There is something special about an empty theatre. It’s a space that is designed specifically to hold a crowd of people in order to tell a story, but when it’s empty, it seems to me that it’s a space holding its breath. A place that is waiting and silence. Of quiet, but not necessarily a place of peace. For me, an empty theatre is often more sacred than a church or a temple.
I’m sitting here, typing this, between shows— I am filling in for a friend this weekend as he fulfills a family obligation, and I’m proud to be able to be a part of this show. It’s a story of a father and a son, and their journey through life, and it’s a little bit character sketch and a little rock and roll. The script is compelling in a strange way, and the music is beautiful and, well, also a little bit rock and roll.
During the performance the theatre is full of life, even during the few silent moments of the show where everyone in the room seems to be holding their breath (myself included,) and any sound at all seems almost offensive, the space is still a living thing and you can feel that energy even with your eyes shut.
But not right now. Right now the silence is heavy, but it’s a patient heaviness. It’s strangely full of the echoes of all the stories told in this room in the past. Not just the shows performed, but the injuries sustained— of which there have been several I’ve witnessed myself— and of the celebrations held. (There is just about nothing that can top one cast member proposing to another during curtain call.) I find both versions of a theatre to be inspiring, but it is this one, the silent, empty one that somehow brings me peace every time.
In theatre everywhere there is a thing called a ghost light. It’s a simple thing, a night light really— often just a plain light bulb on a stick— to put the stage to sleep at the end of the day. If you ask around, most theatre people will tell you it’s a safety device. A light on stage when all the other lights are turned off so that anyone coming in isn’t at risk of tripping over something or falling into a hole. Some folks will grin and tell you it’s there to keep the ghosts company because every theatre has at least one ghost.
Me? I think those are both perfectly fine explanations. But I think mostly a ghost light is there to make sure that the stories of the place can keep echoing. After all, stories are the breath of a theatre, and when they’re gone, the space truly does go silent. I think, in that way, a theatre and I are very similar. We both need stories.