Saturday night. A long journey by public bus. Stops and stops and stops and stops.
Getting out, walking down the sidewalk. The Atlas Performing Arts Center, finally. The building is more impressive and confusing than I was expecting.
Ticket booth, Will Call. A paper envelope with two tickets inside. Why did I ask for two tickets? But I know why. A moment of hopeful imagining. I enter the foyer and look for the theatre space.
People, people, people. Surrounded on all sides by men and women wearing evening clothes. DC theatre professionals, talking the talk, comfortable, familiar with each other. I squirm in my sweater and look for the theatre.
I’m too early. An usher informs me that house has not yet opened. Wonderful. How much time can I spend in the bathroom avoiding the eyes of strangers? Great. Someone I know and recognize instantly. Into the bathroom we go.
Apparently it’s more difficult than I thought to loiter in a public restroom. Good thing I have a phone, so I can pretend to be sending very important texts while I’m actually writing and erasing text messages to myself over and over again. My armpits are sweating and fire is boring into the back of my skull.
Finally, somehow, house opens. At the doorway, I hand the usher both of my tickets, but tell him it’s just me. He hands back the extra ticket with a kind smile. “You never know,” he grins at me.
Right, I smile and nod in agreement. Into the house we go. Finally. It’s a small, intimate space with lots of exposed beams and wiring. I like it. I take a seat very close to the front, very close to the thrust. I like it. I take in the set for a while and then open the program.
Eyes scanning black squiggles on the page. How many times can one read the same 3 pieces of paper over and over again? A lot, apparently. I read and reread and read again descriptions of the characters’ significance in Chinese mythology. The dramaturgical resources are much appreciated, though I barely absorb any of it because I can’t stop focusing on my tense hip flexors and frozen trapezius. Will this play ever start?
The seats around me gradually fill with more and more audience members who reveal themselves to be Theatre People – they talk amongst themselves comfortably and knowingly. I wonder how many people in the audience are friends with the actors and production team. Probably all of them. I wonder how many people in the audience got their tickets for free. I think guiltily about the extra ticket in my pocket.
Finally. The play starts. Now this is what I came here for. A rich emotional and spiritual experience. Laughter escapes our lungs and tears escape our eyes. Then, the play is over.
The rest of the night is best left forgotten. I return home the way I came. I sit alone on the subway and walk home in the dark.
Four months later, I sit alone in my room and tape a marketing postcard from the show on my wall. I love the beautiful, vibrant colors of the postcard. I love what the show represents. I think about my experience seeing the show and how it included everything that wasn’t the show along with the show. “You never know,” I think to myself.