That’s What Woods Are For: The Ephemera and the Ever After of Community Theatre

I think I see a glimmer.

On Antiques Roadshow, the items that bring in the big bucks, the objects that wow the appraisers, are toys that still have their original boxes. Patina and provenance. Ephemera; ticket stubs, concert flyers — one-and-done’s, things that were meant for a specific date and time and then were rendered useless by the turning of the clock or the calendar page.

That’s theatre — ephemeral. We community theatre actors are reminded of that every time we strike a set after the final performance— take your bows, don’t dawdle in the lobby saying hello to your people, then take off your costume, and tear it apart, shove it in the truck; say goodnight, Gracie.

Theatre comes and goes, mostly without being noticed by the general public, who is largely too busy these days watching The Great British Bake-Off or scrolling on their phones to notice that So-and-So Community Theatre Company is putting on a play. Theatre cannot be swiped left or right. Theatre must be attended, and attended to. Attention must be paid.

The production of “Into the Woods” I was just in was ephemeral like every other show I’ve done — it’s gone. I still have the costume, because it consisted entirely of my own clothes (I guess I’m Narrator-like in my wardrobe choices) but even the scripts are gone, freshly erased of all pencil markings, packed in a box on their way back to Music Theatre International. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, and love, though — they didn’t get packed away, and the markings cannot be erased. They’re still here.

The cast of a play is like any other group of people, I guess — new employees at a staff orientation, a cadre of new volly firefighters at a recruitment event, or a soccer team at their first practice. Some are awkward, some are not — or they’re better at faking it, some are nice, some are snarky — some are both. This one has more experience, this one is rusty, or a wallflower, this one is graceful, that one blurts out.

In the beginning, in the rehearsal room, we are still auditioning, even though we have been cast. We glance out across the room to see if the director is laughing. We’re performing for each other, trying to crack each other up, or impress each other. Testing each other. Are we worth each other’s time to talk to in between scenes, have we reached the coveted status of, “Wanna go out for a drink?”? Are we still cool? Are we wanted?

There are private, quiet moments. This one reaches out, opens up, becomes human, becomes beautiful. Through insecurity or doubt, through fear or despair. That one lends a hand. A hand says and does so much. A hug. I know. I understand. I have been there, too. You are not alone. No one is alone.

Careful.

Believe me.

We are all of us wandering blind in the woods. We don’t always know why we’re there, but we are there together, and that is the only possible way we will survive. That is the way it has to be. I was never one who was interested in the idea of a one-man-show. As much as I may hate to admit it sometimes, I need people. Very, very badly. I’ll never make it on my own; it is too frightening. It is too much.

Another show has closed. This one, though, was different. Ephemeral, yes, but lasting, too — ever after. Why? Because people allowed themselves to be human. And to be human is to be insanely funny and disgustingly broken and shamefully beautiful and wonderfully made standing there stuck on the steps of the Palace. We let each other in, when so many performers are unable to do that, insisting upon putting up a wall and disappearing behind a character in which they are more comfortable existing.

There’s a lot of snark these days about “safe spaces” but that, really, is what theatre, when it’s done right, can be, for the people who need it so very badly.

This is all that’s left now. And a little bit not.

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Gabe is Editor in Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries, an online mental health publication. He owns far too many ties.

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Gabriel Nathan

Gabriel Nathan

Gabe is Editor in Chief of OC87 Recovery Diaries, an online mental health publication. He owns far too many ties.

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