The Morning After
“Strike”: the word has many meanings, most of them suggesting sudden violent force. If you go down the dictionary’s list, eventually you will come to the labor meaning, cessation of work to exert pressure on an employer (I am very familiar with this experience, and its agonies).
Still further down is “to haul down (as a flag); to dismantle and take away; to strike the tents of (as a camp).” This is the theatrical meaning of the word, and we committed this act of sudden violence yesterday as we struck Ice Glen after the closing performance.
Yes, dismantling a show (or a camp) is part of a routine, and an anticipated part at that. But what happens as the props are cleaned and stored or sorted out and returned to their lenders—as the furniture is stacked to await the truck that will return the various components of the play’s “home” to their own separate households and shops—as the lights that have made eleven cycles of morning and afternoon and sunset and moonlight are unplugged and hauled down—as the characters yield up their costumes to be cleaned and stored—as the stage is swept one last time—as the lovely view of a wooded Berkshires hill becomes just a painted wall—is the end of a world onstage and the breaking of a family backstage, certainly a cataclysm no matter how routine.
The play as it develops is a living thing, and the relationships among those who bring it to life are intense and intimate; but as of today, the “morning after,” the play is a book awaiting another company to give it life, the production is a memory, and the cast and crew return to their more mundane routines and usual relationships. The love and gratitude we have expressed to one another in notes and gifts and toasts are real and will be translated into friendships as opportunity allows, and the production is memorialized on tape. But the experience of the show, the singular evanescent joy that is the essence of the performing arts, is finished now. We will all go on to other shows, because this kind of joy is addictive. But this one is over.
In professional theater the actors and running crew and director don’t strike the set: stagehands do. But although it must be nice to be spared the physical and emotional pains associated with taking a show apart, I think that participating in it is a healthy thing, a way of making a real transition out of the play and a formal farewell not only to one another but also to the world we have inhabited together.
And at last we part, with the inevitable, wonderful question: “What are you doing next?”