When the crowds went home (or to further seaside delight as the fancy took), and the fly-by-night turns had washed off the grease paint, vacated their dressing rooms and returned to their theatrical landladies (taking in the stage door fans for an autograph or a fly-by-night kiss on the way), the building is left to the people that ran it. Ushers and cleaners, bar staff and ice cream sellers, the stage manager and his crew putting the stage to bed for another night, the office staff counting the takings…
The thought of such moments in the building’s life, it’s daily routine and after hours life, is exciting to us. We have been talking to people. Asking around for stories.
And this place, so empty now, was once peopled. Packed to the rafters, bursting at the seams. Splitting its sides.
And, just as the sea crept in beneath the stage, so the shrieks of delight and the laughter and the tears and the gales of applause sung out across the sea; across the vast expanse of sand.
And when the doors opened at the end of the show, a tide of people spilling out onto the strand. Into a summer’s night, the crystal ballroom or the Parisien bar, or out onto the pier to dance the night away above the creeping tidal sway.
We are searching for stories in the bones of its beams, and its rivets and its rafters.
In the ornate foyer of the Winter Gardens, facing each other on either side of the once revolving entrances and exits, before you reach the matching ticket booths, the staircases, the grand interior, are two relief friezes; one titled ‘The Land, the other ‘The Sea’. This seems to be our starting point. This building, like the whole promenade of this small seaside town, sits exactly there; between these two worlds. A meeting point, a half-way house. A beached whale.
And later we learn that, at high tides, the Sea reaches into the cellars of this place.
We have had, for a while now, our eyes and our ears attuned and a-turned to the sea. A breeze from the bay, whistling through an empty building, taking our breath away.
And now we are writing. Writing (and thinking), thinking (and writing); and taking a few soundings and photographs along the way.
About how to tell a story. Of a building that used to be a theatre (that still is a theatre); of a building that is becoming something else (and that always stays the same). A dwelling in memory.
Over the summer we shall work at it and, at the end of August, there will be something to show.
And already, barely begun, we know that we shall miss it when we’re gone.