On Slag Glass Lamps and Community Theatre

On Slag Glass Lamps and Community Theatre

My jaw dropped when I saw it. My grandmother’s slag glass lamp standing on the corner of the  counter. Well, not the exact lamp of course, that one had perished in The Fire, but the same model. Its uniquely decorated shade is a swirl of browns, yellows and whites, highlighted by brass decorations of exotic palm trees and ornate bridges held up by an art deco brass stand. If you’re curious, slag glass is glass mixed with ore and heated. Mostly brown and white from iron, sometimes other types of metal ore are added to produced different colors of swirly slag. It’s incredibly heavy. If you were to bash a burglar over the head with this lamp, they wouldn’t survive it. My grandmother’s lamp had sat on a crocheted doily atop a massive black-and-white television unit that also housed a record player. It’d been passed on after her death in 1977 to my Aunt Helen who gave to me before she passed away.

My jaw dropped for two reasons. The first was shock that I’d forgotten it. While I remember lots of the items we lost in that fire with painful clarity, I’d not dwelled on losing this lamp. Even though I’d loved it as a child visiting my grandmother, and then later when it sat in our living room, my memory of it had vanished until it came rocketing back in the liquidation store I was browsing. The second reason was realizing how close I’d come to leaving the store without seeing it. I’d only turned back at the exit at the last minute to thank the proprietor for her time, and to let her know I’d be back to borrow some props for a show I’m directing. While waiting for the owner to finish a phone call in the back, I’d looked to the left, and there it was, nonchalantly sitting on the corner, waiting for me to take notice.

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I was embarrassed by the tears that sprang up. It’s just a lamp after all. After texting my husband what I’d found, being the good fella he is, he recommended I buy it. So I did. The owner of the store let me know she’d just put the lamp out an hour before. She’d been taken with it, and had placed it in her own home for a few weeks. Something had nagged at her though, she said, giving her the feeling that as much as she liked it, it didn’t belong to her.

That I was even in this particular liquidation store at all was another stretch of coincidence. While I do like a poke around an antique store, it’s doubtful I’d ever have found “Pickers Paradise” in Garland, TX on my own. I’d been guided to this great place by my Garland Civic Theatre producer to help dress our huge and gorgeous set for “You Can’t Take It With You.” The show is a delightful play with a large, boisterous, diverse cast that’s currently on hold until late May when hopefully we can all start going out again. It’s full of warmth, laughter, acceptance and some pretty timely ideas about the questionable wisdom of working 40 years for a $40 gold watch. My cast, crew and I had gotten all the way up to the last two tech rehearsals before opening weekend when we went into self-quarantine here in Texas. I’m glad everyone is doing their part to stay healthy and help others do the same and I remain hopeful that we get to do this show. If you’re local plan to come and see it – it’s so dear and funny. I am certain the laughs will feel very, very good.

I’ve been acting in and directing shows for a long time now, over 50 years. I love the collaboration of theatre, and there is something about the voluntary nature of community theatre in particular that appeals to me. We are all there because we love it. Ain’t nobody ever, anywhere, that’s gotten rich on community theatre wages. No one cares, either. We’re there to have fun, create some art, and bring joy or at least happy distraction to an audience. Doing community theatre, allows you to say things like, “Pickled pigs feet jar – empty or full?” or “Any luck finding red sparklers or Tom Cats? If we need to we can pop balloons but am hoping to use real fireworks on stage!” I mean, come on.

I dearly love the folks I get to work with in theatre. They are a diverse bunch, and range from pros to newbies trying on a new hobby. We laugh a lot, feel our feelings, and get to disappear into a different world for a few hours every night we rehearse and then put on a show. There’s something about live performance that is unlike anything else – the immediacy of it, the tightrope dance of doing the best you can, with no recourse except onward when a mistake is made, and that ineffable bonding that happens when like-minded people get to sit in the dark, suspend disbelief, and for a short while are transported to another place and another time. Much like the unlikely discovery of a 100-year-old lamp that’s travelled through time on an unknown journey to now sit in my living room, and heal a tiny piece of my heart… there is magic in it.

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