One of the best things about my job is that I get to have a different perspective on shows at historic theatres – literally not figuratively. Standing backstage I get to see and hear things that the audience misses. But whether I am in the audience or back stage, historic theatres remain a magical place.
After a dance show, Diavolo – Foreign Bodies, at the Paramount in Austin, I got a few minutes alone with artistic director, Jacques Heim, who asked me if the Paramount audience was always so generous. “My dancers are feeding off the energy from your audience. It is like a fantastic feast!” And he was right. The dancers were energized by the audience. It’s not the first time an artist has told me that there is a special connection between the audience and stage at historic theatres. These places have a special energy even when they are empty… much less with a full audience.
A week later the exact opposite thing happened when Maya Angelou took the stage. I watched the entire talk from backstage and at the end of the show Dr. Angelou nearly collapsed from exhaustion. The audience had fed off her energy so completely that she gave herself over totally that night. When she signaled to the stage crew to allow for an encore her staff was speechless – evidently that is very rare.
As soon as the curtain closed for the final time, she collapsed into a waiting wheel chair. The energy had been drained from her. It is a show that still, today, gets comments from audience members who were there. For some, it was life changing.
Talking to her backstage before she left was a delight and remains one of my favorite memories. She had a light around her, an energy that was palpable.
I wish her all the best on her journey into the next life…