This story has two beginnings.For the sake of simplicity, let’s say the story begins “I sat.”
I sat. I sat in an auditorium full of several thousand other sleepy faces who looked up at a video montage showing the history of our university.
We were soon to swear in a new president and to mark the occasion we looked back on all the changes the college had embraced and fought through the years. It made me smile to see photos from various theatrical productions make the cut.
That year, we (the theatre department) dedicated our productions as a fair-well to the old president, a man who had shown us much kindness in years past. What better way to say goodbye then with his favorite musical and the tried and true Our Town? A show about change, growth, and simplicity aligned directly with the message of the year.
Unfortunately, our department had long forgotten the meaning of the word ‘simplicity.’ We ‘simply’ had to have an elaborate set with furniture and work lights hanging from the ceiling and scattered on the ground. We ‘simply’ had to have to cast in period-specific costumes. We ‘simply’ needed 25 umbrellas for the (spoiler alert) funeral.
The video played on. Important world leaders who had addressed the student body scrolled by: Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell to name a few. Each sat behind our soon-to-be former president as he introduced them and would rise to shake his hand.
Months after watching the video, I found myself counting and hanging chairs on the aforementioned ‘simple’ set. A few other technicians were also working on the project. We tied fishing line to the furniture as we repaired and stained. Many of the chairs had been donated from other departments. So, the bottoms had room numbers, building names, and expletives written on their undersides. The task of healing and hanging became a much longer process every time we would look up to find a spot we had missed. Frustration grew and manifested in the form of an argument over the proper way to pronounce “bowline knot”. Perhaps the calmest voice in this debate was a man that, for the remainder of this story, shall be referred to as “the actor.”
The video drug on. Boredom took hold. The backgrounds in the video began to entrance me more than the actual content. It was funny how little has changed in 30 years. Curtains were still curtains. Men still wore ties. Then, I noticed in the background an old friend. My heart skipped a beat.
This story also begins,
I sat. I sat in a red auditorium seat looking up. Notes were sprawled across my legs and the seats beside me. Our Town would open in a few days and I needed to finish updating my paperwork before I left that night. Orchestrating scene changes was proving to be a nightmare, but my notes were useless in those moments.
The actor was speaking, and all eyes were on him. He had been distant and reserved the entirety of the semester. I’m not sure he had opened up to any of us before that moment. His voice shook as he asked for prayers and support. His roommate had passed away the first day of the semester. They were long time friends who had met on that very stage. As the actor reached out, I looked up and saw an old friend, the same friend I saw months ago in the video.
He was a small chair with light-colored wood and arms that sat strangely high. The light caught him beautifully. His original gloss was faded in patches. That moment is when I learned everything I ever needed to know about props.
You see, that chair had seen thousands of people before he ever met me. He met Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, and the actor’s roommate. He saw students grow and learn. He had held infants and people near the end of life.
He was there when the actor bickered about the nomenclature of knots, and the moment the actor spoke to us, he witnessed a family come together to support one of their own. He had seen a lot, and when I looked at him right, he told me his life.
Years have passed. Soon I will be embarking on a new adventure in a new career, but I will never quit being a properties master. Because, I know, I will never be a better storyteller than a chair, and because, in truth, this story has one beginning. “I sat. I sat in bright auditorium. They turned the lights out, and the loneliness crept in. I knew I would be okay though, because the next day, they would come back. I would see them and support them again. I knew I would help them until the day I became just as broken as them.”
*This story first appeared on my previous blog in 2016. The original will be taken down as soon as I remember the password. I do own this content and write it with the blessing of the actor in question.