The shows that go on..

Last week, in rather uncharacteristic behaviour, I found myself 20 minutes early to pick Miss A up from her drama lesson. It must be mentioned here that the child does 4 hours of drama per week and this is not counting the tantrums and other dramatic session she sometimes unleashes on me. Sometimes I do these pick-ups and drop-offs on auto-pilot. Sometimes I forget my sense of marvel about the whole thing, I almost forget how much I love theatre and what it means to me.

It is autumn here, you know how autumn runs – it likes to pretend to be almost-winter. And so, last week, the air was thin and cold and the evening was almost translucent with a cold but orange sky. It was only 6:30 PM but the street lights came on. People became shadows and then silouhettes, the sounds around me became a soothing muffle.

I must tell you here that the drama classes are run in a quaint little building with a creaky wooden staircase and attics and eaves and discarded cupboards full of wigs and costumes and pearls as large as plump stones. Tins of greasepaint and posters for plays that were staged in 1992 or 2005 or any other year that takes your fancy. Old rickety chairs and thick drapes, that kind of a place. Miss A and the other kids love the building, it is like a second home to them. There is an old theatre downstairs where amateur productions are staged every month, for a season or two. On Friday nights, people converge here in pearls and black dresses and scarves and mufflers and gloves that have seen younger and better days. They line up on the pavement, these people, and they buy little program booklets and they reminsce about the plays that are almost always classics and have been staged a few thousand times before in some other part of the world. It is that kind of a place, like I said, it is all about things that once were – old and crinkled and warm and speaking of other genteel times.

And then are the kids and Miss A from their class upstairs, they talk and giggle sometimes too loudly, they swing the doors with abandon as they rush through the old archways of this building which has cracks and is whitewashed and has seen so many acts. The kids drag squeaky chairs over pockmarked floors and they sometimes recite their lines to one another as they wait to be picked up. The theatre patrons smile at them but the young uns – they have so many lines to learn and they are always in a hurry to find their parts.

Last week, as I reached the theatre and waited, it was the end of the season for ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’. The props were being cleared and the posters were being taken down. There was no line of stage-goers and except for the pack-up truck, our stage was deserted – no one hangs around for an ending, you see. We all wait for the curtains to open, we are in a rush to go away once the curtains fall. The little ones, upstairs, were doing a reading and there was no giggling and no patter of footsteps. Everything was so quiet, so lacking words.

Mendelsshon played on the car radio. The tower clock sounded its gong seven times. The truck driver locked the stage door and pulled out of the parking lot. The evening got darker, the first fog of the seasons left traces on my car window.  The street was bathed in yellow and orange and the colours of the evening, everything was at once cold and looking away. The concerto reached a crescendo. More cars buzzed around me, in the dark, on an almost-winter evening.

“This is the now,” I remember, thinking to myself. “Now. It looks like this, it feels like this, it smells like this. There is no yesterday and no tomorrow and no light and no dark. The Now. It is quiet and dark and not at all sad.”

But it was, a little bit. Because dark theatres are sad. As are empty chairs and wings without anxious voices and grand pianos.

And then the doors swung open and Miss A and her friends tumbled out clutching scripts in their hand, new words and new lines to learn. The lights from the drama class windows spilled on to the orange pavement. And for beautiful and ridiculously brief moment, those lights brightened up the signboards of the silent theatre. Tangible proof of the show going on, this was it. This and Now. This and the being Here. As things change and end and mould and re-open. The Now. It is such a constant.

Outside the theatre is a bench inscribed with the Bard’s words. On summer evenings, I wait there for Miss A.

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Sometimes, life, it just lines up.  Everything just makes sense.

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