Who doesn’t love it when life offers a little surprise while the pulse of timelessness catches you in its infinite rhythm?
Such an event occurred recently on a rather unseemly night. Last Saturday to be exact.
Rain pelted the window and a raw wind blew outside as I stood in front of the mirror wondering what to wear and why I was venturing out on a night like this. But it was closing night and we were expecting a full house. I was committed.
You see I sit on the Board of Directors for a small regional theatre company and like most arts organizations there’s little funding these days. Somehow I was elected to help with Front of House too. I stepped reluctantly into the role at first, but I've decided the historic courthouse that holds the theatre company, may have put a spell on me.
Once both actors and audience are in their places for the duration of the play, I preside over the corridor leading to the court room turned theatre that hosts the arts, as well as a few ghosts I’m told.
You enter the historic building via the foyer, where the box office is, then climb a rather oddly designed staircase that one might describe as spiral but without the grandeur. Each step seems irregularly spaced to the next. If vertigo doesn’t get you first, once at the top, you would encounter an usher or myself welcoming you to the evening’s performance.
Somehow I was also assigned to serving beverages and snacks during intermission. The concession stand, if you will, is at the end of a long corridor with rooms off it still bearing the painted titles from a by-gone era: Grande Jury and Petit Jury.
Because the building was not originally designed for stage plays, actors often come through the front of the house to enter from the back of the audience. A favourite duty of mine is to guide the actors, oh so quietly, through the old wooden door without making a sound, and then slowly pull back the velvet curtain. This is a small gesture but one I take immense joy in.
My imagination takes me back to The Globe’s stage door listening intently to Elizabethan language and the song of lyres. I envision actors in thick vermillion coloured jackets and indigo dyed pants, I straighten their ruff collars before they enter stage left. All in my mind’s eye, of course.
But really, once everyone is in their places, I retreat to being Queen of The Empty Corridor like some kind of Bar Keeper character at Overlook Lodge in The Shining. I can hear the clang of the nine o’clock bell and the wind swirling around the outside of the old courthouse. Only here there are no devilish spirits, only exalted ones. As I am soon to find out.
I hear the clapping that precedes intermission. As the patrons pour out I can gauge from their faces their emotional response to the performance. It is a touching play: an American classic. Women dab their eyes at the corner, men who entered tall and proud, returned a little softened after the first act.
A stream of people approach the concession stand and I recognize one unmistakable face I haven’t seen in thirty years; a face that looks much younger than I have imagined. He is accompanied by a woman and asks for a coffee. I pause, out of nervousness, and wait for the right moment to speak.
As he was stirring his coffee, I said,“Mr. Stewart, I must say hello. You were my high school art teacher in the mid-seventies.”
He looked a bit shocked and said, “That was a long time ago.”
“Yes,” I said, “Over thirty years.”
He said, “I remember you. You were one of my best art students.”
I said, “Yes.” Then blushed for saying so.
I got busy serving the other patrons and didn’t have time to talk. During next intermission he came back. We talked peripherally and laughed about high school antics in a small town three decades and many miles away.
He asked me if I still draw, I said “No" as if I was letting him and myself down by saying it.
The stage manager then called for the second act and he turned to go back in the theatre.
I had one question that was on my mind. One the highlights of his class was he used to play the guitar for us. Before he went though the door I said in a loud whisper that echoed down the hall, “Hey, do you still play guitar?”
He twirled around. “No,” he said, “but I miss it.”
Strangely it validated me in my own stupid way for leaving my own pencil and paper behind.
During the second intermission he came back. As much as I could scan all the time passed between fifteen and fifty, I tried to catch up in a mere ten minutes. I also found out those years were his first years of teaching. The age gap I once percieved dissolved before me.
The one thing I wasn’t able to tell him was how, all those years ago, I put him on a pedestal like he was some god. Once in art class he had me sit for him while teaching the class to draw portraits. I coveted that simple pencil drawing for years.
Sometimes we don’t know who we’ll encounter when we head out into the night. It could be some influential force in our lives that through a simple pencil drawing left an indelible impression upon us.
When the play was finished he and his wife stopped and chatted. Before the couple left for the evening they informed me of the upcoming high school reunion suggesting I should come. I told them I was still in touch with three close friends from high school and that was good enough for me.
Truth is, reuniting with my art teacher was the only high school reunion that would ever matter to me.
Because the other thing I wasn’t able to say to my him was I had a most wicked crush on him throughout my whole high school career. Funny how standing there thirty years later I could feel that same excited energy, those same fluttering butterflies inside, I felt at sixteen.
All in all, genuine as I was, I pulled off a pretty good performance last Saturday night.
© Scarlett Sumac 2012
"All's well that ends well"