There’s a strange thing that happens in the theatre world that I noticed after seeing my first Broadway show at age 10. For days after, I moped around feeling sad and lonely and like something was missing. It wasn’t until I was in college and once again, uncontrollably weepy after closing a show, that a friend very gently said to me, “It’s normal. You’re mourning.”
Now that seemed dramatic even for a theatre kid, but I’ve never found a better word for that feeling.
Whether an audience member at an extraordinary production or an actor onstage, there is always something devastatingly sad about the final curtain of a show. What I’d feel for days, sometimes even weeks after a show ended, felt awful lot like grief and I dreaded it, knowing there was no way out except time.
Part of what makes theatre so goddamn beautiful is the sheer presence of it. As audience, as actor, on any given day you sign a sacred contract with the understanding that what’s to transpire for the next few hours has never happened before, and when it’s over will never happen again. Sure, it’s the same script, the same song and dance, but it’s never the same. With the variability of a new audience, a new day, and a new present moment dictating how it is to be, what you see one day will never be born again—it will die with the rising of the house lights.
In a world so driven by constant moment to moment curation and a greedy hanging onto of the past, theatre forces you to live in every single moment—especially as a performer. There’s too much at stake with this type of storytelling to live anywhere else, past or present. Effective theatre-makers know this, do this and grasp with both hands to an art form slowly falling by the wayside to the spectacle of cinema and the accessibility of television.
And that’s what makes the end, the closing of any given show so difficult, so full of mourning and grief—because in every sense of it, the theatrical performance has to die, it’s not meant to be captured or kept or held on to, it’s meant to be enjoyed in the very minute it lives. So when done well and then suddenly over,
it leaves those of us on either side of that contract, bereft.
From both sides of the stage I’ve had my fair share of theatrical hangovers, and nothing can be done to cure them. The visceral sadness must dissipate on its own, and as a general rule, the stronger the reaction to a show, the longer those feelings linger before leaving. What I’ve learned to love about this experience, this period of mourning, if you will is the bigness of the feelings. Like you must know sadness to know happiness, to have the insanely exhilarating feeling of living in the moments of a show, you too must live with letting it go. To feel so strongly is a privilege given to all, and as an artist with a heightened sense of sensitivity I’ve learned to be grateful for my ability to live life through that lens.
Theatre is story-telling. Theatre is connectivity and relation and bridging gaps and walking in someone else’s shoes and more than anything else perhaps, theatre is the recognition that the pain down in your soul is the same as the one down in mine. It’s a feeling of connection to find and a visceral response to be had and an age-old tradition of sharing your story with another human being in the hopes of bridging connection and understanding.
Perhaps what makes theatre so beautiful is the fleeting nature of it all. It’s not to be held onto in any other way other than memory and to try to capture it otherwise is to bastardize the art form. Theatre creates something that wasn’t there before and to those of us who share in the beauty of that experience, will love through the loss of letting it go.
“A dream, or a song, that hits you so hard, filling you up, and suddenly gone.”