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From Emma – Empty Spaces

September 7, 2017

At just a week into the new season, we’ve been working on one of the traditional beginning-of-year activities: CLEAN UP! In a building this heavily used throughout the year, it’s a huge schlep and a definite necessity, every year. What we’re often left with, after the cleanup days, is the unfamiliar treat of free space emptiness that we can use anew… or clutter up with more stuff. But for the immediate future, it’s full of possibility.

In his 1968 theatre classic The Empty Space, Peter Brook writes: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage.” And boy, do our cluttered and empty spaces love to perform; we find such gems in them, or invite them to take on a new persona and purpose, or can’t bear to tidy them because their internal chaos has taken on a life of its own.

And it’s all about expectation, what you’ve gotten used to seeing versus what you see now.


So this maybe doesn’t look like much, but there’s clear floor space in the tech booth. Clear floor space! (my heart skipped a beat, typing that) A nest of cables has been sorted and struck from the place, and a stack of old newspapers has been taken off to the recycling bin, and there isn’t an ancient tape deck shoved in the corner – there’s space to kick your feet and do a little dance. The booth is a good friend of mine, so this is particularly exciting to me. It feels like the space can breathe again, and I love that.

20170906_161454And this one: this is a little cubby backstage that’s been a hot mess of brooms, snow shovels, and similarly shaped miscellany, for as long as I can remember. I think it always looked a little like a monster in the closet, except the monster’s legs were all too many broomsticks without brooms attached to them, all curled up and cranky in its own shadowy corner of backstage. There are shelves there that I didn’t even realize existed. Shelves! (my heart skipped a beat just typing that) And looking at it now, the space is ready to help, ready to help carry things, ready to serve and serve all our outdoorsy cleanup needs. Ready for snow, even, as much as we’re definitely not thinking about snow yet (although it’s less than a month from start of Follies rehearsals…)

And that’s just the theatre area; let me tell you about our attic and the good work that Miss Mary, our industrious saint of de-cluttering-and-organizing-and-paper-shredding, has been doing. Our attic was piled to the ceiling with boxes of old documents, 15+ years old. Mary’s found real artifacts, genuine treasures up there – sun-faded old posters, vinyl pockets of slides, and (my personal favorite) hand-written lesson plans from the early days of our arts-in-education work. But there’s also been a lot she’s found that, as per our company policies, we can and should throw away. So the last few weeks have been dappled with us cheerfully toting boxes full of these old financial documents or those old marketing strategies down to Mary’s car, so that she can hand them over to be shredded. And after, seeing these wide shelves ready to welcome some of the paper goods from our crowded office – it’s impossible to adequately describe how awesome that feels.20170906_162003

And of course, clearing out all of the old cluttered spaces has such moments of revelation. Another big one found yesterday was a pair of oversized bolts, the size of fists, that had been used as percussion instruments in Steelbound nearly twenty years ago. Clinking together, you could still hear them wanting to sing their song.

“A stage space has two rules, Brook writes. “(1) Anything can happen and (2) Something must happen.”

Anything can. And something must. We have the space for it.

As great as it feels to open up that empty space for the new season, it’s sad, too– discovering all these gems to say goodbye to them a moment later. Yet making way for the possibility of everything that’s yet to come makes all the dust, grime, sweat, sweeping, scratches, and farewells worth it.

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