Saturday, July 25, 2009

Theatre Detritus

I walked to the City Park this evening. I did so because that was where a traveling production of “The Taming of the Shrew” was staged last night. I was in the audience for said show, and I was seized, for whatever bizarre reason within my head, with a curiosity as to whether or not the company’s stage and equipment had left any indentations in the grass. (I know, odd thing to wonder, right? But any motivation to get exercise is a good one.)

It threatened rain the entire time, but it was only a short distance, and I wasn’t that worried if I got rained on tonight anyway. I was in one of those rare decent moods that actually suited rain as opposed to sunshine.

I descended the dilapidated cement steps from street level down into the grass field. It’s an all purpose field, but there is a softball backstop there. It obviously is not mowed as frequently as some of the public land around here. Yet it was just presentable today, despite being soaking wet from the day’s thunderstorms.

With the exception of last night, I have never ventured onto the field. Just walked near it.

24 hours to the moment I had previously done so, I made my way to the far end of the field. Unlike last night, I sloshed and slopped my way through each step; some standing water in places. Normally I avoid such puddles, but this evening I didn’t care.

A moment later I reached where the stage had been. Sure enough, it had left a faint indentation. In the cloud hastened twilight I could just make out the impressions of the crossbeams for the platforms, as well as the outer most edges of where the performance area, and the rest of the set had been.

Though I didn’t at all plan it this way, (I promise), I stood right where down-center had been, at almost the exact same time the show had begun last night. (7:30.)

I can’t say if it is a Ty thing, an actor thing, or the things of Ty mixed equally with the things of an actor, but I did in fact feel the stage presence while I stood there, looking out over the sopping wet, empty, and silent athletic field. Not even any trains were idling or passing on the tracks some 20 yards away. (Oh, would that that had been so last night…)

When I stand on a stage, I get a certain sense. Fellow theatre people may know it. A residue of theatrical potency, stamped upon the atmosphere. Remnants of accumulated line practicing, backstage ritual, rehearsal, performance, excitement, fear, nerves, politics, art, and all the other things that take place in and around a stage.

This of course was not a stage. It was a field. The actual stage was in some other town that very moment, being performed upon by the very performers I had seen last night. And if I had to guess, my thespian equivalent to the “spidey sense” would not been as potent weeks, or even days later. In fact in short time those shadows I mentioned will not even be there at all. Unlike a permanent performance space, those ghosts will not build up enough to linger forever. Yet just one day later, I knew that actors had been present.
And not simply because I had seen them there. It’s a Ty thing, after all I suppose. I circled around the area, tracing the imprint of the set. Judging by the lines, I got to what would have been the stage right wing/backstage area. It may have been coincidental, but there was much debris there, condensed into a small area.

Several gum wrappers. Blue. Looked like Trident. I remember thinking how much of a bad name this gave the actors, if in fact the troupe, or a single member thereof, left this junk. Gum chewing is a common backstage nerve induced ritual, I have found, but littering shouldn’t be. But given there was no proof, I withheld judgment. I had left my DNA kit at home anyway.

A banana peel. A common quick backstage snack. Signs pointed more to actors than did not for this one. Biodegradable. No harm done, really.

Tiny hair clip. Probably dropped by accident. I defy anyone to survey a backstage ANYWHERE before strike and NOT find one of these. An even greater chance it was from one of the troupe.

A 1979 penny that shined more than one would have expected. This I picked up, thinking of my own penny which I carry on my person for all main stage shows I have been in since 2002. Knowing the displeasure I would feel if I lost mine for good, I hoped, in earnest, it was nobody’s good luck charm. I pocketed this, as I do most pennies I find.

Cap off a drink. Again, innocent until proven guilty. Somebody obviously left it there, and I hoped, despite the incriminating location, that it wasn’t a fellow actor.

I meandered over to where the softball backstop lie. This, I had noticed before, was where the dressing tent had been set up. I was pleased to find no trash of note in this area. Nothing that had any greater probably of being left by the actors than by a passerby or a kid.

I looked at my cell phone to check the time, trying to determine whereabouts in the play the company was at that moment, wherever they were doing the show now. I couldn’t decipher it though. I wasn’t paying that close attention that early in the performance, I must confess.

I saw imprints from the light devices. The tracks the moving truck had made when it swung out of there. The typical stuff that I found personally amusing in it’s triviality.

Again I stood where the stage had been, trying to determine what it would be like to perform in such a place. Despite the theatrical energy still being palpable, I concluded, as I always do, that I would not enjoy performing theatre outside. Just not my thing at all.

Savoring one last time the tiny Dionysian ambiance, if you will, I turned to exit the field at the opposite end from which I entered. This took me past the previously mentioned trash. (Which I didn’t think of picking up myself until writing this.) As I crossed over the light blue peppering of gum wrappers once more, something else caught my eye that had not before. Off to the side, but in the same confined area of which I have been speaking. It looked like a chain at first, but when I bent to picked it up, I saw it was not a chain. Not a metal one anyway.

It was dozens upon dozens of clover flowers, now browning with decay, woven together in a quite intricate, sturdy fashion. I tossed it around in my hand for a bit, puzzled. Then it dawned on me…

“Bianca’s” headband!

The actress playing Bianca had come out, near the end of the play wearing a bridal head band. It looked to be a normal costume piece from my perspective last night. Fake floral, I thought. Perhaps pleather. Yet it was not fake, for here in my hand was a home made costume piece that less than one day before had been worn by an actress in a play I had attended.

I looked at it more closely. Not to be all CSI about it, but there were even small strands of human hair interwoven into the creation. I wondered if that hurt when it came off.

Few non-verbal things make me laugh out loud when alone. But I did laugh at this. I am not sure why. It was not a funny occurrence. It was not amazing. But it could have been several things;

Maybe I was just amused that I, the actor, walking through the former performance space, should find what was a brief costume piece for another actor. (Actress.)

Maybe it was the bizarreness of holding in my hand something that so recently was a major prop, and now was abandoned trash. Knowing how careful actor’s should be with props, and know you don’t ever touch someone else’s, it was a bit odd to be standing there in the rain with something I myself witnessed being used on stage by another performer, in a show with which I was not at all involved. Sort of like putting another man’s wallet in your own back pocket. (Try that sometime, it’s macabre.)

But I think the biggest reason I laughed was because in a strange way it reminded me of something I would have done. It appeared to be a piece that had been furnished as a last minute idea, given the abundance of clover in the field. Given it’s transient nature, and the lack of assurance anybody would have that all venues the company performed in would even have clover, the odds are good that the actress only decided when they arrived that it would make a nice touch to the wedding scene. It’s the sort of last minute creative energy that I use before a show. That one last thing. That tiny adjustment. That minuscule addition that gives just the right amount of nuance and charm to the performance of a role.

I can’t of course promise that is what happened, but I did feel, as I held the former costume piece in my soaking hand, as though I knew this person, in some indescribable sense.

They say that theatre is ephemeral. That it is here and then it is gone. Vanishing into oblivion with nary an epitaph. Yet of course shows linger on. Not in the same form, perhaps, but in the things they leave behind, for certain. And I don’t just mean gum wrappers and clover headbands. I mean the laughs, the tears, the changes of heart and mind. The intangibles that leave an audience changed in ways they do not quite understand. The spirit that theatre people can detect, even when a show is over, in those places and at those times when, as Olivier suggested, actors have once gathered to hold the universe in the palms of their hands.

And where a piece of trash can manage to make one actor feel intimately connected with another, though the two shall never, in all likelihood meet.

But this is theatre, after all, so one never knows...

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