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A Thousand Faces

6

Chapter 6

17

Mansik waited for a response, his arms crossed.

“I don’t have one,” said the boy.

“You don’t have a name?”

“Yeah. I don’t have a name.”

A person without a name. Even the stray dog around here had one.

But saying he didn’t want to reveal his identity was one thing; did he have to say it in such an impertinent way?

“Do you live around here?”

The boy didn’t respond. In truth, it did seem like a pointless question. His face seemed to ask, “Why do you wanna know?”

Mansik didn’t intend to get angry, so he didn’t know why he was making this sound like an interrogation. Was it due to some petty desire to lash out because of all the stress today?

Observing the theater owner, who was scowling fiercely, the boy suddenly bowed his head as if realizing something.

“I’m sorry. I thought it was okay because you didn’t say anything until now.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I—”

“I won’t come back.”

“Wait—”

The boy turned his back and walked away without a word.

“Oh.”

Then, as if remembering something, he returned and handed something to Mansik. It was a few crumpled bills.

“What’s this for?” Mansik asked.

“I enjoyed the show today. It’s a shame it got cut short.”

Hadn’t he watched until the end? The usual four bills had become three.

“Hey, you—!”

While Mansik was still trying to comprehend what had just happened, the nameless teen was already disappearing into the distance.

***

“Won’t come back, my ass.”

The next day, the mysterious young man was in front of the theater again. Still dressed in work clothes, he lounged on the steps, making no move to go inside.

Mansik was exhausted. Yesterday had been a marathon of handling complaints over the phone, absorbing a day’s worth of anger and frustration without a word of protest. He should have felt stuffed from swallowing all that bitterness, yet he still felt hungry this morning.

That’s when the thought struck him—did this kid even have enough to eat?

Mansik approached the steps. He eyed the young man, who looked a little lost, his face carefully blank.

“What’re you doing here again? I thought you said you weren’t coming back.”

The boy’s round face looked slightly defiant, but Mansik caught the slight twitch in his left shoulder. It looked like he might have injured it while working at the site.

“Are you hurt?” Mansik asked.

“It’s nothing,” the boy brushed it off, rotating his arm to prove his point.

Mansik thought of the theater’s first aid supplies. He couldn’t just ignore an injured kid right in front of him.

But the boy didn’t budge. Instead, he blinked as if to say, “What’s with all the fuss?”

“You must have had an easy life,” the boy commented.

Mansik got the feeling he wasn’t used to adults caring about his well-being. His gaze seemed to carry the weight of numerous hardships, but it was free from any trace of self-pity.

“I’m fine,” the boy said. “I’ll just go home, slap on a patch, and take a nap. Thanks for the concern, though.”

He got up and gave a slight bow.

Worried that he might leave abruptly again, Mansik blurted, “Is theater the only thing you’re interested in?”

The boy halted and turned around.

“We have other recorded performances and scripts inside,” Mansik continued. “Jeez, that makes me sound like some kinda candy-wielding creep. What I mean is…”

As Mansik rambled on, the boy just stood there, silently observing him.

“Look, if you just walk away, I’ll probably be waiting here tomorrow with bandages. You should’ve stuck with the tough-guy act; now you’ve got me all worried. It’d be easier for both of us if you just let me treat that injury before you take off.”

The boy still didn’t respond. What could be going through his mind? For a fleeting moment, there was a hint of unmistakable longing in his face.

Surprisingly, the boy gave in. He quietly received treatment and even followed Mansik to a restaurant afterward.

“You seemed pretty set on ignoring me. Guess you were hungry after all.”

“I was just thinking about someone.”

The boy spoke in a calm tone. Well, whatever his reason…

Dirt fell from his work clothes whenever he lifted his spoon to scoop his soup. As they chatted, Mansik noted the boy didn’t seem troubled or like he was running from something. This sparked Mansik’s curiosity.

“Why do that kind of work? You’re young; you could probably find other jobs in the city with your looks. Why choose to loiter here with the old folks? What about your parents?”

Unable to hold back his curiosity any longer, Mansik set down his cutlery and bombarded the boy with questions.

But the boy didn’t bite. “Everyone’s got their reasons,” he said simply, taking another mouthful of rice to avoid further questions.

Mansik wondered if he’d overstepped. After all, this was their first conversation. It occurred to him later that he might have come off as the very type of “old folk” he often complained about. It was while he was trying to dial back his intensity that the boy’s interest shifted.

“What’s that? Can I take a look?”

The boy pointed to the script lying on the table. He had been glancing at it since earlier.

“Sure. You’re curious?”

Mansik handed the script over.

Fateful Encounter.

It was an unreleased play in the romance genre, one that Mansik had been preparing for several months. He had high expectations for it to open in a week. It might just be the big opportunity the theater needed to make up for the recent losses.

Despite his efforts to appear nonchalant, the thrill of sharing it with someone new, outside the usual theater circle, was undeniable.

As the boy murmured the title and began flipping through the pages, his previously dull eyes lit up. He had the same intense focus as when he watched the plays.

By the time the kid thumbed through a couple of pages, Mansik became uneasy. This script hadn’t yet been revealed to the world. It was supposed to be highly confidential until the opening to prevent any leaks.

At first, Mansik figured it wouldn’t hurt to let this country kid take a quick look, but seeing his genuine engagement with the script made him second-guess that decision. Was this a mistake?

Snatching the script back as the boy moved to continue reading past the first two pages, Mansik felt a twinge of regret.

“That’s enough now. It’s unreleased, so that’s all you get.”

Expecting some protest, Mansik was surprised when the boy simply looked disappointed. “Thank you for showing me.”

That was all he said.

That’s it? And here Mansik had been expecting something more—expressions of interest or saying he looked forward to it, or even if he could keep reading.

“I know you didn’t get to read much, but what do you think?” Mansik asked. “Think it’ll be a hit?”

“I dunno. What would I know?”

A dismissive response.

The hell? Didn’t like it at all, huh? I call bullshit.

Mansik had poured so much effort into acquiring this script, confident in its success. But the boy’s lukewarm reaction touched a nerve, and Mansik found himself babbling about things he hadn’t even been asked.

“Hey, kid. I really put my heart into this one. Do you know how many years I’ve waited to get this script? The writer’s a perfectionist, borderline OCD. He doesn’t hand anything over if there’s even the tiniest flaw in the script. Just look at the lines; impeccable from start to finish. Once this hits the stage, it’s a home run.”

However, the boy, who had been silently listening, wore a somewhat displeased expression as if something was bothering him.

“What is it?” Mansik pressed.

“Oh, no, it’s nothing.”

“Why? Not a fan of romance?”

“It’s not that. I’m just not sure if it suits your theater.”

“My theater? What do you mean?”

“From the first scene, second line.”

The boy began to recite lines and stage directions with remarkable accuracy. Mansik, who initially had no interest, found himself increasingly drawn in. The boy’s ability to recall the script in such detail after only a brief glance was astonishing.

“But what does that have to do with my theater?” Mansik asked, his curiosity piqued.

“This line here; there’s a part where they change positions.”

“And?”

“The scene requires a move that only works on a rectangular stage at least thirteen steps across. Your theater’s stage is oval, which will make that move look awkward unless you rearrange the set into an L shape. That means cutting out three characters from that scene.”

Mansik couldn’t figure out what the boy was talking about at all.

“Also, the next part. The distance covered is longer than when the line ends. Even if we widen the stride a bit, it’s about four and a half steps. But that area reflects the side wall at an angle, so the shadows would cover their faces…”

The boy suddenly stopped talking as he caught on to Mansik’s silence. He seemed to hesitate, as if he wasn’t sure whether he was being intrusive.

“Never mind. I just thought it might be a pain for you. Just ignore me.”

Mansik wasn’t upset. If anything, he felt somewhat awkward.

In the world of theater, it was normal to tweak and adjust scenes to fit the stage. Every production faced its share of challenges, adapting to the unique quirks of the venue, the nuances of the actors’ performances, and the technical limitations of lighting and sound.

A script, no matter how well-written, often underwent significant changes before the final curtain rise. The unpredictable nature of live performance meant that flexibility was key.

Yet, the boy’s insights into the script’s compatibility with Mansik’s theater’s layout were remarkably astute, all from just the first few lines. It was a level of detail that even seasoned directors couldn’t predict in the early stages of planning.

A thought suddenly struck Mansik—had he ever publicly disclosed the script?

He’s probably just blabbing whatever comes to mind.

Still, Mansik, with over a decade of experience, had never encountered anything like this. He furrowed his brow and began reading through the script line by line.

His expression grew increasingly serious. Sitting there in the restaurant, Mansik couldn’t validate everything the boy had said. But as he mentally mapped the script onto his theater’s stage, he recognized the truth in the boy’s words.

The theater was Mansik’s domain. He had a hand in every aspect, from the intricacies of the stage design to the nuances of lighting and sound. His knowledge was unparalleled, honed from years of direct involvement, right from the nailing of the very first floorboards.

Had this kid been observing the sets all this time? Or had he managed to sneak in and suss out the stage? Sitting in the back couldn’t have given him a clear enough view.

It was as if he had an innate ability to visualize and critique the stage setup and script alignment in his mind’s eye, without needing to physically inspect the theater’s equipment or understand the technical jargon.

Mansik was blown away. He wanted to hear more.

The boy’s casual demeanor as he tidied up his seat suggested he was unaware of his own abilities.

Before he could even think it through, Mansik handed the script back. “Do you want to continue?”

“Continue what?”

“What you were saying. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the other parts, too.”

The boy looked slightly hesitant. “Is it okay for me to read more?”

Mansik nodded.

Taking the script, the boy flipped through the pages. This time, his concentration was even more intense. He was completely immersed. It seemed like he could see the entire play just by looking at the script. Mansik felt a thrill of excitement.

As the boy shared his thoughts, dissecting the script scene by scene, Mansik listened in awe.

His insights touched on not only the stage setup but also the actors’ movements, the precise timing of dialogue pauses, and the breaths between lines. Moreover, he described the angles visible to the audience, the actors’ positions and the placement of the lights, the intensity of the colors, and even the timings for adjusting the brightness.

All these elements were perfectly tailored to the conditions of Mansik’s theater. Even an expert analyzing a previously staged play couldn’t hope to match the level of detail effortlessly flowing from the boy’s lips.

As Mansik listened, he witnessed the play through a new lens. It was the same script he had read just the other day, but now, every element was reimagined, from the stage to the actors.

If he hadn’t heard any of this prior to diving into rehearsals, it would have been one challenge after another. Mansik had no choice but to acknowledge the kid’s points.

“How do you know these things?” Mansik asked.

He felt a thrill similar to the feeling he got when discovering an acting talent.

The boy seemed hesitant to answer.

Was he a part of a theater company? But if so, why would he be running around a construction site?

“Do you study directing on your own? Is that why you’ve been watching all those recordings here? Because you’re sketching storyboards?”

The boy’s puzzled expression made it clear he had no idea what Mansik was talking about.

Mansik was right; this kid wasn’t in the industry at all.

“When did you start getting into plays?”

“The first one I saw was here, not too long ago.”

“Your first play was one of ours, just a few weeks back?”

“Yes. I wanted to watch a movie, but this neighborhood doesn’t have a movie theater.”

So, it meant that within just a few weeks, he had effortlessly familiarized himself with all the nuances of the theater stage. Mansik felt a growing sense of excitement. He wanted to dig a little more. Did this kid’s talent extend beyond stage direction?

“What if you were to adjust a line of dialogue, considering all you’ve mentioned about the staging? Could you do that?”

“Um… that’s…”

All of a sudden, the boy seemed flustered. Frustration was evident on his face.

It might have been too much of an ask.

Even though he was just a village boy, Mansik was glad to have stumbled upon a rare gem in the realm of stage direction. Just as he was leaning forward, his excitement palpable, the boy’s answer stopped him cold.

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