"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cross One Off The Bucket List-- Thalian Hall Edition

I'm fascinated by the old, the historic and the grand. When we first saw Wilmington some 22 years ago, one of the places that stuck out to us was Thalian Hall, Wilmington's combination city hall and performing arts venue. The idea that it's both amuses me to no end, by the way. Anyhow, it's a century and a half old and looks from the outside much like an antebellum theater should look. Lisa and I were dying to get inside.

It's funny how "bucket list" stuff changes with our experience. Back then, the idea of going to see a community theater production in Thalian Hall never really occurred to us. We were new to town, and only lived in Wilmington for one year, and just never connected to that world. Our first visit inside Thalian was for a showing of Gone With The Wind, and while it was a great experience and a perfect place to see that particular film, we didn't experience Thalian as a live theater venue until late last year.

Our friend Jen was stage managing the Thalian Association's production of Peter Pan and it was a chance to see a real live show inside this piece of history. We had lots of reasons to be excited for this one-- Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories, the show involves tricky backstage fly work to fly the characters around, and we had several friends in the cast, including Jen's son Max as Slightly Soiled the Lost Boy. AND we finally got to see Thalian's stage put to use.
All old theaters have ghosts, why not skeletons?

So my bucket list entry had changed from getting a look inside Thalian to seeing a show there. But then it changed again. After working backstage on a few shows, I was interested in more than the audience section of the hall. I asked Jen if, after the show, she could show us around backstage. That never would have occurred to me 20 years ago. I mean, if offered, I'd have gladly gone and loved it and appreciated it, but I would never have thought to seek it out.

We loved our backstage tour, the place is everything you would want it to be. There's the historic to appreciate and the modern to be jealous of. I'm glad I didn't get the tour until recently as I had the experience to see things and understand things that I never would have at 25. Getting "backstage" anywhere is a fun thing, and we felt really cool and special to be walking around behind the scenes at such a grand old place. It was a check this off the bucket list moment and I truly felt my Thalian Hall fascination was satisfied.

Sometimes our bucket lists change as we add new knowledge and open new doors. Sometimes, though, those who know us well can add to our list in ways we'd not have presumed to. A few months ago, Jen told me she was stage managing a charity event at Thalian Hall and asked if I'd like to serve as stage hand. The idea of WORKING a show at Thalian Hall had honestly not really seemed like a serious possibility. It's usually a two-three week commitment and my schedule and distance from Wilmington made it not something I ever considered, and besides, that's a REAL theatre and I'm, well, me. But this was something I could do. Except that I couldn't. We were scheduled to go to to a wedding in Pennsylvania that weekend. But I've learned that once a door is opened, if you really want to, you can find a way to walk through. This particular chance wasn't going to pan out, but another item had just been added to the bucket list.

Then our PA plans changed and we decided to sit out the wedding because of work and time concerns, and ones brought up by Lisa out of consideration for me, which touched my heart. It took me a little while, but it finally dawned on me that if I was going to be home, maybe Jen's offer still stood. It did, and came to include the boy as well. He, too, has been dying to see something in Thalian Hall and when I told Jen he wanted to come see the event we were working (a lip sync contest), she asked if he'd like to see it from backstage as she had one stagehand slot open. Uhhh, yes please!
There are some big names on that wall.

Jen has been opening new doors for us a lot the last few years. Without getting all sappy, let me just say that the experiences my family has enjoyed because of the influence and love of her and her extended family have been positively life-changing.

John wants one or two of these for Shrek this summer
Ok, so John and I got to be stagehands, and professional ones at that as we actually got PAID for this, at a theater featured in Architectural Digest as one of America's treasures. The experience itself was hard to describe, I'm still processing it. I mean, for me, just being back there was surreal and sublime. I truly do LOVE being in and around spaces like that, they affect me on a basic level I find hard to explain. But while all that is happening in my soul, the real-world Jeffrey was hauling things on and off stage, putting mole skin on a drunk woman's stinky feet and hollering at a bunch of well-lubricated patrons to get the heck out of the lobby and back to their seats so we could begin the second half of the show. Very normal stage crew stuff made special because it all happened in a place that is anything but run of the mill.

Oh yeah, we got to work with Dolly Parton, too :-)
I've only scraped the surface of the awesomeness of the experience, really. John had an adventure and made some valuable contacts, we met a lot of really cool people, the show was a blast to watch, Lisa got to sit in an opera booth, and I got to work with Jen as stage crew. There was not one negative in the entire experience, really. Which is how, in an ideal world, all bucket list stuff would be.