Theatre Near Me
Seated in the balcony for the first time ever, I realized that back in my preteen years, the Avalon's balcony seated only blacks. It was the only theatre blacks could watch cinema in Easton, Maryland. On a few occasions I remember few white patrons avoiding sitting in the front rows. The balconied blacks sometimes drizzled popcorn down onto white heads below.
Growing up isolated in the midst of a sleepy farming / tidewater community on Maryland's Eastern Shore, I was unaware of smoldering prejudice, racial segregation and discrimination. Naive and oblivious to the real life issues of that time, I had lived my first 14 years miles outside, away from any real knowledge of town life. To me, Easton felt like Pleasantville. I was, after all, so removed from reality at 10 years old, I had never even experienced Halloween. Trick or Treating, for example, had not been part of my childhood. My family lived "too far" from Easton in the country, down a mile-long dirt road near Solitude Creek.
What did I know? "Not much" could have been my answer. Though there were no race riots or obvious signs of outward civil unrest. It seemed my hometown of Easton in the 1960’s was a safe and wholesome place to grow up. The eastern shore's Mayberry RFD. While I felt at ease growing up separated by the Chesapeake Bay and a hustling and bustling lifestyle of Maryland's western shore. When the Truman Show (True man!?) premiered in 1998, my hometown of Easton immediately came to mind. As an eighth grader I had not understood or experienced anything resembling a true society.
When I was 12 year old, I had not yet lost my innocence. But my Avalon experience helped me. I had paid part of my $1.25 weekly allowance to purchase a movie ticket to watch an epic Arab story. The tale so fantastically transported me, it is still one of my favorite movies of all time. By the mid 1960's I started to wake up to the fact that my movie theatre experience was directing my thoughts away from the ho-hum existence of real life. Then when I reached college, it dawned on me that the civil rights tensions in my hometown had been mild compared with the festering ill will festering across America.
Moments before the lead pianist came onto stage and started his gig, I looked behind me, failing to notice any people of color in the balcony audience. The white world had changed ever so slightly. Segregation was now more subtle.
A few minutes later a man behind me to my left suddenly blurted out “OH, MY”. His cry heard throughout the theatre. When more painful moans followed, a crowd of theatergoers quickly gathered around him. Seated next to us, a drunken be-speckled white man with his equally intoxicated girlfriend half-asleep on his shoulder exclaimed he was an army medic, but did not offer any assistance for fear of getting sued.
Realizing the commotion in the audience, the onstage musician stopped his singing/piano-playing, excused himself from stage until the man was attended to. I thought how thoughtful this conscious choice for everyone. A paramedic soon arrived and escorted the man to the hospital. I never saw the injured person, but later heard he had fractured his hand trying to brace his fall. When the pianist/singer returned to stage, he again expressed his sympathy for the injured.
When Jenn Grinels finally appeared on stage, she noted in over 1500 stage performances, she had never experienced a member of the audience injuring himself. In deference to the injured, she sent him well wishes. Jenn’s singing was lively and moving. She engaged the audience with a sing-along and even ushered three of the audience to dance up on stage during one of her numbers. Jenn was truly a relaxed and professional singer. She knew how to entertain. Near the end of her performance, she once again expressed sympathy for the injured man in the audience. I was impressed with the musicians showing so much empathy for the injured man. How refreshing it is when performers respond and adapt to their audience.
As Lainie and I made our way down the stairs and outside, I crossed paths with an old sailing friend. As the audience filed out onto Dover Street, we exchanged some cordial pleasantries. I then learned my past optometrist / sailor friend had also attended the performance.
It did not escape me that in returning to my past, I too was encountering old associations, memories and relationships. The Avalon still entertained yet this night it reintroduced me to a small part of my past.