Friday, April 15, 2016

Dancing in the Light of the Ghost Lamp

If you ever visit a theatre late at night, you will more than likely see an eerie blue glow shining through the darkness of the stage.  This haunting blue beacon is what we in the theatrical world, call a ghost lamp.

As you can imagine, there are a few different stories explaining the purpose of this light.  The explanations range from the paranormal to the practical.  Some say that the lone light bulb is to light the paths of ghosts as they mill about in the darkness, while the more practical (and true) explanation is that the lamp is to mark the edge of the stage so that someone doesn’t break their foot or neck in the darkness.  (Actors may want you to tell them to “break a leg” before a show, but directors would rather avoid the mess of a lawsuit from someone actually doing so.)

The last ghost lamp of my college career now shines on the stage of Rudd Auditorium.  In just under a week, the Hilltop Players will open Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, and I will have the privilege of taking the stage three more times as I play the role of Curly. 

It hasn’t quite hit me yet that this is my last time. I’m not sure when it will.  But the truth is that regardless of when the truth sinks in, the orchestra will sound their last note and the red curtain will close one final time. 

I may be a Communications major, but I have spent more time in my college career pacing the halls of Rudd than I have spent in any other building (including the dorms) during my four years at Bryan College.  There is not a nook or a cranny that I have not explored.  For those of you who have ever had a class in Rudd, you know that you can almost always find me down in Brock Hall.  I spend so much time down there, that I’m almost as much of a fixture as the piano.

People often ask me how I can focus down there with the constant noise, but what they don’t understand is that I love it.  The creeks, whirs, clunks, and pops of Brock Hall are all merely percussion to the endless music of Rudd.  There is no building on campus that sings like Rudd does.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I have been inside when there wasn’t music playing somewhere.  Whether it is singing choral songs or Off-Broadway numbers, whether it is children learning instruments or the Piano Pedagogy majors serenading the silence, the building always has a ballad to present; a ballad that I occasionally got to participate in.

Perhaps the best way I ever found to describe it was actually in a monologue I delivered when I played the role of Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest:
Be not Afeared; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand whistling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I had waked after a long sleep,
Will then make me to sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
Made me cry to dream again.
Not a performance went by where I did not think of Rudd as I delivered those lines, and they still often come to mind as I hear the magical music drifting through the walls.

But the music is not the only thing that I love about this building, no far from it.  Some of my most poignant memories, both good and bad, took place within its walls.  I have performed eight shows and countless scenes there, sang concerts, attended chapels, spent hours rehearsing and memorizing lines, laughed till I cried, watched the stage catch on fire, received the news of the death of a dear friend, learned various acting techniques, had parties, played games, slept, wept, built sets, spoken in chapel, and so much more!  You will not find any greater treasure chest of my memories on campus.

But now my time there is coming to a close, and the lights will soon fade to black.

As I have rehearsed and performed there, I have often thought of the ghosts that walked the stage, not the haunting kind that most theatres have, but rather the legacies of so many great speakers and performers who have also walked that stage since its existence.  Speakers like Joni Erickson Tada have shared life-altering messages, while musical artists like Audio Adrenaline have performed there, and countless other students before me have acted, spoken, sung, danced, and performed on that stage.  Each time I take the stage, I imagine who’s footsteps I might be walking in and the legacy that I am carrying on.  My four years in Rudd are but a pen-stroke within the greater story that has been told on that stage for years.

But my time left on that stage is short.  As the curtain closes around me one final time in just over a week, I will join those who have gone before me as a ghost dancing among the ghost lamp on an empty stage.  I’ve seen it happen before with other graduates; within three years I will be but a faint memory or a passed down story on this stage. 

But if you go down to Rudd at night and see the ghost lamp glowing, think of me and remember the steps I took across that stage. You see, a ghost lamp does far more than just prevent injury, it is a blazing blue torch passed on to younger generations as a reminder of the legacy they carry with them the next time that red curtain opens. 

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