they tucked their scripts away carefully in their bags.
“We can read through at break, then we can decide which roles we’re going to audition for,” said Jack. “C’mon, we’d best get to class.”
On audition day, Jack and Ianto were surprised when the teachers in charge of auditions, Mr Black and Miss Shaw, asked them both to read for the role of Arthur. One at a time, they went into a side room and read a scene with Miss Shaw reading the role of Merlin then they had to wait with the other hopefuls while the teachers made their decision.
“This is almost like a real audition,” Ianto said to Jack as they waited, tense and nervous, wondering if either of them would get the role. It felt like forever, but was probably only a few minutes, before two of the other students were called back into the office. When they came out, Jack and Ianto were called in. They had to read the same scene as before, taking turns to play Arthur and Merlin. After that, there was more waiting until finally, Mr Black came out.
“Alright, we’ve made our decision on the main roles. Jack Harkness, you’ll be playing King Arthur and we’d like Ianto Jones to play Merlin. Huw Evans, you’ll be playing…”
Jack and Ianto didn’t hear anything else; they were too busy congratulating each other on their good fortune.
Rehearsals started the following week and they were worked harder than ever before, but they didn’t care. They were doing what they loved more than anything in the world and they put everything they had into it, impressing the teachers with their enthusiasm and dedication.
On the night of their first performance, the hall was packed. It was so much bigger than the hall at primary school; there must have been at least five times as many people waiting to watch them. Nervous excitement bubbled inside them; they could scarcely wait to get out on stage. When they performed in plays, they felt more alive that at any other time, like they could be anyone and do anything.
The play began with Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, meeting Merlin and becoming King. As it continued, it told the story of how Arthur gathered together brave knights to defend his kingdom, and how he got the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. It was a very dramatic play even though it wasn’t all that long, full of exciting moments, brave deeds and treachery. Jack loved playing the noble King Arthur and Ianto made a splendidly mysterious Merlin. For once, perhaps because everyone involved was older and had worked so hard, there were no big mistakes or disasters. The sets stayed up, no one got their costume caught on anything, nobody fell over or missed their cues and there were only a few slightly fluffed lines. Jack almost called Merlin ‘Ianto’ at one point, but caught himself in time, and Ianto was sure he heard Sir Lancelot call Queen Guinevere ‘Grinivere’, but that could have been deliberate. The girl playing her did grin a lot, after all.
After their final curtain call, the boys got Miss Shaw to photograph them backstage for their album. Their costumes were their best ever, and they were sad about having to give them back; Jack was especially reluctant to hand over his crown, but at least they would have the pictures as a permanent reminder.
Year 9 turned out to be a washout. Literally. The torrential rain throughout winter and spring left the school hall and several classrooms flooded and completely unusable. The school’s headmistress made the decision to abandon any plans for end of year plays since they wouldn’t have a stage to perform on, instead setting the students the task of helping to raise funds for repairs and to replace the sets and costumes that had been stored backstage. Jack and Ianto spent whatever time they could spare from their schoolwork in the carpentry workshop making key fobs and other small, useful items for sale. It was fun, they enjoyed being creative, but it wasn’t what they really wanted to be doing. Still, if the school raised enough money then maybe next year they might get to be in another play.
They spent a lot of their time over the summer holidays out in Ianto’s back garden, studying scripts they’d downloaded from the Internet. When their parents wondered why they weren’t off out with their friends or dating girls, they just shrugged and said they didn’t have time for all that. If they wanted to have a chance at their chosen career, then they needed to work at it.
They even contacted the local Amateur Dramatics Society, only to be told that they couldn’t join until they were sixteen, which meant they had another year to wait. On a more positive note, at least when they returned to school they’d be in year 10 and eligible to join the school’s drama club at long last. They just hoped it was worth the three-year wait.
The official school drama club turned out to be a lot like the one they’d begun with their friends when they’d first moved up to Secondary school; a group of students who met twice a week to read and act out scenes from plays. Their own club had gradually fizzled out during their second year at the school, the members finding other interests to take up their time and drifting away. Faithful Andy had been the last one to go, preferring to play football with the other boys from his class. That left Jack and Ianto on their own again, so they were glad of the chance to get involved with the official version, even though there were only five other members. If nothing else, it gave them somewhere warm to be at breaks and lunchtime during the very cold autumn, winter and spring that year. The biggest difference between their drama club and the school’s version was that now they were mainly studying plays by Shakespeare. That was no bad thing though; they were only just starting to realise how much there still was to learn, and Shakespeare’s English could be tricky to understand.
Continued in Part 2