By Grace Bluestone
I love theater. When I was 6, my parents took me and my sister to Eva Le Gallienne’s Civic Repertory Theater to watch our favorite storybooks come to life on stage. I was hooked.
Luckily I grew up in New York City. While my parents paid for some plays, while I was in my teens there were the 55-cent seats at most theaters. For that small amount you could claim a seat in the balcony. It might be halfway to heaven, but you could see live performances. Fifty-five cents fit into small allowances and babysitting money. Movies were only a dime, even for double features, but they weren’t live.
My young cousin did even better. He loved opera and somehow got the Metropolitan Opera to employ him as a regular weekend “super” (extra). He not only saw opera, he got paid for it.
I saw Lunt and Fontanne in “There Shall Be No Night,” Walter Hampden in his final appearance as Cyrano, Helen Hayes as Victoria and I shall always think of Othello as Paul Robeson. I saw opera and ballet and Maurice Evans’ great GI Shakespeare plays, and so much more.
The movie of “The Medium” was fine, but during the live performance there were shimmery shadows at the back of the stage that really sent chills up my spine. In the same way the film “Cats” can’t create the same feeling as, when sitting in front-row balcony seats, a cat character dances across the railing in front of you. Or those marvelous animals in “The Lion King” are best when seen three-dimensionally.
Buffalo is made for the lover of live performances, with Artpark, Shea’s, dozens of small companies, Shaw and Stratford within driving distance and, of course, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. For years my husband and I had seats for the concerts and no record or TV broadcast can duplicate the way a live orchestra really enters into your being.
I love live performances, everything from the high school musical to the circus. Being there is exciting.
Dimensions are different. Sounds are different. Even smells are different. The air around you breathes anticipation. You are part of everything going on around you. Movies and TV are entertainment. A live performances is an experience.
Many young people see “The Nutcracker” as their first live performance. That’s great! It has music, dancing, battles, glimpses into other countries and a story about a child. Do they get hooked? Not usually. They go back to their computers and their computer games and hours of TV.
Being 97, I don’t get around much anymore, but I have wonderful memories. I pity the youngster who will never sit in a ringside seat at a three-ring circus under the tent and choose which ring to watch, crane a neck to see those trapeze artists swinging into the air, and feel the vibrations as elephants lumber by. I’m sorry for the young person who does not feel the magic of “Curtain Going Up” on a whole new world.
If I could leave a legacy, it would be a modern equivalent of 55-cent seats so people could indulge in live performances. Then I would inject them with just a little belief in magic so they would clap like mad and Tinkerbell would fly forever over Never-Neverland.
Grace Bluestone, of Williamsville, misses the days of 55-cent seats in the theater.