I was a kid in the 60’s, and grew up watching television shows like Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand, and Steve Allen, to name a few. I watched countless variety-shows with scores of comedians, magicians, singers, dancers, jugglers, bands, and orchestras. Television was where I first learned that people did great things on stages. And when people did great things on stage, the people watching them would applaud. I remember thinking how cool it must be to do something great enough to be applauded.
Some days after school, as the other kids were walking home, I was sneaking into the big empty school auditorium. I rarely went straight home after school.
I remember the school janitor and I were able to tolerate each other pretty well, although we never spoke. He’d be there in the auditorium sometimes, cleaning, or whatever janitors did. As long as I didn’t cause him any fuss, he was cool. He recognized me, we exchanged silent nods, then he went back to rattling his buckets, and I headed for the stage.
Shorter than the stage, I climbed the wing steps, and walked with bearing, out to center-front. The west side windows were a glow from the late-afternoon sun, shining through those aging, yellowing, roll-up canvas window shades. This flooded the empty stage with an eerie orange color—perfect for watching dust floating through light.
Standing there, where the spotlight would’ve hit the stage, I closed my eyes and imagined a packed-house, bright with lights, and uproarious with shouts and cheers. My hair blew back from the wind of applause; for what, I have no idea. This imaginary performance included my latest grade-school heartthrob—as if she knew I existed—sitting right in the front row. It was awesome!
True, I was a little kid that couldn’t play an instrument, sing, or dance, but that didn’t matter. I was enjoying spending kid-time on the stage. I liked looking at it, standing on it, sitting on it; I twirled and danced to silent music on it.
Of course, my new love of the stage wasn’t about my wanting to be an actor, or even a plate-spinning juggler; it was about escaping my home-life. Already a comfortable-loner, the stage was my one large, and powerful, yet silent friend. And yes, it was obviously a substitute for something I was lacking as a child, I’m just not sure what.
But the stage never yelled at me, or scared me. It felt solid when I put my hands on it; there was a calming weight, to it, a sense of permanence. To me the stage was more than wood and lights, it was a place built for greatness. Or that’s what I told myself. After living, what was at times, an abusive childhood, I’ve endeavored to find my own humble bit of greatness.
I could be anything I wanted to be on stage, that’s what they said, I just had to put on a show. Seemed like a bargain to me, and in a way, it sounded like freedom.
‘Just like the moon, the stage awaits; a sweet intimidation.’