Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There's No Place Like Home

There’s No Place Like Home
As I walk into the theater, the familiar smell of faded cushions and dusty curtains greets me like an old friend. Even though the room is shrouded in a velvety kind of darkness, I’ve gotten so good at navigating through the aisles blindly that turning on all the lights is more of an option than a necessity. However, I do slowly shuffle my way across the beat-up auditorium, fully aware of the fact that my heartbeat has picked up a little. I’m not afraid of the dark, I just know that a few sophomore boys think it’s hilarious to sit in the pitch dark before anyone else gets to practice and make the sorry soul who comes in first scream bloody murder by jumping out at her in the blackness. I have to walk slowly across the theater, despite my slight apprehension and desire to see exactly what might jump out at me, because the Little Theater is used by the entire school. It is especially abused the English department, as the students tend to leave the area in total disarray in their mad rush to get the heck out of class when the bell rings. The theater is bordering on ancient, and most of the seats have broken in some way or another, so often a student will leave the metal slab disguised as a seat bottom flipped down. As a poor unsuspecting drama kid comes through after school to turn all the lights in the theater, the metal slab will come into direct contact with that poor creature’s shin, in an experience I tend to label, “extremely painful.” The shuffling ensures that when I do inevitably smash into a seat, it won’t hurt so badly.
Honestly, turning the lights on doesn’t make much of a difference. Apparently, being able to read one’s lines on stage isn’t incredibly important to the success of a show, and so the school board decided that it would be more practical to spring for a new sound system for the wrestling gym than to be able to easily be able to find where the heck we are in the script. I guess there is a silver lining; practically blind people like myself learn our lines really fast. There’s no possible way we’ll be able to actually see our lines during practice, so we are forced into memorizing every single thing that happens in the show as quickly as humanly feasible.
As the theater slowly fills with loud, obnoxious, wonderful human beings known as the “drama kids,” I like to make myself a little nest in the front corner of the room, where I can look back on everyone and see them all laughing and talking with each other. Drama is why I come to school every day; it’s what I tell myself I have to look forward to when I feel like banging my head into my desk during Civics and Economics or Geometry. The Little Theater consistently contains my favorite people in the whole world, and I know I will always find someone I love to talk to in there, no matter what time of day it is. It’s a place where I can be as weird and awkward as I want to because the people who witness my ineptitude are stranger than I am. The theater has held discussions from which girl Jake would date if they were the only two people on Earth, to Sam’s plans for the future and what she wants to do with her career. Countless games of Never Have I Ever and Truth or Dare have been hosted in these smelly halls, and tears occur just as often because of laughter as sadness. We all love this small, dark hole with everything in our hearts, and heaven help anyone outside of Drama who would suggest the theater is anything less than perfect.
We actually do have a larger, kind of gorgeous Fine Arts Center to have our shows and some of our practices in, but the Little Theater is where most of the practices are held. I’ve probably spent more time in the Little Theater than any other place in Hamilton High School during my four years there.  At some points of the performance season, I spent more hours in that small theater than I did in my own bedroom. To the rest of Hamilton, the Little Theater is kind of an eyesore, a last resort for clubs and groups to gather, a place where it’s okay to leave your half-eaten bag of Fritos against the wall for six months because no one with enough influence will care.
However, to the Hamilton Drama kid, the Little Theater is a surrogate home. I know every nook and cranny of that place, from the hidden piano underneath the makeshift loft backstage, to knowing exactly which armrest breaks off the auditorium seat every time you sit in it because Zack tripped over it and smashed his head on the floor one year in the middle of auditions (it’s the seat closest to the aisle in on the farthest left section of the seats). When a student accepts her role in a production, she basically promises that along with sacrificing sleep, food, and grades, she will spend at least 10 hours a day at school, and that her new place of lodging henceforth is the Little Theater.
It’s funny… The more I think about it, the more I realize how many significant, precious memories took place in that theater. There was one show I was student directing, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory¸ and my body thought it would be really convenient to develop a raging fever the first day of auditions. Being the stubborn idiot I am, I came to school that day with a temperature of about 102, just so I could be present for the auditions. I sat in the theater for two hours that night, feeling like I had been run over multiple times by a truck and drinking from a jug of milk that I had somehow obtained. I probably heard the same monologue seven thousand times that night. But that’s how much that drama program meant to me: it didn’t really matter how gross I felt, because I wanted to have my input in what the cast list was going to look like, and by Jove, I was going to make my opinion known!
Speaking of opinions, I don’t have one on the classic movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It was actually the first movie I ever saw with a guy I liked, and it was shown in that theater. Like I said, clubs met in the theater if they had absolutely nowhere else to go, or, in my case, if they were giant nerds and chose to show a movie there. I was president of the book club my senior year, which made me totally the coolest kid in school, and every year we showed a film adaptation of a book we had read that year. So, I guess seeing the movie with that guy doesn’t actually count as a date. He was too cute, and I was too much of a wimp to ask him out. During the movie, I decided to sit in the back of the theater to be able to see everything, and this guy, Matt, came up and sat right next to me, out of all the dozens of empty seats in the theater. I was so ecstatic and freaked out that I was probably incredibly awkward, but he started flirting with me as the movie was playing, and I started laughing, and everyone else in the theater started shushing us. He casually put his arm around me, and I think I may have had an actual heart attack in that moment. Because of him, I could not tell you one single thing that happened in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, despite the fact that I technically saw every single second of it.
I also cried a lot of tears in that theater. There was a role that I played at the beginning of last year where I had to be the mother of a soldier who goes off to war and dies in a minefield. Because this character had to come out on stage sobbing to deliver the news to her daughter-in-law about her husband’s death, I got the enormous pleasure of figuring out how to cry on cue. This entailed many hours of curling up on a couch backstage that smelled of the dust of a thousand years, dredging up every sad memory I could think of, whether personal or otherwise. It even got to the point where I would think about sad movies and try to cry about those. The assistant director wasn’t in the loop about the fact that I was making myself cry, and he got really worried about the fact that every time he saw me, I was sobbing. Explaining that I was in fact NOT in perpetual hysterics was one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had with someone.  I actually got congratulated a lot for that role, which was honestly a new experience for me. I personally have the opinion that forcing myself to feel so incredibly emotional every day, even though it was just for a part, was something that was very good for me, both because it gave me the ability to manipulate and measure my emotions, but also because it meant the cast got the fun sight of Kira with red, puffy eyes and tears running down my face pretty much every day for a month. I didn’t have any choice but to get used to the sensation of having people see me cry. All the time. Sometimes I got so worked up about whatever made me cry that day I physically wouldn’t be able to stop myself from crying, and a lucky few got the fantastic job of making me laugh hard enough to stop. And they were always able to. Because your family is always there for you, and those goofballs became my second family.
Right next to the very, very dusty couch, probably now salty from my tears, is this pointless alcove that has one purpose— to be a place where the seniors leave their mark. There is no practical reason for this alcove, but if you kind of crawl inside, you can see spray painted words all the way up the wall until the wall blends into the shadows. That sense of sentimentality, that sense of community, found a happy home in my sappy heart. I’ve always liked looking up in there and seeing the legacy of so many people who felt the same way about being part of this family that I did. As I began to transition out of Hamilton, it almost became a kind of sacred idea—to live on in the hearts of people who you love the heck out of, even if you haven’t been there for years and years.

The Little Theater is “well-loved,” in multiple ways. It’s kind of beat up. The floor is scuffed beyond belief. The railings of the stairs are practically peeling off, and pretty much everything smells like old man. Yet, the theater has this… vibrant personality that I think…. No, I know comes from the people who dwell in it every day, even if the rest of the school is on vacation. The Little Theater is my favorite place in the whole world because it’s the home of the people I love the most, and there is where we learn and grow and cry and laugh and just… live. 


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