I stand on the stage, looking out across hundreds of empty seats, shrouded in darkness. Only the eerie green glow of the EXIT signs over the doors and the tiny LEDs that line the aisles and the edge of the stage provide any illumination. The Performing Arts Center is sad and deserted, nothing like it should be on a Monday afternoon in March.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. We're in the middle of musical season--or at least, we were supposed to be. Before COVID came. Before the governor shut the state down and announced that all schools had to go online for the next three weeks.
We were supposed to open The Addams Family in three weeks. The kids and I have been working so hard. I have a closet full of tombstones and half-finished costumes. There's a plywood and foam board mausoleum in the scene shop. A ten-foot-tall scythe is sitting in the stage right wing with half of the Addams' Family's mansion. What am I going to do with all this stuff?
What are any of us going to do, once we're at home?
The news came during rehearsal yesterday. During rehearsal. The timing could not have been worse. My actors and crew had a lot of questions. The auditorium manager and I took turns going to bother administrators to try to get answers for their questions, but they knew only a little more than we knew.
We did our best. Some of the kids couldn't handle it. They cried offstage, believing that this is the end, that something has been irrevocably stolen from them. And for all we know, it has been. Many of the others, though, just wanted to have one last normal rehearsal before we left, and so that's what we did.
It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my entire career. We'd been hearing a bit about Covid, around all the rest of the chaos going on in the world and in our school, but I hadn't paid much attention because I've been swamped with the musical. I guess I just never thought it'd get this bad.
I thought I'd cry, once I got into my car after rehearsal let out and I packed everything up. I tried to. But I was too numb to cry at that point. Repressing emotions has consequences, even when it's done for the good of other people.
That was Thursday last week. Friday was our last day with kids in the building. It was tough, and sad. There was this terrible air of loss, and staff and students alike were not okay. When might we see all our friends again? Why has the world turned upside-down? What did we do to deserve this? So many more questions than answers, and what answers we had were deeply unsatisfying.
Staff had the weekend and today, Monday, to figure out how to teach our classes online. It's been a professional development day, no students, just meetings and typing and staring into the void, filled with despair. Many of us are wondering if three weeks will really be three weeks, or if it will end up being longer. I guess time will tell.
Now, though, professional development is over. The lights are off. The doors are locked. It's time to go home. But I can't bring myself to leave just yet. How do you leave a show unfinished, right before tech week? We've been rehearsing for months, and for what? Though I don't want to admit it, in the back of my mind I know there's a strong possibility that we don't get to perform this show at all. The virus is airborne. Broadway has gone dark. Why should our high school theatre be immune to the ravages of the pandemic?
Tears threaten to choke me. I can't let it end like this, terminated before its time. And so I stand at the front of the stage in this dark theatre, staring out over all the empty seats, and despite the emotions inside that threaten to overwhelm me, I sing "Secrets," one of Morticia's numbers. Perhaps "Death Is Just Around the Corner" would be more appropriate, in a morbid way, with its lines about 'turning off a respirator," but it's more of a chorus number, and I'm alone. Everyone else has left. But I sing anyway. It's not much, but it's the best I can do, a solitary tribute to a musical that might have been.
I stand on the edge of the stage, looking out across hundreds of empty seats, illuminated by the house lights and work lights. The brilliance of the stage lights washes across me, welcoming me back--welcoming me home. The atmosphere practically hums with anticipation, although no audience occupies the seats of the Performing Arts Center--yet. But in a few minutes, that will change.
It's been a year and a half since the shutdown. We never did get to perform The Addams Family, but we did manage to produce some other shows. We've done some crazy things to keep theatre alive during the pandemic, and much as people want to pretend that it's over, the virus is still here and still killing people. Even so, we're finally in a place where we can have a live audience, instead of online streaming only, for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown.
But we've made it. The kids are backstage behind the red curtain, getting ready to perform our fall play. The auditorium manager is relaxing at the sound board; all of our audio and video equipment is set up; the box office manager is out front, putting the finishing touches on the lobby and welcoming our patrons who've come early.
Once again, I find myself on the verge of tears, but this time they're tears of happiness and gratitude and relief.
We're ready. We've made it. And looking out at the house from the stage has never felt so good.
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