I started this essay at CTY and finally finished it years later as a high school senior. Both of those were years ago. You might say I was a different person then; I'd say that's just a matter of perspective, in particular scale. In any case, I rediscovered it on February 26, 2001 and it made me cry. It felt more than a little pompous and self-important to be crying about something I wrote myself, but there was something there that wouldn't leave me alone. Within hours, I had converted it to HTML for my personal writing webpages, and then it was only a few hardlinks away from nodeworthy.
I had my doubts about posting this on E2 at all, since it seemed to affect me so much, and includes enough details about my life to threaten my anonymity. In the end, I decided it was worth the risk. The essay itself is much more honest and personal than I remembered, and, unlike most of the old writings of mine that show up to embarrass me at unexpected moments, it strikes me as pretty well-written. But you be the judge of that. Anyway, here it is, with a few minor alterations.
I intend to spend part of my last day of Westfield High School by myself in the auditorium. Maybe I'll have to cut class to do this; otherwise I'll wait until school is over for the day and I'm guaranteed to be alone. Empty, the auditorium always seems strangely skeletal, its ribcage rows of chairs and bony white walls eerily fossilized, preserved without the lifeblood of performers and audience. For a while at least, I will haunt its hollow shell in the company of my memories of this place. They are many; besides the orchestra, chorus, and band concerts I have been a part of here, I can hardly ignore the echoes of other events long past, and the emotions they inspire.
My first memories of the auditorium are of watching. As a child, I am dazzled by this vast and cavernous place, swallowed up in the maw of it, an immense fusion of many joined for one purpose: the play. I am too young to see the sweaty faces and the tears on stage, only smiles and stars and magic. Yet I am also unable to appreciate the cast and crew's toil, the labor of love more real than any theatrical
smoke and mirrors. And so much of the auditorium is lost on me, too young to blink away bright lights, and far too naive to know why I might do so.
The play is Hello, Dolly!, performed by one of the Westfield Summer Workshop's Musical Theater ensembles, a group of teenagers from Westfield and surrounding towns. The oldest cast member is 18 at the most, but to my five-year-old eyes, there are grown-ups on that stage: no amount of persuasion could convince me that I am not watching professional actors that night. It is all I can do to comprehend the fact that although I am watching real people, the story they act out is fiction. Only when the music director emerges from the "pit" at the foot of the stage to take his bow do I realize that the accompaniment has not been conjured out of thin air. At my insistence, my mother finds the soundtrack of the play's Broadway performance, and I listen to it for weeks afterward, until I know all of the lyrics by heart.
A few years later, when friends who once accompanied me to plays have become performers, the spectacle is fundamentally altered by their presence onstage. No longer am I dumbstruck, awed past speech to awkward dancing and wordless humming of showtunes in imitation of my experience. I see the heavy curtains close and have heard about the struggle to move scenery behind them. When Mary Poppins "slides up" the banister in what is not the Banks household but a plywood set, I can see her feet move as she walks herself up. My knowledge of music has increased, too, and I recognize that Matt is singing a little sharp as Bert the jack-of-all-trades. I can tell that Sarah is off-step a few times in the dances, and am less than impressed by her costume---witnessing each stage of its development on her family's kitchen table has grounded many a childish flight of fancy. My fall from innocence is complete with my first trip backstage.
Luckily, disappointment and cynicism are replaced by enthusiasm when I join the cast of The Little Mermaid a little less than two years later. In doing so, the Westfield High School auditorium becomes a second home to me, and five weeks of rehearsals inure me to the stage until I can hardly imagine, much less understand, how I was once so in awe of a platform marked with tape to guide those who dodge the curtains. Among the other lessons learned that summer are: how to move scenery without stubbing my toes, carry on conversation in a stage whisper that will not be overheard by the audience, and disentangle myself from the curtains after being wrapped therein by a fellow cast member. I am only a "sea creature" in the chorus, a piece of human scenery, and it is at this time that I decide I never want to play lead roles, after which I begin to concentrate on my ensemble, and particularly instrumental, performances. That fall, I join the Westfield High School Symphonic Orchestra and Freshman Choir.
My vocal career ends along with my freshman year, when I recognized my own lack of talent and enthusiasm. The fact that most of my fellow singers, who consider themselves musicians, are unable to read sheet music or distinguish intervals between notes by ear is rather awkward, and I am relieved when the year draws to a close. Never again will I
have to participate in another double-period rehearsal, where the auditorium becomes hot and stuffy all too quickly, more than half an hour is wasted in finding everyone a place on the risers, and practice is interrupted to answer questions like "What song are we performing first tonight?" The best part of chorus was probably the fact that I was tall enough for a place at the top of the risers, and a bird's eye view of the auditorium. Despite the uniqueness of this position, I choose the perspective offered me as the only bassoon in the Westfield High School Symphonic Orchestra.
On stage, during an orchestra concert, I never see the audience. Even when I try to pick out family or friends, they are hidden in the dark mass of spectators, the blur of faces contrasted with the bright hot lights shining down on me. Usually, I try to concentrate on my music rather than those listening to it, and have found my blindness where the audience is concerned to be a blessing rather than a curse. Stage fright, if any, is limited to my own determination to perform my best, and not draw any attention to myself except when soloing. When the performance is over, I disappear into the curtains and the wings, stage right, both relieved and disappointed that it has ended so quickly, and more than a bit dismayed that my comfortable shield of fellow musicians is rapidly dispersing. Hidden behind the violins, violas, and the conductor, backed by the brass and flanked by the flutes, oboes, and clarinets, I feel safe during an orchestra concert. If anywhere, I have found my niche at Westfield High School in "bassooning", right in the middle of the stage.
It seems rather ironic, then, that I love the auditorium best of all as neither a spectator or a performer. As many times as I will applaud a play or concert there, or hide harmoniously between my friends in the orchestra or band, I still prefer the auditorium empty. Although at these times it is admittedly only a shadow of the monstrous edifice I found so magnificent as a child, its magic is still there and, if anything, at its greatest potency. Silence reigns, reverberates down the aisles littered with the occasional playbill or program, to the roof rounded by years of thunderous applause for songs and speeches, trills and twirls, cadenzas and caprices, over and around the spotlights in the balcony, down onto the stage. Every time I pause on that empty stage or sit in the abandoned aisles, hidden between the seats, I am captivated by the contrast between the auditorium at that moment, and as it has been and will be in years to come. Inevitably, my imagination animates the stage with lights and music; a furtive vanity cloaks the auditorium in dramatic darkness and trains the brightest spotlight on me whenever I advance towards the pianos in the pit.
I know that there is no one watching behind me as I sit down at either of the baby grands that flank the stage. There are no hushed whispers for silence, no quickly smothered sneezes, rustling programs or creaking seats. But some part of me enjoys pretending that the auditorium's silence is the best kind: filled with awe and respect, the electric anticipation of an enthusiastic audience. Try as I may to stifle it, there is no ignoring the fantasy once my fingers touch the keys. In my mind, the audience holds its breath as I begin to play, sighs responsively as I dazzle them with what little I have learned in ten years of piano lessons, and when I am done, imagination showers me with applause, even as I am sheathed in silence once more. And so I sit awhile afterwards, as silently worshipful as my dream audience, not of the performers, but of the performance hall. The auditorium has provided me with a truly unique outlet for expression, and thus bestowed upon me a gift greater than any applause.