Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Show Must Go On

The Tazramack Theater's production of "Without the Dragon" is thought by most to be the greatest performance of the greatest musical ever written. It was certainly the best one Robwell Dandewyre ever wrote, and the cast was incredible: Lirabel Dan Rega as Florith, Elbert Mythosteling as the Great Eagle, Scofferell Flint as Sir Mumberly, and - of course - the incomparable Giacomo Cargellini as Hadrion (not to mention Ilsa Denderfuge, Ton Tovl, Mysengard Ranchendraffle, Sessian Eyen, and Harkerell Fleen in the supporting cast). The story was enthralling. The music was overpowering. The cast was perfect, the costumes lavish, the sets practically overflowing with detail. The musical brought more people to Tazramack than anything else before or since. Within the first week, every ticket for the next month had been sold.

The show ran for exactly eight and a half days. On the night of the ninth performance, an avalanche swept the entire theater off the mountain with everyone inside. The Railway Regions lost some of the best performers in Hamjamser that night.

Not completely, though. Their ghosts still perform every evening.

Tazramack was a miserable mess after the avalanche. The best musical in the Regions was gone, just like that, and with it had gone the town's only theater and several of the streets around it. The town was even gloomier than usual. The fog moved in again.

It wasn't until it cleared, weeks later, that they found the cast still performing in the same place. High above the streets of the town - or where the streets had been - pale, indistinct figures still came onto the stage that was no longer there, spoke their lines and sang their songs in voices almost too quiet to hear. The actors were dead; the theater was obliterated; the show had gone on anyway.

Being a pragmatic bunch, with a long history of preserving things, the people of Tazramack promptly built another theater around the ghosts. The original one had been a tall building, leaving plenty of room beneath the stage for props and machinery; the stage had been high above the ground, and the avalanche had scraped several feet of stone off of that as well.* The new theater had to be even taller than the old one. Builders built scaffolding and held their yardsticks beneath the feet of ghosts. The stage had to match their footsteps exactly.

The theater that stands there now is a plain, rickety building on stilts, built only to provide a stage beneath the performance and seats from which to watch it. Nothing else is necessary. The actors disappear when they go offstage, and their ghostly props are there with them.

The owners of the theater only let in five people every night. They don't want the performance to fade. Ghosts are the echoes of people, for lack of a better word; they're created when something happens that's so incredible - so LOUD, so to speak - that it leaves echoes in history. It's not always someone's death. Two faded people kiss each other every evening, two stories above an old ruin in the High Fields, but only on days with exceptionally beautiful sunsets. Hester Anantazi occasionally makes her fabled walk across the Jagarmelt Canyon on a tightrope that's been gone for decades. The first flight of the first airship, the Lofty Concertina, is visible somewhere in the forests around Golgoolian. Someone stumbles across it every few years. Once a century, a giant commonly thought to be the legendary Orbadon lifts something invisible, but obviously extremely heavy, in a temple in Karkafel. There are probably many more ghosts in Hamjamser than anyone realizes. They're only the echoes of real people, after all; too many real ones drown them out.

Not only does the theater in Tazramack only let in five people a night, there are only five seats in the audience. Every seat is a front-row seat. It's nearly impossible to get a ticket. When someone gave one to me in the Train station, a mournful man with drooping jowls and whiskers who said only that he needed to leave town unexpectedly, I could hardly believe it. I don't think I really did believe it until the guards at the theater took my ticket, without a word, and I was walking up the narrow staircase and up to the stage.

The performance was everything I had ever heard it was. I'm not even going to try to describe it; practically every theater enthusiast in Hamjamser has done so, most of them better writers than I, and not one of them has done it justice. "Without the Dragon" is unlike anything else ever performed onstage. In some impossible stroke of luck, the show put on by the ghosts is not the last one, the one cut off halfway through by the avalanche; it's the one from the previous night. The actors hold the audience rapt, lit in stark black-and-white by spotlights that are no longer there. On the dark stage, they look like escapees from an old and faded photograph. The walls are visible through the shadows on their faces and clothes. Nothing remains but the highlights. Their lines are only audible thanks to the hearing trumpets used by the audience and something unusual about the curvature of the walls. The play runs all the way to the end; the actors bow no less than nine times, to what must have been thunderous applause. The five of us did the best we could. It didn't matter that the people we were applauding were long dead and could never have heard us. That's not the point.

The people of Tazramack have been preserving things for as long as the town has existed. It's odd that probably the most precious thing in the entire town is the one that was preserved completely by accident.

* Incidentally, this was only a few years before the even larger avalanche that completely obliterated the village of Samrath Kazi. Winter avalanches are frighteningly common in the higher parts of the Railway Regions. For some reason, they never touch the railroad.

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