I do not want to be seated here writing this meditation with my lighted candle beside me on the table as usual. I would rather be writing it in the Drama studio at my school. I revisited it yesterday and would rather have written my thoughts there, when I was in situ, than trying to remember my reflections now a day later. It will be a case of ’emotions recollected in tranquillity’ as the poet Wordsworth writes about his own verses. Most of these mediations thus far have been ’emotions recollected in tranquility’, the tranquillity of my own home. Wordsworth’s phrase would be a good definition of a meditation. A meditation requires a little distance from the situation; a calm detachment.
My emotions were tranquil yesterday when I called into school and wandered into the Drama studio where I used to work until February this year. There was non-one else there as the school doesn’t open for lessons until next week. The space was empty and silent.
But it wasn’t cold and dark as the sun was shining through the windows at the top of the walls and, for those of you who have never been there, it is not a ‘black box’ as other studios often are. The walls are a sky blue and the blackout curtains are a deeper royal blue. I chose the colours myself when we were designing it in 2007. Heavy curtains of whatever colour would provide a blackout for performances and practical exams anyway and I wanted a bright and cheerful colour for the walls as the space (the old school gym converted) would be operating as both a large classroom and a studio theatre. I remember that at the top of my list at that time was the phrase ‘a flexible and intimate space’.
In a previous blog, I described being on an empty stage before a performance. The house lights are up and you are standing or sitting there looking at the empty auditorium. It was the Kolibri stage in Budapest I think. I used to love that moment alone on the stage while the cast and crew were getting their lunch before the matinee. It wasn’t just the chance to get my thoughts together before the show. There’s an atmosphere of anticipation in an empty theatre before a performance, an air of expectancy, and even though it is empty there is also a special warmth. It’s not because of the house lights out there in the auditorium or the stage lights beaming down. It is a feeling of being at home. No more than that: for me one of those rare moments when you realise that this is where you should be, just for this moment. I shall miss that warmth, that realisation, now I am retired.
The empty drama studio yesterday was entirely different. The space wasn’t set up for a performance as there wasn’t one. It was set up as a classroom with the retractable theatre seating back against the wall. I borrowed my colleague Leigh’s directors chair (mine got broken somehow ages ago) and sat in the middle of the performing area at the other end between the scenic flats that make a stage. I looked around the studio from there, facing where an audience would be.
Needless to say, memories flooded in of rehearsals, productions, gala evenings, exam performances, lessons, which I won’t bore you with. I can’t remember them now anyway. They flew in and out of my consciousness swiftly.
I have experienced that moment of warm anticipation before a performance in the studio too. It would generally be on the second or third night after the first night was over. There would always be some crisis or other to sort out before opening night!
But as I sat there yesterday, I realised that since the studio opened in 2007, I had never sat down and taken a good look at it. I’ve been too busy teaching, acting, directing and creating to notice the space I was working in properly. That is as it should be. Nevertheless I obviously have a great affection for the space. It has been a joy to work there in the final years of my school career. Not quite an Indian Summer as I do not think an Indian Summer can last for 13 years! I greatly miss working on a scene in the studio.
So here I was, now retired, finally looking around my old workplace, my creative space, my studio. ‘My empire’ as I would jokingly call it. Marcus’ empire was considerably larger than mine! Mine is more intimate and as a result more meaningful. I do not think he would have felt as I did yesterday as he stood outside his tent looking out over the plains of Pannonia.
How did I feel? Well I wasn’t upset or sad. Nor did I feel a sense of ennui. I found myself smiling. I realised that so much of me was in those walls. As I have just mentioned, I came up with a concept for the space. I could see myself everywhere, as I looked at the lighting box, the lighting and sound equipment, the seating, the scenery flats, curtains and walls. I had a creative input in all of these, working along with the previous headteacher, Tom Cahill and an ex-student Colin Mander.
What I felt was another kind of warmth: the warmth of pride.
I am reminded of a short play by Noel Coward called ‘Family Album’ about a Victorian family gathered for a celebration. In the play a family member makes a toast:
‘Here’s a toast to each of us and all of us together.
Here’s a toast to happiness and reasonable pride.’
That is what I felt: reasonable pride. And a glowing sense of achievement.
So why, do I ask myself, now that I have retired, am I so anxious to keep on achieving having achieved so much already? Perhaps I should take to heart the next line of the toast:
‘May our touch on life be lighter than a sea bird’s feather.’
Perhaps Noel Coward was thinking of himself when he wrote that line. He had a long and successful career as a playwright, composer, actor and entertainer. He must have constantly felt the drive to achieve.
So I slowly walked out of that Drama studio smiling and with a glow of pride which is an achievement in itself I guess.
As the Proms isn’t functioning as normal this year (like everything else), the BBC are putting archive performances on the radio each evening. So I have been listening to a wonderful performance of Mahler’s 5th symphony from 1987 with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. In the middle of this amazing life-enhancing performance I have realised that life is not about achieving but about creating. I want to continue creating.
But I have left out the last line of the toast by Noel Coward. I think it is rather appropriate as we continue with trying to cope with coronavirus into the Autumn.
‘And may all sorrows in our path politely step aside.’
Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!
If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up! And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested. A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on firstname.lastname@example.org or my Facebook page or Twitter.