For years I worked in the liminal world of theatre, with one foot mired in stiff reality and the other dancing precariously in the land of dreams. The sweat, toil, and stress leading to an opening night was most often dissolved in importance by the flood of anticipation and finally applause. There was closure. All was well that ended well.
The moments soon after the final patron exited the theatre, I would walk upon the stage and among the seats in the house, and in a spiritual way, try to relive the event with its laughter, sighs, coughs, and whispers. It was a communion with the past–with ghosts. The performers re-enacted their best lines while the audience sat in awe, their disbelief fully suspended. But what was I doing and why were no other members of the theatre engaging in the same introspective ambling in the empty theatre?
Perhaps loss sledgehammers some people more than others–the loss of friends, home, family, opportunity. These strolls among the empty space of a theatre were a form of séance? I don’t think so. They seemed to be a longing to capture what I felt unable to while the space teemed with life. In some way my thoughts and longings were silenced during the performances and found their voices only when allowed in the absence of the living. This, however, is an alarming state in which to live.
Theatre, among the many lessons it has taught me and others, is that it is a microcosm of existence. It is fleeting. The walls, the painted surfaces, some props, and some costumes will be trashed or re-purposed soon after the final curtain, no different than how each of us must be re-purposed and made anew after a personal loss. It is on to the next show, the next experience, the next success or heartache or life-changing event.
Our lives should be the empty stage, in a constant state of offering to others, bringing joy and laughter and introspection. Beautiful selflessness. The empty theatre is really always there, among the strutting performers and the jostling audiences. The empty theatre is akin to the peaceful stillness of creation that is always present wherever we are, whatever we are doing.