I will forever remember my first matinee. I got to miss a whole day of school to see the musical version of “Hans Christian Anderson” in the city of Ipswitch, England with my third grade class (I was an AIr Force kid). As we passed through the theatre’s giant glass doors, all sound seemed to fade away and everyone suddenly felt the need to whisper. Accompanied only by the sounds of shuffling feet and air conditioning, we made our way to our seats. Within minutes, the house lights faded and the orchestra filled the house with a rich prologue as the lights came up on the stage. After two and half hours of music, dance, and drama I relaxed in my chair realizing that I had literally been sitting on the edge of my seat. My head was spinning as I floated back onto my feet, joining the rest of my class as we filed out of the theatre. As we exited through the same glass doors I was sharply snapped out of my dreamy state by the jarring sound of cars and trucks honking, groups of people chatting loudly as they passed. The sun was too bright, the sounds too loud. We loaded onto the smelly school bus with the sticky floor and hit every pothole on our way back to school. I was slightly unsettled by how dirty everything was—gum under the seats, trash floating past on the sidewalk.
Now, my experience with the show itself may not have been as momentous as I remember it, but the slightly disconcerted feeling that washed over me as I left the theatre has been one I continue to experience every time I attend a matinee. The second my feet hit the pavement and my eyes readjust to the daylight, I can’t help but feeling extremely grounded—heavier somehow.
When attending an evening show, there’s something about the darkness of nighttime that suspends this inevitable plunge back down to earth. It shadows all the harsh imperfections that the daylight reveals and lets us remain in that other realm—that heightened state—that seeing a good piece of theatre inspires.
While we can never escape the daylight, theatre has an immense gift to offer us. For two hours or so, we can allow ourselves to be lifted by music, lights, spectacle and stories that we don’t need to control. Although we know that they will always return, we can escape “the sounds of the real world” for a short while, and re-enter our often chaotic lives with the knowledge that we can always get back to that place.