Eulogy for an Empty House

Last week saw the closing of a very special arts space, The Public Domain Theatre. On Wednesday night, June 30, members of the Public Domain Theatre Company -- which carries on, let us not forget -- and friends of the PD gathered to pay their respects. The next day, this unsolicited account of that party arrived at my desk. Big-hearted playwright and actress Cyndi Williams felt a need to say something about it. I'm pleased that she did; here it is.

Someone comes along and offers more money.

The big stories about the arts land on page one: who gave 20 million dollars to help transform sweet old funky Palmer Auditorium with its so-ugly-it's-cute green tile roof into some sterile beige and burgundy arts complex where all the little homeless companies can present their ballets and plays and displays.

But the stories that resonate involve stink and sweat, labor and tears.

There was a party the last night at the Public Domain Theatre on Congress Avenue. People brought trays of veggies and cheese, beer and wine. The theatre was stripped bare. The women danced in a circle on the empty playing area. Robi was the only man who danced in the circle. Straight, white, no doubt sad, and he danced like a maniac. Who knew?

At midnight, June 30, 1999, a stereotypically motley group of actors, directors, choreographers, designers, and other arty souls stood for the last time on the stage of the Public Domain on Congress Avenue. Many who would not dream of smoking indoors in our health police society lit up a cigarette. What the hell. It had the stink of an exorcism.

The crowd stood about in ragged conversation in groups of three and five, denying that as performers, there must be a final ritual. Ehren bravely bellowed for attention. The crowd fell silent, and people spoke.

An audience member was thankful for the performances. A performer was thankful for the chance to play. The playwright was grateful for the play being staged.

Robi peeled himself off the the black theatre wall and told us the history of the space. A shoe store, a diner, a theatre, soon a private home.

Marco eloquently reminded us that a space is a space, and it is the people who make it anything but an empty house.

They applauded the empty space. Katherine sat on the floor as everyone walked into the lobby, amid cigarette butts, her face and body sad and still. And they picked up their beer bottles and wine bottles and cups and plastic trays of drying celery and cheese. They left the cigarette butts on the floor. They locked the doors for the last time and went home.

Someone came along and offered more money.

The Public Domain Theatre Company will continue. After all, it is the people who make a space anything but an empty house.

Remember, all the big art you'll see on stage at the big spaces, at the Paramount, the State, Zachary Scott, on Broadway, in London, took its baby steps in places like the Public Domain. And a place like the Public Domain exists, against all odds, because of the devotion of the people who have the heart and courage to take big risks.

Without very much money at all.

Thank you, Public Domain.

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More Articulations
The Harry Ransom Center has acquired all the professional and personal materials of profoundly influential acting teacher Stella Adler

Robert Faires, April 30, 2004

It's the end of an era for the city of Austin's Art in Public Places Program as Martha Peters, administrator of the program for 11 of its 18 years, departs to direct a public art program in Fort Worth.

Robert Faires, July 18, 2003


The Public Domain Theatre, The Public Domain Theatre Company, Cyndi Williams, Robi Polgar, Ehren Connor Christian, Marco Noyola, Katherine Catmull

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