Archive for January, 2011

Winter Theatre

When we arrived at the Firehall Theatre — at 10:00 a.m. — a major snowstorm was approaching our small town. Within less than an hour the winds were howling around the three-storey building. The violent clouds of snow raced horizontally past the windows, moaning along the eaves and rolling wildly across adjoining rooftops. Below, along the sidewalks, pedestrians staggered by, stumbling, struggling against the force of the wind. Beneath us, just out of the picture to the left, through the blowing snow we could see the vague outlines of the parking lot, soon (but not soon enough) to be taken over by the Farmers’ Market. In summer the farmers’ stalls will display their fruit and vegetables, but now both farmers and stalls were frozen memories, dreams buried under the mounting drifts of snow.

The Firehall Theatre in winter

The Firehall Theatre building dates back to the mid-19th century, when it was a fire hall, with real horses, and the distance to the farthest fire was measured in yards not miles. The walls are ancient brick; there is a single pane of glass in the wooden windows; and between window and wall the passage of time has created a space open to the weather. (If there were a fire, you could slip through the space and leap to safety — three floors below.) By lunchtime there were piles of snow on the floor beneath each window (on the inside).

By early afternoon there was an icy aura in the rooms that reminded me of my time in the Arctic. I found I had no feeling in my feet, and all my fingers had turned white.

But we paid no attention. We were happy. We were a part, a vital passionate part of … The Theatre! We brought life to the playwright’s words, we breathed greasepaint, we were a vibrant team, a single living entity. Okay, we were slowly freezing to death, but, ach, it’s a small price to pay for one’s art.


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Remember, when we were young, how our days revolved around being older? Striving to be what we weren’t, and somehow always choosing the wrong role model. Take young girls for example:


She walks the downtown street with half-closed eye.

Her years as ingenue have passed her by;

She’ll think of Mme Pompadour, and sigh.

She’s fifteen now, and sixteen by-and-by.


Her jeans are hung precariously on hips.

With phosphorescent hair, encarmined lips,

She licks at life, and hesitantly sips

Where elders swing on grass and acid trips.


A world of opportunity lies on their very doorstep. If unseized, the future will remind them of their loss.


Of university she hasn’t thought yet;

And thinks she’s wise in ways the schools ain’t taught yet;

Thinks only of the things she hasn’t bought yet,

And tries to swing the hips she hasn’t got yet.


And yet, later, us older people — the ones who shook their heads in disgust, and with a lot of muttering foresaw nothing but doom and gloom for the foolish girl — we see her a few years later, and — what have we here?! — the girl has become a woman of quiet charm, has a university degree, a responsible job, often married with a young family, and certainly is a pillar of the community, and compares most favourably with the older commentators of yesterday.

But don’t worry, fellas. Look! Across the street: the latest crop of “foolish” young people. Tomorrow’s engineers, lawyers, doctors …

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Most of us a pretty smart (just ask us). If we’re older, we’ve already had lots of experience from which we have gained considerable knowledge and expertise; if we’re young, we haven’t had the sharp edges knocked off yet and figure we know everything anyway. So who needs experience?


All gems of wisdom we proclaim —

Full-fashioned in our mind,

Original in kind —

Are building blocks that shape our fame,

Our wit and fame combined,

Our billiance there enshrined.


Train wreck, Montparnasse, 1895. When some people make mistakes they don’t fool around. I mean, how could this possibly have happened?!

But experience can be a very handy thing; everyone should have some. Experience is the result of errors. Made a mistake? Learn from it; don’t do it again, and pass the word so that young people can tell you to put a sock in it. Short and to the point; no ambiguity. But that’s just one page of your biography.


The other side of that bright page?

The errors we commit,

The words that never fit;

Supposèd sense that comes with age,

Whose lack we’ll not admit —

We’d never think of it!


“Two hours late? What are you talking about? I’m right on time!”


But do any of us really learn from experience? Indeed, do we really need to? Why waste our time? Trust me, there are better ways of wasting your time.


My friend, take heart, for all we do

Is but a copy made

Of history’s farce, replayed.

The farce, and wisdom — errors, too,

Were made before we strayed;

Were made, and then remade.

So there you have it: The same old historical farce, the shallow wisdom, the gross errors — it’s all been done before, with such soporific frequency that you come to realize that experience is of no value whatsoever. We are all going to put our foot in it anyway.

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