By Rom Watson
c. December 5, 2015
Places have personalities. They have a distinct energy all their own. Sometimes my focused thought can turn into tunnel vision, but the energy of a place can cut right through and affect me to a greater degree than I thought possible.
My first example is the Green Room at Group Repertory Theatre. Years ago, my wife and I attended a performance of The Prisoner of Second Avenue by Neil Simon. We went because our friend Lloyd Pedersen played the main character. (Lloyd is a very good actor. His Salieri in Amadeus at a community theatre was better than two other Salieri’s we saw at professional theatres. Including that of John Wood, who played the role in the national tour.)
The play, though not upper-tier Simon, was entertaining, and Lloyd was very good, as always. After the performance we stayed to congratulate Lloyd and were told to wait in the Green Room.
It took Lloyd a few minutes to get out of costume and make-up, and during that time we waited with others who were there to greet cast members. Those few minutes made such an impression on me that I have never gone back to that theater.
The Green Room itself was unremarkable, containing old furniture and props from previous productions. Some of the props hung on the walls, a sad display of forgotten relics.
What was remarkable was the atmosphere of that space. It didn’t smell bad, and it didn’t look bad. It felt bad. It was oppressive. It was depressing. I could not wait to leave.
My second example of a place with a personality is another community theatre, one that my wife and I were involved with many, many years ago. She was on the Board of Directors, and we were both on the Playreading Committee, which met once a month.
The meetings were always held at the theatre, and we would discuss the plays we had read and decide which ones to recommend the Board select for the next season.
Reading the plays and discussing them was interesting and educational. My suggestions and opinions were not always met with agreement, but always with respectful consideration.
Though I didn’t dislike any of the people on the committee, I never felt completely comfortable there. The final meeting of the season was held, not at the theatre, but at the home of one of the committee members. It was the best Playreading Committee meeting we had. We laughed and joked and had a great time. During the meeting I realized it wasn’t the people with which I never felt completely comfortable. I liked the people. The people were nice. It was the PLACE.
Without my realizing it, the atmosphere in the theatre had permeated the meetings.
I don’t know if I had simply overstayed my welcome, or if I was fundamentally not in harmony with the spirit of that theatre, but the personality of that place does not make me want to spend time there. I occasionally visit the theatre to see a production I have a particular interest in, such as Sueno by Jose Rivera, and Sand in the Air by Brian Raine. When I do go I have no problem with the place, and place has no problem with me. I believe it’s because I am there for only a short time.
My third and final example is the isle of Manhattan. I’ve only visited New York twice, and both trips were short, but I felt very comfortable there.
The first time I visited was in the early 1980’s, when New York City still had a residual reputation of a high crime rate. To my surprise, I felt completely safe. My comfort level with the place was solidified during a long, solitary walk late at night.
On my way to a subway station, I turned left off the main thoroughfare and took a side street. It was dark and cold, and the street was deserted. The two-story homes that flanked the pavement slept as soundly as their inhabitants. Though I wore thermal underwear beneath my clothes, and topped it off with a hat, a scarf and a borrowed leather jacket, I walked quickly to keep warm in the bracing winter air. The absolute silence of that stroll was a welcoming embrace. A cocoon of quiet. With abundant clarity, I felt very much at home. The second time I visited I had a similar experience, also during a solitary walk, on a Sunday afternoon.
How and why do places have their own personalities? Is it something they develop over time? Is it something intrinsic to that space? I’ve read that every person is the sum total of everyone they’ve ever met. Meaning that everyone affects everyone with whom they come in contact. Do places absorb the personalities of all the people who have ever visited them?
I’ve never found the answers, but I know that places have distinct energies. Some make me feel uncomfortable, and others make me feel at home. Just like people.
Though I realize I sometimes make people feel uncomfortable, it isn’t deliberate. I would like to be someone who makes people feel at home.
Perhaps as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve found the places and people with whom I feel most at home, I am now better at making people feel comfortable around me. I certainly hope so. Though, like most goals in life, I have a suspicion it is an ongoing pursuit.