Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In an Empty Theater

I sat in the very last row of sweat of the auditorium. I reclined, resting my feet on the seat in front of me. This was a ritual I had developed a few years back, when the show was just starting to get popular. I would let myself in early, so early the janitorial staff wasn't there yet. The floor of the stage gleamed, having just been waxed the night before. Only the stage lights were on, making the band set up look a little creepy, like a ghost band could start playing at any moment, with all those colors and no people. I knew that stage like the back of my hand. The floor boards squeaked about three feet from stage left entrance. The curtains, despite Aunt Clara's best efforts, smelled like sweaty feet and rotting tomatoes. I knew where all the trapdoors were, all the special effects switches, and about a million other little things. Yeah, it was a large stage, but the set up was simple, the back drop a simple cloth with lights shining through.

The real reason I sneaked in so early was the house part of the auditorium. Where all the guests would be watching the show from. It started out when during one of the shows I'd noticed the audience was a good amount larger than it use to be. I guess no one told me about this development because they knew how nervous I can get. But let me tell you, finding out on stage, in the middle of the show, was not the greatest way to find out. I got through the rest of the show somehow, but I was totally freaked out. I had never seen the theater so full! It was good news, more people equals more money, but despite this I got so nervous every show after I couldn't focus.

That's when I began my ritual. I would take in the empty theater, try to commit it to memory. All the vacant chairs, seats folded up, gum stuck to the bottoms. The way the lights along the aisles lit up the floor and row letters. The worn-down burgundy carpet everyone talked about replacing but when it gets down to it no one seems to have the heart to do it. The purple tapestry embroidered with floral designs that Great-Aunt Eliza draped all over the walls so long ago. She claims to have hung it in order to cover the "hideous, puke colored joke of wall-papery," but I think she just wanted an excuse to show-off her award winning embroidery. Because of those tapestries no one could quite figure out how to get lights on the walls. Even after Great-Aunt Eliza passed, it seemed like a disgrace to her name to take them down. So someone (Pell) decided to go the redneck way and string up Christmas twinkle lights along the walls. I won't lie--looking at them then they looked pretty good. They cast a twilight-ish, twinkly glow over the theater, catching some of the silvery threads in the drapes. I've always thought that the theater looks like it could be part of a fairytale.

This setting is what I tried to imagine when I was on stage. The vast emptiness. That way I could replace the crowded image with this one. It didn't help that the night before, at the weekly meeting, Uncle Charlie had shown us plans he had drawn up for expanding the seating. Personally, I thought the seating was just fine. But Uncle Charlie's always trying to find ways to make more money. And his plans usually involve spending more money.

I was so lost in though I failed to notice Pell had come out onto the stage until she started talking. "Oh my!" she exclaimed in an exaggerated Southern belle drawl. "This theater is so empty! Just like my poor, poor heart!" And with that she flung herself down onto the ground. Pell has always been on the dramatic side.

"Oh, whatever is the matter Miss Annabelle?" I played along in my best Southern accent.

"Men! That's what the matter is! I am just oh, so tired of their foolishness!" She was sitting up by this point, looking out dismally into the audience.

"Good heavens! What ever shall we do?! Why I--  he-- okay. I'm no good at this."

"My, my, my. Miss Elsie. You do disappoint me. Here, I shall come and tell my story." She pushed herself up and went backstage. We never used the audience steps to go on and off stage. Technically because you would be breaking the fourth wall, but mainly because they're steep and many of us have nearly broken our necks trying to use them.

Pell emerged from a door hidden behind a large tapestry displaying a doe frolicking in a flowery field. If anyone belonged in this fairytale theater, it was Pell. She could have just stepped out of a fairytale herself. She's ridiculously short, like five foot--maybe--and stick thin. With her black, bobbed hair and wide blue eyes she seems more like a pixie than human. Even the way she carries herself, she bounces and floats along at high speeds--and somehow manages to do so gracefully. Pell has extremely lightly colored skin that only she could pull off. She wears absolutely no makeup. She doesn't need any help standing out. Floating up the aisle towards me, I could see how Pell was the crowd favorite.

"Where the hell have you been?" I demanded as she settled into the seat next to me.

"Now, now, now, cuz. I've been gone for a week and that's what you've got to say? No 'I've missed you!' or 'Never, ever leave me again!' I mean really I am--"

"Cut the crap, Pell. Everyone's freaking out and you just waltz right in, at an ungodly hour, and act so blase about it."

"Sorry, Mother dearest!"


"You can stop with the death glare, Miss Good-and-Steady."

"I'll stop when you tell me what happened."

"All right. How about this--I"ll tell you over a delectable breakfast at the Cafe. Sound good? Okay, let's go." With that, she hopped out of her chair and glided towards the exit.

"Okay, but you're going to tell me. No matter what," I called after her as I followed her out. I took one last look into the empty theater before shutting the doors. By now I knew it well enough that I didn't have to go in every time. But something about it calmed my nerves, like a comforting bedtime story that my mother would tell me when I was younger.

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