Sometimes you go somewhere and you just feel at home, even it is your first time being there. Like it’s where you belong. Like it’s the right place for you to be. To me, I always feel that way about a theatre. Of course, I feel that way about going to work in a theatre, the bustle and excitement of rehearsals and tech and performances, of the whole gang putting a show together, assembling the pieces, welding them into place (or more likely sticking them there with gaffer tape), and of course, the rush and sparkle of an audience coming in for a show.
But to me, there’s something delicately and deeply special, a juicy feeling, about being in an empty theatre. To me, it feels like the cool calmness and connection to your spirit that you get when you are in a church where your faith is fulfilled. It can be a theatre I am working in or one I am walking into for the first time. I love to stroll amid the seats, around the stage, through the dressing rooms. Counting the lights above my head. Testing out the acoustics with a few great lines, feeling how they bounce around the space, how they echo with the room’s excitement at being spoken to, how the ghosts of past performances wake from their slumbers and peek from the wings with interest. I always feel like a theatre is a living organism, a godly thing, like an angel built of bricks and mortar, and that like a momma of a big family, it loves to have people in it, its kids back in the house, making noise and laughter and playing and filling the place with joy and excitement and purpose. Theatres wait patiently like mighty whales when they are empty, and are delighted to open their huge jaws and swallow up people like Jonahs when they come knocking.
I love the sound of my shoes clacking across the boards of the stage. I love the look of the seats, their symmetry, the sudoku of their layout, and if they are red, that is just the icing on the cake (is there anything better than a comfy scarlet seat in the stalls?) I love the smell of dressing rooms, of make-up powder and relaundered costumes and the past tang of flowers and sweat and camaraderie. I love the taste in the air, fresh and cool, as if you are eating the space, like it’s clean paper to write words on anew. And I love the feel of the theatre, of opening its many wooden doors, of stroking its velvet curtains, and the shiver of anticipation it creates on my skin.
Because maybe that’s just what an empty theatre is – potential. Possibilities of shows that could be done here. In an empty theatre you cannot help but commence imagining – what play might suit that bare brick background or having that high ceiling or that overlooking mezzanine? What way might you lay out the seats to get a thrust for Shakespearean soliloquies or to surround the actors for a minutely observed Arthur Miller? What will it be like to walk down this corridor in full costume for your opening night entrance? What would it feel like in here, to look out and see every single seat filled and hundreds of eyes watching you with delight? How would a Pinter play work in here, or a Moliere, or an adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House? And that new play, the one you adored reading but it just wouldn’t fit in those other places, you know what, it might be magic in here …
You see, there is. There’s magic in here. In this hungry space, ravenous for words, for truly felt emotion, for capturing human comedy, for gripping stories, for utterly present life on the stage, for raucous laughter and ringing heartfelt applause and honest tears. There’s the chance to do something here that’s never been done before, that will only live like this in these walls, shared with these friends. There’s the potential to put on a play.
So imagine away. There’s magic in here.