Living in the Limelight
rating: +51+x

I believe it was Shakespeare who said "All the world's indeed a stage, and we are merely players, performers and portrayers, each another's audience outside the gilded cage."

He was half-right.

-Excerpt from The Coolest War: Memories of a Critic, by Anonymous

The symphony hall was packed to capacity for what promised to be the event of the season. Ushers lead men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns down dimly lit walkways to their seats, the twinkling of hundreds of tiny lights on the chandeliers overhead illuminating the elaborate architecture. The city's finest conversed in their box seats, the elite and the middle class sat out front to see and be seen, and in the galleries even the less fortunate of the city had put on their Sunday finest and turned out. A hush fell over the assembled multitudes as the Conductor stepped onto the stage, empty save but for his podium. The audience rose in respect as the thirty-ish impresario in impeccable white tie took his position upstage, bowing once to the crowd to signal that they could sit. The Conductor turned to the podium, where his sheet music and baton lay at the ready. He opened the book to the first movement of tonight's performance, looked straight ahead at the empty space before him, lifted his baton, and the performance began.

A sense of shock and wonder rippled through the crowd as the first bars of the overture rung out - aggressive, powerful, demanding attention. A brief pause allowed the crowd to compose themselves - there was no band on stage, there were no speakers anywhere to carry the sound, and yet, as sure as they could hear their own breathing, they heard music. Before they had too long to ponder it, the second bar hit them, at first just the horns, then came the violins, the bass section, oboes, flutes, timpani, and the sound of an entire orchestra filled the hall and echoed from front to back. The Conductor kept time and signaled the invisible, imaginary band with his baton, sweat dripping down his brow as he struggled to ensure that the cellists were in tune and the xylophonist wasn't coming in too early. He gave them a five-minute preview, in music, of what he hoped would be his magnum opus - the history of creation itself - and as the final strings of the overture gave way to the lone drum representing the heartbeat of the last man alive (or perhaps the first), he prepared himself for the part he had not yet performed before an audience. The Moog synthesizer kicked in as the Conductor grabbed the podium with his free hand, twisted it around 90 degrees counterclockwise, turned himself sideways to face the crowd on the left and the fictional orchestra on his right, and picked up the second baton.

With a quivering hand, the Conductor raised his second baton towards the audience, and flicked it like a magic wand, the Moog providing a sting to punctuate the flick. Nothing. The violins quivered along with his hand as he tried the flick again - still nothing. The Theremins kicked in on the third try, and with a third flick - and the sound of the gong - the chandelier hanging above the floor seats vanished, leaving only a hundred flickering bits of light in midair. The crowd gasped and applauded politely, but the Conductor only raised a finger to his lips, a "Shhhhhhh!" provided by the electric guitarist's Vocoder, as he carried on. Continuing to direct the orchestra with the baton in his right hand, he now stared upward at the flickering lights, pointing at one with his baton and nudging it slightly to the left. He pointed at another and moved it up somewhat, then another which he directed to fly around in a circle. Before long, the points of light were flying every which way around the hall, up and down, front to back, swinging in grand arcs over the balcony or zig-zagging or orbiting the head of a particularly confused old woman in the front row. The orchestra carried on in a regimented cacophony, dozens of leitmotifs representing the different lights as they swirled around, joyful, playful, ever in flux, one minute a minuet as two lights seemed to dance around each another, another anticipatory as one slowly wiggled its way up from the floor to the top of the hall, triumphant as it swirled about above all the other lights - and then a crashing sense of betrayal as it swung down, collided straight into another light, and the light broke apart and was snuffed out, accentuated with the sound of the cannon.

Silence fell, and the hundred lights stopped their play and gathered in a circle around the attacker. The string soloists called out in confusion and mourning. Why? How? What has happened? The time for wonderment was short lived, as from the back another light swooped down and smashed into another extinguishing it, then a third, then a fourth. The gathered lights panicked and grew a bright blue, huddling together at first in fear, and then some of their own launching outward to defend themselves against the yellow-red aggressors. The machine gunners kept time, the bassoons sounded the march, and the accordionist wailed - it was war.

Few in the crowd took the time to look at the Conductor as the war raged on above them. Had they, they would have seen the sweat dripping from his brow, his hair soaking wet from it, his hands wildly flailing in both directions at once as his mind focused on keeping both his imaginary productions in sync. The orchestra rose to a crescendo as the room grew dimmer, more and more of the once-so-innocent lights vanishing into the darkness, and the last handful of blue lights gathered together in a ball, their attackers orbiting around them like a giant molecule of some unimaginable element, diving in and out in an attempt to penetrate the defense. A single chord that the Conductor had hoped would sound like the one from A Day In the Life sounded out from the entire band in unison as all the attackers swooped in at once and the entire concert hall erupted in a blinding flash of white light. The lone drumbeat returned as the light faded, and the crowd could see that the ceiling of the concert hall had been dematerialized entirely - and beyond it, there stood nothing but a sky full of millions of stars.

The Conductor set his batons down as the drumming stopped, turned to face the audience, and gave a short bow. The crowd applauded thunderously, some of them rapt with joy, others with tears running down their faces, all of them looking forward to the second movement. The Conductor cleared his throat and snapped his fingers, and in an instant the performance was over. The roar of the crowd ceased as the men and women disappeared back into the ether from which they came, and the walls fell in until the concert hall was once again the rehearsal space of the West Soho Performing Arts Center.

"Well, there you have it," the Conductor said to the two actual humans remaining of his audience of thousands. "Concerto No. 3 for Reality Warper, 1st Movement. 'The Fall of Heaven'. What do you think?" The bespectacled middle-aged man in a Grateful Dead t-shirt, his long graying hair tied back in a ponytail, gave a tentative nod of agreement.

"Well, you put half your audience to sleep," the Critic said as he gestured to the ten-year-old boy who'd nodded off next to him, "but I was a Phillistine at his age too. The lighting effects are a little amateurish, and the score could use more Steinman and less ELP, but your work with the audience has improved by leaps and bounds. I swear I recognized my old drill sergeant sitting two rows behind us."

"Thank you," the Conductor said. "I'm planning on elaborating more on the visual effects in the second movement. We haven't even gotten to the creation of man yet, after all. It ought to be ready by the next time you're in town if you'll have time to see it."

"I look forward to it, Mr. Chesapeake," the Critic responded as he stood up and headed for the door. "Keep working on this and by '84 you'll be ready to make a big splash. Leave the sheet music on my desk and I'll have some more detailed notes for you by the weekend. Oh, and see if we can do the next session earlier in the day so your son can stay awake through the whole thing. I'm sure he's got an artist's soul buried in there somewhere."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License