Thursday, 6 January 2011
When people asked me about my impressions of D---, after the first few months I'd spent working there, my answer was always - the backstage is the more interesting bit. Two years later, I stand by that statement. The 'magical' face of D---, the facade, as it were, appears to me as a succession of small and predictable set pieces, with little or no emotional transport for an adult. But the backstage, where all the grit and energy are thrown into the dynamo, where the individual inclination clashes against the professional demands, that's something special.
My favourite spot was the 'Monster' breakroom, that is to say, the spot reserved for the breaks inbetween sets held next to Park II's 'M--- & Co.' zone. There's a long stretch of concrete inbetween a restaurant and the Cinemagique which leads to an open ground, a sort of connecting space between that part of the park and its entrance. There, strategically, a prefabricated breakroom made of glass and plastic, little more than a cagey rectangle, stands behind some vases of plants. I remember that place because my most frequently assigned character, big blue monster S---, rested there next to the smaller ones working at the entrance. There weren't many of us who played S---. The guy was so big and heavy, the head wasn't even a helmet, it was a backpack wrapped around your waist and shoulders and dangling in front of you, with the rest of the matted costume ponderously hanging from it, and the arms a pair of plastic extensions (a few, the old ones, were even made of metal). The 'feet' were enormous and the sweat you produced inside that blue fur-sack was beyond belief. You had to be 187 cm at least to play him.
Most people in that height range tried to avoid the guy, so the task fell on the few regulars who never protested. There were perhaps four of us. I actually rather liked old S---, if only because the shift on the whole was quite clement once you got the morning out of the way. The others not so much, though some of them never complained. And among the ones who never complained, there was a guy called Dominique, or Dom Grego.
Dom Grego was a big guy. He was taller than I was, which wasn't common in that place, but unlike some of my other substitutes, he was bulky as well, with meaty arms and a thick, round thorax. His skin was soft and shiny, like that of a sea-mammal. His hands perhaps betrayed him, thicker, more worn than the rest of his body, full of lines like the map of a city planned a hundred years ago and never built according to project. I got to see a lot of his skin because whenever any of us came back into that breakroom and shrugged off the artificial furs from our body, the first thing we'd do would be to throw the t-shirt into the bag (there was a black bag in a bin for used linen; we'd change t-shirts at every set). In the summer, when the air was so dry it was almost better to stay inside, we'd sit wheezing on the sofas for a few minutes in our underwear, oblivious to the fates of the little 150 cm characters who scuttled around us to get outside like Wookies, watching our counterpart as he donned his own version of the big blue bastard. Many times he saw me wheezing, my forehead pearled with sweat, and many times I saw him, gasping for breath as the mask fell over my line of sight.
I never spoke much with Dom Grego - I never spoke much with anybody but my closest friends, truth be told - but there's some reasons he sticks out in my memory. He was sweet, for one thing. He always had a smile on his face. He never complained, or never seemed to do so seriously, which was a rarity in there. He had soft, child-like eyes (something I never had twenty years ago). I said I didn't speak with him much, but when I did, it was always for a laugh.
When Fred told me a few days ago that he was decesead as a result of an epilectic crisis, the thing that came to mind was this - that in all my memories with him, we were laughing together. Not a single moment that I remember with him was sad. I'm not the best person to write a memorial for this infinitely gentle giant, not by a long shot - when I checked, his remembrance facebook group counted more than 650 contacts (and growing), and I don't think I'm among the half who knew him best - but one thing that struck me was that, whoever little I may have known him, I knew only happiness for what he brought to the people around him, and all I know to be taken away from the world, now he's left it, is this happiness. Or, to put it in terms which all who knew him will be more familiar with, his smile. That lovely big smile.
It comes to me, as I sit here in my studio, two years and a thousand kilometres from that breakroom, that I am probably the only one, barring perhaps those few other regulars, who will remember him for those particular afternoons as S---. And if that part of him only lives in my memory, it follows that that part of me only lived in his. It means that, in a sense, a little part of me died with him, too. It was the part of time that I shared with him. As I look at the hundreds of faces on his facebook memorial who joined to pay him tribute, I can only marvel at the richness of life and experience he shared with others, and I can only gape at how much of the world just died when Dom Grego was not in it anymore.
I wish to tender a little memorial here, perhaps because I have nothing else, perhaps because I cannot send over flowers or share some words with the friends he has left, perhaps because nobody else would really care that I cared. And for what it's worth, I do care. Rest in peace, Dom Grego, and thanks for your kindness. Thanks for being the one who smiled. Thanks for being my back to back. Thanks for helping me put that Genie costume on, with those impossible shoulder-pads. Thanks for not being afraid of my silence. Thanks for never complaining. Thanks for the little things. Thanks for everything. A thousand times thank you, from all of us. Now. Forever.