Saying Goodbye in Stages

Posted in moving on July 16th, 2011 by kellinewby

At 5:30 we took our bows for the last show at 57 Main.  At 6:00, they came to take our lights.  It was more finality than I was prepared for and an already emotional day was ending on a down note. Instead of one last ecstatic dance party after one last show to a sold out house and a standing ovation, a handful of us ate pizza and then danced halfheartedly in the lobby.  On stage people went up ladders and lights came down.  Though I knew that it was all for the best and that the people who had come to take the lights were deeply appreciative, the timing was awful.  In that moment, I could think of them only as vultures.

In the balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet cannot bear to say goodbye–parting is such sweet sorrow.  They drag out their goodbyes with promises, one last word, one last glance.  As far as they know, the future holds nothing  but passion and dreams come true.

One last show.  One last dance party.  One last look.  The time was ticking away to days and I felt a little bit like the lovers saying a thousand tiny goodbyes and not meaning most of them.

Two weeks later, I open up the backdoor of the theatre and find that it smells different.  After one weekend of moving our costumes are gone, as are some of our set pieces, and, of course, the lights.  Already the musty smell that is unique to 57 Main is altered; every theatre has its own smell.  I walk through the half-moved space.  It’s in the chaos stage where things seem like they’ll never be better, that we’ll never get it all done.  I spend two hours alone in the prop room, moving and sorting and tossing.  Huge wolf dummy–keep.  Old liquor bottles–toss.  Pre-wrapped gifts.  I hold them and remember the skit we made them for.  Then I toss them.   Goodbye, old junk.

One week after that, we all meet up and move for two days straight.  We talk about Shakespeare and unscrew the seats from the risers.  I watch the strong men we strong armed into helping us get sweatier and sweatier with each flat, platform or furniture piece they carry up from the basement, around the twist in the landing, down the narrow aisle and out into a truck.  We watch progress being made.  On the second day, near the end, we move the ghost lamp.  As we open the doors to the new space, a smell hits our senses.  We all think it.  The new space smells like our theatre.  I put the ghost lamp down and we declare it, metaphorically, a theatre.

Of course, it wasn’t over yet. There were still things left–some couches and a whole lot of junk that didn’t sell at our junk sale.  The guy taking over the space offers, mercifully, to help us with the end of the process.  Then he asks if I could meet him there and show him how the lights work.  It was a theatre for twelve years, I explain, the lights were all plugged into dimmers on the ceiling. We rewired the place;  there aren’t any lights on switches.  He realizes that I can’t help him solve that problem.

Last night, I ran into Ed while eating dinner at the Hub, the restaurant next door to the old space.  Whatever you do, he said, don’t look next door.  Of course, I did.  Whenever I am downtown, I look in the window and see what they have done.  I peer through the posters, cup my hands around my eyes to block out the glare, and see what is gone.  The risers, the wall behind the refrigerator, the junk sale remainders.  The stage.  The booth.  Tonight I saw they had knocked down the wall between the stores.  He had to have really wanted the space.  It was (and will be) a lot of work to undo the theatre, but he’s getting it done.  I guess I keep waiting to feel sad or angry when I peek into the window, but maybe the thousand little goodbyes I said along the way worked.

And besides, as far as I can see, the future holds nothing put passion and Midsummer Night’s Dreams.

The Empty Space

Posted in moving on March 1st, 2011 by kellinewby

With all this searching, we’ve had to ask ourselves over and over what makes a theatre a theatre?

I walk into every space we look at and feel like the little bird in the children’s book that asks a wide array of creatures “Are you my mother?”  Some of the creatures are absurd choices; does the little bird really think the truck could possibly be its mother?  But there I am standing in space after space with wide, curious eyes saying “Are you my theatre?”

When I come home and think about it for awhile, my mind goes back to grad school.  Well, the good part of grad school: the books.

It reminds me of Peter Brook’s seminal treatise on modern theatre, The Empty Space, which I find myself returning to again and again.  In it, Brooks opens with:

I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage.  A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.

Later, in a chapter titled “The Rough Theatre,” he gets into a discussion of the kind of theatre you find anywhere.  “Salt, sweat, noise smell: the theatre that’s not in a theatre.”  He continues on to write:

I have had many abortive discussions with architects building new theatres–trying vainly to find the words with which to communicate my own conviction that it is not a question of good building or bad: a beautiful place may never bring about an explosion of life; while a haphazard hall may be a tremendous meeting place.  This is the mystery of theatre.

Over and over in he book, he asserts that a theatre is not a theatre because of curtains and lights and chairs with nice fold up seats.

It reminds me of Konstantin, the lead character in the Seagull.  Throughout the play, Konstantin argues passionately that we need “new forms” and Act One features a play he has written.  Before the performance, he describes his makeshift stage on the shore of the lake in this way:

Now this is what I call a theatre!  A curtain, two wings, right and left, and then nothing.  No set.  Empty space.  The curtain rises and all you see is the lake and the far horizon.

We saw another space last week.  It had a Grail Shaped beacon at the top of it (forgive me this one Monty Python reference).  The building was colder inside than out; it has gone unused so long that the cold has soaked into the bricks and plaster and held it there, but there was a big group of us and we all saw the same thing.  And we all liked what we think it can be.

Tonight at a board meeting, the term “blue skying” was tossed around.  We blue skyed the most recent grail candidate.  We had  seen it as an empty space, literally stripped of everything that had made it what it was before.  The walls bore scars throughout in the shape of what had been there.  There were piles of trash left by the workman who had ripped everything out.  In other places, hangers still dangled in wardrobes and odds and ends lay in dusty piles on the floor, as though the previous owners had scooped all the garments out in a bear hug and run as fast as they could from the men with the sledgehammers and crowbars come to empty out the space.

We shuddered in our coats and clapped our hands together for warmth.  Juliana and I crawled through every nook and cranny but I saw the look in her eyes.

New Forms.  Empty space.  Blue sky.  And then, nothing.

She was asking the space, “Are you my theatre?” and so was I.



Posted in moving, Running the theatre on February 24th, 2011 by kellinewby

This is a quest.  We find guides who lead us to strange new places.  We are looking for a grail.

The steel door had been painted crayon red and, though it had a normal-looking lock, it still had a door handle much like I imagine fortresses have with built in bars.  Our tour guide pushed it open and revealed another big mill space.  We’ve seen a lot of big mill spaces, but this one was warm.  This one didn’t smell of—anything.  We separated into our interest areas.  Ed went to the walled in area that might serve as an office.  Juliana walked around looking up, down and around, taking in the whole space.  I admired the old shoe boxes on a rack near the door.   David went for details, tugging on one of the many dangling extension cords.

“What was this space?” Lex asked.

“A sweat shop,” David joked.

We know to look at the roof, at the windows, to find the fuse box and the emergency exits, to see if there’s plumbing, to see if there’s a place for a wood shop, for props, costumes, and actors.  We know to ask about the heat–is there any?  Is it loud? Are there sprinklers?  Is there handicap accessibility?  These things are boring details.  These things are important, but sometimes we can lose ourselves in the wonder of the space.

We know now that these old buildings spiral off into strange worlds and we find ourselves on the set of a post apocalyptic movie–giant abandoned rooms stuffed with artifacts of a culture that is long since gone.  The people who lead us through these spaces sometimes discover new things, new rooms, new doors into these old worlds.  Sometimes they know about these rooms and are thrown off by our non-space related questions and curiosity–what was this place?  Do you know what that thing is?  Do you think we could rig this structure to do something completely different?   These places are full of stories and all these doors and hallways are branches leading us to new worlds over and over.

As theatre people we are part scavenger, always looking for the details that pull a show together, the bits of things, especially Juliana and I–a set designer and a props person.  In a sprawling basement below Main Street two weeks ago, she and I wandered deeper and deeper into the unknown and found a stash of things left behind from decades of tenants–a Yhatzee box from the 50’s, a pile of Rolling Stone magazines from the 1980’s.  The room was warm and dry.  We navigated the uneven floor with light from a cell phone.  We passed a land of abandoned toilets, bikes, and window screens.  The basement smelled of dirt and oil and dust.

The rest of the party called to us from above.  They had found a new staircase, followed a door and found themselves on the other side of a wall in a huge room full of refrigerators.   Juliana and I found our way up and joined them and stared at the wall that we could punch through to make more room.  It changed everything about the space for us.

But it wasn’t a revelation.

Deep down, we all know there isn’t a grail; there are many.  There’s going to be something good and something bad about each place we find, and we will have to weigh the pros and cons of each one. There won’t be a moment of discovery that solves all our problems and answers all our questions.  We find dead ends, regroup and try a new path.  We get inspired.  We get disappointed.  We get e-mails telling us about a new location.  We start to dream again.  Maybe there is a grail.  Maybe this is the one.  Friday at 2:00.  A new lead.  A new guide.  A new world.

The same quest.

This so called disaster, part three

Posted in moving on January 25th, 2011 by kellinewby

Part three.  Take four.

Yes we are moving.  Probably.  We don’t know where.   Yet.

This has been a difficult post to write.  The board has informed me that it is a political document (thank god for having real board members!) and so the details, the wherefores and whos….it becomes the most public statement of what is going on, and we had all agreed not to do a press release,  to just let word of mouth take it.  Also, the situation evolves daily as our dear Treasurer goes to meeting after meeting and we regroup to figure out what exactly is going on with the new information he has collected.

It is also difficult because how we feel about moving changes on a daily basis.  And I guess that’s where I’m going to keep this–with feelings.  In fact, I’m going to talk about my own life, and then try to draw parallels.

My husband and I live in a house that we love very, very much.  It is warm, insulated, has many updates (as the real estate people say) and a lot of personality, in a good way.  It has parking and a yard, which is hard to come by in parts of North Adams.  But it is small, and it feels even smaller now that we have a baby who is starting to walk.  And it has all these cool features that suddenly feel a lot like  baby death traps (a loft that is accessed by ladder in the middle of the nursery).  We’d like to move to a bigger house that’s closer to where we work.  We’d like  a little less yard.  We found some places that fit the bill, and we’re really excited about them, but we’re terrified too.  We really, really like our house.  It is a warm, warm house, which means a lot during these cold winter months.  We have fixed so many of the things that will need fixing in a new place.  When we think really, really hard, we can fit two kids into it (though reality may prove otherwise).  So I wake up every day with a different feeling about selling the place.  But there is a “for sale” sign in the yard.

It’s like that with moving out of 57 Main.  Some days I think “12 years!  The company has been there 12 years!”  Some days I pop out of the stage and walk to my favorite stores, visit with the proprietors, leave a poster, buy something and think about how great it is to be down town.  To be part of down town.  And the space is so familiar, so intimate.

But moving opens up possibilities that we would never have in the current place–like a space for child care, wings for the stage.  We’d be starting at 0 with dust and grime, so cleaning he space wouldn’t be a fight against several years of neglect and the theatre will feel clean.  Actually clean.

It’s made us think a lot about what we are doing in this community.  What we want to do with the theatre.  Moving means we can’t just go on as we have all these years, coming up with great ideas, doing a third of them, living hand to mouth, hoping that the things we want to communicate are being communicated.  A new space means a new plan.  We get to start over and shape a space to our needs.  I get really excited about all this rethinking (and about a baby room at the theatre!)

But then, sometimes I wake up and think there’s no place like home.

This morning I told my students that plays are about choice, about decision and action.  They happen at a moment of crisis because the stakes are high and things need to happen and the characters make those things happen.  It’s the most exciting part about theatre–with an actual audience sitting there in real time, on real seats,  a play must move forward.  Every scene, every action, every word going forward, forward.