© 2014 Lynsey

The Theatre Spirit

Once upon a time… I wonder how many great stories start with that line…

I once entered a competition to write a fairy tale, in the style of Grimm, for modern Aotearoa New Zealand. The competition was sponsored by the Goethe-Institut in New Zealand, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm’s book of fairy tales. I didn’t win, but my story did get published on the Institute’s web site, and that’s probably as near to being famous in Germany as I’ll ever get.

Here’s my story:

Once upon a time, almost every small town in New Zealand had a movie theatre. Most of the theatres had noble names like ‘Embassy’, or ‘Majestic’ or ‘Regent’. And they were special places – places where flickering lights in a darkened space made magic happen.

One movie theatre was rather different – even more magical – because a very bad mannered, ill-tempered spirit had made itself at home in the theatre.

Downstairs. Over to the right. In a cupboard where all the cleaning supplies were stored.
The spirit loved movies and was happy when the movies were being shown, but when the theatre fell silent, and the light stopped flickering of the screen, the spirit became very sad. The spirit was so lonely and lost that sad would become angry. And angry became bitter rage…

The spirit would run back and forth across the rows of seats, and up and down the stairs; howling with rage. It was so fearful, even the spiders were terrified.

The people who worked in the theatre – the manager, the ladies who worked in the sweet shop, the ladies who sold the tickets, the man who ran the projectors, even the cleaners who used to put the brooms and dusters back in the cupboard – never heard the spirit howling. But oh, did they feel the spirit’s influence.

Manager after manager would come and go – they found the atmosphere too tense. The ladies selling the sweets found the ice creams would be melting, and the popcorn wouldn’t pop. The ticket sellers could never balance the cash, and the ticket machines would jam just at wrong moment. When the projectionist picked up the rolls of film he hurt his back, and the cleaners? The poor cleaners were puffed with dust, and the vacuum cleaner just refused to work. Everyone was frightened and upset, and this made the spirit even more anxious.

Nobody can love a spirit that’s like that. Nobody wanted to work in the theatre. The owners began to talk about closing the theatre. They didn’t know about the spirit, of course, because they lived in the big city. They just wanted the movie theatre to be successful, which to them meant ‘make lots of money’.

One day, after the last manager had stormed out with his wife, who sold the tickets; each screaming at each other, a new manager arrived. He was a man who loved movies as much as the spirit. He too felt sad when the movies finished. He didn’t run across the rows like the spirit, and he didn’t run up and down the stairs – like the spirit – but he felt a bit sad, never-the-less.

The manager’s wife noticed the feeling in the theatre after a particularly desperate day with the spirit, and she had an idea.

The next day, without telling her husband, she got in her little lime green car, and went to the theatre all alone. It was very dark and creepy. The sad and lonely spirit was in a very bad rage – all the woman could hear was the building was creaking and moaning – but she could see the spiders were frightened, and she knew what was happening.

“Dear, Spirit”, she called out from the very middle of the theatre, “I feel you’re very upset today.” She’d used her bravest voice, but she was quaking with fear.

The building shrieked, the wind howled, mysterious creaking – the spirit was startled to hear some one talking.

“Spirit, I know you’re feeling bad, but we can’t have you doing this here. We have to make this work or the theatre is going to be closed down. You will be all alone, and maybe they’ll demolish the building.”

The spirit was so surprised it stopped and listened.

The theatre was suddenly silent.

“I want you to come home with me,” said the woman. It’s true, she didn’t have any other plan. “Come home with me, and we will work out what to do.”

Without further ado she walked to the doors and held them open, and the spirit followed. She did the same at the theatre doors, holding them open for the spirit to go through, and then locking them carefully behind.

When they got to her little, lime green car she held the passenger door open for the spirit, and then closed it. She got in, and they drove home.

That night the movie was huge success – biggest audience ever, the ice creams were firm, all the popcorn popped, and everyone agreed there was a new feeling about the place. There was an air of change, and success was following close behind.

When the manager got home that night he noticed the family home was most unhappy – things were not as they should be. The spirit was unhappy about the confined space after the huge theatre. It was too crowded. The manager, his wife, and the spirit all had a very unpleasant night.

The next morning, the wife told her husband that she had something to do – some errands to run. The manager just grunted and turned over to get some more sleep.

“Dear spirit, I know feeling bad, but we can’t have you doing this here. We have to make this work, or our home will be at an end. Come with me, I think I know just the perfect place for you.”

As before, she walked to the door, and held it open for the spirit before closing it behind. She unlocked her little lime green car and held the door for the spirit to get in, and then carefully closed it. She went to the driver’s side, got in and off they drove.

They looked at some abandoned buildings for the spirit, but they just weren’t right. A memorial tower. A tunnel. A bridge. None of them felt right for the spirit. These weren’t the perfect places at all.

Suddenly the woman remembered she’d seen a nice sized patch of native bush just outside of town. They sped off to explore. It looked lovely in the morning sunshine, but the spirit still felt unsure.

“You have to look closer, to try these things out for yourself,” the woman explained.
She hopped out of the car, and opened the passenger door for the spirit.

“Go on,” she said, “Have a look round, see if you like it.”

The spirit secretly did like how it felt – the tall trees seemed to whisper and the light flickered down to the bush floor. It smelled so good. The spirit sighed and felt happy for the first time in a very, very long time.

“I’ll tell you what, why don’t you try it for a week, and if you don’t like it we can try somewhere else, “ said the lady, shutting the car door. “I’ll come back in a week’s time, and see how you’re getting on.”

She was true to her word. A week later she got in her little lime green car and drove out to the bush. She opened the passenger door for the spirit and called out, “Dear spirit, if you want to come with me, now is the time.”

But the spirit was so happy having made new friends with the fantails and pigeons, the bellbirds and tui that it didn’t want to leave. After a while the woman closed the car door and called, “Goodbye spirit, be happy.”

She drove home singing happily to herself.

It’s traditional to end stories like this with “and they all lived happily ever after” – and it’s true, they did. The manager and his wise wife worked many happy years in the theatre. The ice cream and popcorn had never so delicious. All of the people working in the theatre were happy, and the patrons were delighted. And best of all, the spirit loved living in the bush and may be there to this very day.

Foot note – I didn’t win, which is kind of a shame because a) this is a true story – the woman is my sister Carol, and b) I wrote the story in the last couple of hours before it was due, and submitted the application with about a minute to spare, on the chime of midnight – how fairy tale is that?

36. Every day be still. Connect to your inner being. Listen and be guided by it.
38. Every day be brave and give things a go. Use fear to trigger you into action.
48. Every day there are things you can’t change. You can change the way you think about them and deal with them.