In Which Arielle Meets Stephen Fry

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“Fabulous!” – Stephen Fry commenting on my mediocre iPhone photo-taking skills (I think)

The morning of December 7th, 2013 was frigidly delivered with the usual grogginess and stiff neck from a sloppy 6-hour sleep. How I was able to wake up so swiftly in the midst of Finals Week, I do not know. But, I did know what got me physically out of bed was the prospect of what was to come.

Literally quivering from head to toe, I was so discombobulated after sprucing up my coat before dashing off, that I absentmindedly placed the lint brush in the refrigerator just one second before I realized I did something terribly wrong. Swallowing what little breakfast I managed to consume, I prepared myself for the 1:55 train to Penn Station for the remainder of the morning.

Walking throughout Manhattan on the brink of Yuletide arrival was fantastic, despite bone-numbing temperatures and mobs of chatty tourists. The usual trademark scents of sewage and street delicacies mingled in the air as my friends and I made time before arriving at the theater. We ate a nice, economically friendly meal at the decked-out Hard Rock Café and decided to brave the crowds as we browsed through random stores in Times Square. As black skies began to creep upon the city, we made our way to the Belasco Theatre for Broadway’s production of Twelfthe Night, Or What You Will.

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Huddled beneath the illuminated entrance of the theater, we patiently waited with tickets in hand for our queue to enter the matinée. As I stared at the enlarged photos of the cast aligned on the theater wall, I grew cold for about the eighth time that day because-

I was going to see Stephen Fry in person. Living. Breathing. In person. Not from a television or computer screen, but in person.

My repetitive flailing followed after this umpteenth revelation as we entered to take our seats within the beautifully Rococo-esque Belasco Theatre. Proud as I was for picking out our front row balcony seats back in August, I felt dizziness creep on from height, excitement, or both. As I was skimming through my first Playbill of the night (before it accidentally plunged to its death over the balcony), I suddenly locked eyes on the stage to see a collection of scattered Elizabethan garb. A few cast members were getting dressed, bodiced, collared and powdered as the band played on in a perfect practice session (and as Mark Rylance’s ethereal presence as Olivia graced the stage), when suddenly, he appeared.

“Oh my God”, I choked. “Oh, God….guys *squeal*, guys…*guttural noises and sharp intakes of breath*, Stephen!!!!…*inaudible mumbling*” 

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There he was, in the flesh, in person, actually there in front of me. Stephen John Fry, my “paragon of perpetual praise” and admiration, was standing on stage at the Belasco Theatre as I sat there, stupidly gazing in disbelief, inclined so far from my chair that I almost tipped over the railing, the Elizabethan tunes slowly morphing into a jaunty hallelujah chorus. I managed to record a shaky snippet of a giddy and chatty Stephen before the start of the show, hoping that my iPhone wouldn’t meet the same fate as my Playbill.

Before I knew it, two cast members lit the waxy candles of the onstage chandeliers and the show began, as my bodily quaking slowly began to subside. Regretting that I did not and still have not read the original text of Twelfth Night, the flawless acting and side-splitting comedic genius of the lot surely made up for my laziness (or time-consuming paper writing for finals?). Rylance delivered with an almost alien grace as Olivia – floating, not gliding on stage in his gown, seeming as if he were some sort of billowing legless thing with effortless prose. Stephen was boisterously beautiful as Malvolio, standing tower-like amongst the comical zoo of drunken, buffoonish and playful household. I remember one such awkward but snort-worthy moment when a melted candle actually fell from one of the chandeliers on stage in the middle of a dialogue (I’m sensing a pattern with this falling business). But, like the professionals that they are, the actors kept on playing as if no wax-fashioned blob had ever rudely decided to plop down.

After two and a half hours of a stunning show, the merry music played on and a traditional step-and-kick dance was performed by the entire cast. My cheeks began to hurt from smiling as I watched Stephen soldier on in the dance (as I recall, he hates dancing and claims he “loathes it”). As planned, I hurriedly grabbed my things and made my way to the entrance for autographs, hoping we were the first in line, while simultaneously catching glimpses at Mark’s closing speech (which I completely regret not staying for).

In no time, we were in front of the cast’s gate, separated by a mere iron grappling bar-type object. Like the flailing fangirl that I am, I had not just a Playbill for Stephen to sign, but my copy of his autobiography, The Fry Chronicles as well. One by one, the cast departed from the building and graciously signed each and every Playbill for the (surprisingly) small crowd of young audience members (most likely all Theatre/Literature/Arts majors like ourselves).

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, at the far end of the darkened cast gate, there he was. Stephen was speedily talking on his phone (oh, his infamous iPhone…in person!), while I resumed my “Oh my God’s..” while half-covering my mouth in heart-quivering awe. As Stephen was signing Playbills at the not-so-far end of the line while hanging up from his unknown dispatcher, my eyes widened in disbelief because there he was….what was I to say? “You inspire me so much”??, “Oh God, it’s really you!!”??, “I look up to you, Mr. Fry”?? These inquiries made a tumultuous storm in my head as Stephen approached us at last.

Fortunately and unfortunately, I was able to produce a slightly meek exclamation of “…you inspire me so much!”, before he graciously thanked me and immediately posed with me for the picture seen below, before he dashed off on an apparent note of urgent importance, the bells of a nearby taxi bike giving off the effect of Stephen disappearing like some sort of wizard (which he is). 

Despite the event happening three years ago today, a stupid smile continues to smear on my face whenever I think about it. “He spoke to me and took a photo with me”, I continue to say to myself. “He signed the Playbill and my book”, I say as I lovingly stare at the markered and penned marvels.

I. Met. My. Idol.

xx

Arielle

(this post was originally written and published for The Shakespeare Standard on January 5th, 2014, appropriately edited to celebrate these events taking place three years today)

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