Monday, March 10, 2014

Rows of Empty Seats in The Old Little Theater

Tacked on to the squat, mustard-colored campus building that houses the college of which you are a faculty member is a rambling wooden shed called The Old Little Theater.  Both the College and Theater buildings are old, probably transformed from something of a past, original use.

Because you have spent time on or in at least six campuses, seven if you include the place you came to work when you first came to Santa Barbara going on forty years ago, such transformations seem the kind of pragmatism you associate with a campus.  Buildings that were intended for one thing become venues for previously unanticipated study, investigation, hypothesis.  

Each time you drive past the Henly Gate entrance to UCSB, wondering who Henly was to have such a gate named for him or her, you marvel at the abundant construction and the sense of flux.  You remind yourself this is is UCSB, not UCLA.  This is not home; this is a place you have moved to from home.  At one time, if you were to walk into the student store, you would see a life-sized portrait of you, looking upward toward a small, framed portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer.

You were part of a large mural you great pal, Barnaby Conrad, was commissioned to paint, its theme the study of classical ideas and inventions.  Who knows where the mural is, what building or storage shed?  Will you be "discovered" at some future time.  Who is this fellow, looking up at Chaucer?

You think as well of the thirty-four years you spent at USC as a teacher and the times before that when you frequently drove through that campus.  You found things to like about it, places where you could find some sense of pleasure or comfort, even the library named for Doheny, the architect of the Teapot Dome Oil Scandals.

All of this means you are often thoughtful, perhaps feeling nostalgia, when you are on a campus.  Some of your classes are in a room next to the interior of The Old Little Theater.  You like the idea of climbing onto the stage, then standing before the empty rows of seats, which you have never bothered to count.  There are at least fifty, perhaps twice that many.

Standing in the middle of that stage, you are filled with the sense of what you will wish to say or demonstrate in class.  You see the things of which you speak in class as tangible presences, each with its own distinct voice.  You are no longer the you who sits before your computer at home or the you who scribbles things in coffee shops to the point where persons who know you are intimidated against stepping forth to greet you.

Sometimes, standing on that stage, you wish to recite something of significance to those empty chairs in recognition of the contract between the performer and the viewer, the reader and the writer.  You say in a stage whisper, "Yes."  The word seems to hang in the atmosphere between you and the rows of empty seats.  You feel some presence within you as it steps forward.  "Yes," you say again.

Then it comes over you, things to say, shared moments of significance:

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote 
The droghte  of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth         
Inspired hath in every holt  and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, 
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,         
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende         
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke. 

This  is a beginning for telling stories.

And sometimes it comes to you to see if you can remember the words to these mere fourteen lines:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
     So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sometimes, you get messed up around the "And every fair from fair sometimes declines." But you have nothing to hide from these empty seats, you are willing to mess up in front of them, because it leads you to things that start within you when you step out onto the stage.

There were times in the past when you were fearful of being on the stage.  Then came times when you wished to be out on it, before a full audience.  Then the moments when you feared you had nothing to say or so questioned what you had to say that nothing came out.

You have learned so much, speaking things that matter to you before rows of empty chairs and of writing words that matter to you before the empty chairs within this Website.

Sri Krishna to Arjuna:  "To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof."

Seats, waiting in the funky, uncertain history of The Old Little Theater, and you standing before them, waiting to begin.

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