Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ex Nihilo

A church down the street from me was having an indoor yard sale the other day. The have plans to leave the building once their new facility is built nearby, so I imagine that is why. I had never been inside the building before, so out of curiosity, (more than my need for mismatched plates and coffee mugs) I went in.

The predictable collection of out of style clothes, ugly brick-a-brack, obscure book titles and stuffed animals was laid out in what I imagine is their soon to be abandoned social hall. Which interested me more than any of the stuff for sale.

For you see, there was a small stage at the end of this long room. Not simply a glorified platform but an actual stage. Proscenium arch, curtain, and what appeared to be a small backstage area, with access from another room. (The curtains were partially closed so it was hard to be certain.) My rough guess is that it was 20 feet wide maybe.

There was no permanent seating, so it I assume when the stage is used, if it ever is, it would be a folding chair sort of situation. Depending on how they were arranged, I figured you could probably seat between 80 and 100 people in the place, with room for an aisle.

Obviously I will not be able to buy this building when the congregation vacates it. Yet that didn't stop my from visualizing how much theatre could be done in this venue. Not all shows, of course. You wouldn't easily fit a production of South Pacific in there. But any number of smaller, intimate plays could find a home there. Especially those with minimal sets and scene changes. Minimalist plays, like the ones I like. Shakespeare could be done easily in this diminutive performance space. Theatre is begging to be performed here.

Not that a building has to even have a literal stage to be ideal for theatre. Literally right next door to this church is an long abandoned large storefront with huge windows that I have often envisioned as a potential site for minimalist productions as well. Down the block from that is yet another such abandoned building, complete with a raised floor that is even more suitable for the same purpose. (Brunswick, Maryland is a hopelessly dead city, in case you didn't already determine that.)

The point is, it all got me thinking again about how ubiquitous live theatre can be with the right amount of involvement and interest. This church's social hall had no special lighting, no flies, no cat walk. Yet it was just waiting for theatre. Same with the other buildings I mentioned. Theatre can be done just about anywhere so long as it is dry and safe for actors and audience. One doesn't have to look far to find all kinds of non-theater venues converts into theatres. Your town may have one. Either a permanent set up, or something that has been adapted for theatrical purposes for the length of a festival or a single weekend.

I am not a fan of performing outside, but many are, and if you are one such person, you literally have almost the whole world at your disposal for a stage. Fields. Hills. Clearings in the woods. (Just get proper permission of course!)

None of this is to suggest that I personally would want to perform Hamlet in any random location. I admit I enjoy the comforts of an actual stage, dressing room, and backstage. Yet the possibility that Hamlet, or King Lear, or Greek tragedy, or, if you have money to pay royalties for it, plays like Waiting for Godot can be performed anywhere there is room for an audience to sit fascinates and excites me. Theatre truly can be brought forth out of nothing. Ex nihilo.

As versatile as the live theatre experience can be, I wonder why it is not done more often. Is it that the modern digital age moves too fast to enjoy live theatre? That the society of iPhones and Google Reader just doesn't have the attention span to appreciate a play, even if for just a few nights at the local empty former Safeway that nobody else is using?

Is it geography? Are certain areas and cities less likely to embrace it than others? Perhaps this sort of "vagrancy theatre" happen quite often where you live.

Or are people not comfortable with the idea of watching a play in an empty warehouse? Or is it just prohibitively expensive to rent an empty building for a few weeks? That could be it too. I am not sure. I have never done it.

Whatever the reasons, it is unfortunate that it doesn't happen as often as I think it could. But then again, outside of my area, perhaps it does happen a lot more often.

Theatre is, or at least can be, almost everywhere, and I find that fascinating. Though I myself would not enjoy performing everywhere, (I am very much not a fan of the Shakespeare on Subway cars thing I have been reading about), I would perform in any of the venues on this very street that I mentioned. Furthermore I would attend a play someone else was putting on in such a venue.

Ex Nihilo. Out of nothing. That is what theatre can be.


Paul Osuch said...

Great post. You might be interested to check out the Anywhere Theatre Festival happening right now in Brisbane Australia. Check out www.anywherefest.com

Ty Unglebower said...

Thank you Paul, for taking the time for that comment. I checked out the site, and it really seems quite intriguing. I don't know if it is the sort of theatre I'd want to do all the time, as I love my 4th wall on occasion. But I do think it would be a fascinating, range increasing experience to take part in here and there.

Mattie Madison said...

Great post. I am a theatre freak. I did some acting, but never amounted to much. Continued success to you.

Ty Unglebower said...

Thank you for your comments and your expressions of support, both of you! I hope you will keep coming back.