An Empty Theatre: The Quiet Spell Before the Magic Starts

empty stage

“In the Red and Brown Water” (Fountain Theatre)

by Lyn Gardner

I love nothing more than a theatre full of people leaning forward in their seats so they don’t miss a word. And the roar of a crowd enjoying themselves can be immensely seductive.

But being one of the first people into an empty auditorium is a rare pleasure. Outside, the lobby and bars are buzzing; but inside – particularly in older theatres – there is often a feeling that you might have just missed glimpsing the theatre’s ghosts, who only made themselves scarce when the “house open” announcement was made.

Untitled, "Solitary figure in theatre" by Edward Hopper

“Solitary Figure in a Theatre” by Edward Hopper

Alone – or almost alone – you can prepare for what is to come in the eloquent silence before the auditorium begins to fill. It makes me think of Edward Hopper’s wonderful early painting, Solitary Figure in a Theatre, a picture which is alive with expectation.

I hate rushing into a theatre at the very last moment. I much prefer the ritual of preparation. The perusal of the program, the chance to observe the audience, and contemplate what is yet to come. These pre-show moments are like looking forward to a holiday or party, as much part of the enjoyment as the event itself.

I cherish this netherworld between real life and the life of the play, and often find it difficult to have a meaningful conversation in those minutes before a performance. I’m no longer quite in this world, but not yet in the one to come. It feels like those moments after you’ve turned off the light but before you’ve fallen sleep. And dreams soon begin.

Lyn Gardner writes for The Guardian

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