Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Theater

My theater is the stillness and shadows after the audience has left and the actors have gone home. A single ghost light reduces all colors to monochrome and all shapes to two dimensions, and the rafters creak with the spirits of dramas long past.

My theater is in the daytime, when the plush velvet seats are a cluttered storage ground for tools and instruments, where the softly carpeted aisles are tracked with sawdust, styrofoam chips, and loose hardware. A clamor of people in jeans and sweat-stained t-shirts work while a portable radio blares in a corner. Pitiless work lights reveal every chip in the old walls, every scrape in the giltwork, every stain and tear in the drapes.

For just a few hours, we clean up, hide all the tools, vacuum, pull draperies around the things we can't move, and switch over to performance lighting. Ushers come in with their black clothes, concessions pulls out the big coffee urns and the trays of cookies, and the doors are closed to everyone but a legitimate ticket-holder. We creep in the shadows, then, as if the audience areas had suddenly become enemy territory.

Then the audience leaves, the work lights come back on. We change from the nice blacks to old work clothes again. In a few hours, the marble and stone and mirrored walls and glittering chandeliers of that world we had constructed on the boards no longer exists -- except as a few platforms and flats gone back to storage, a few now tawdry-looking props back in their cardboard boxes, and a broken pile of colorful debris in the dumpster parked outside.

When everyone else is gone, I walk slowly through the darkened shops, dressing rooms, stage and house, checking doors and turning off the last few lights. The air is still warm from the hundreds of bodies that packed the place hours earlier, and dust motes still hang in the air. But it is quiet, the old building slowly settling about me in the cold night air, my footsteps now the loudest sound in a space that had so recently held a cheering, shouting crowd, an orchestra playing full out, and singers singing for all they are worth.

As I leave, I make sure to turn on the ghost light. The ghosts need something to keep them amused, until the doors open again and the whole thing starts on over again.

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