Window Theatre

I’ve got two minutes to be back in time for online classes, yet I veer towards that one house to stare in its front room window. Taped to the glass is a cardboard sign with the words ‘Window Theatre’ covered in colourful fabrics. A new scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is set up each day using Sylvanian Families and other household items. Today shows Mercutio’s rigid body with a toothpick sticking out of his neck and a trail of blood-red fabric. Behind him is a gravestone that reads ‘a plague o’er both your houses’ and next to him is Tybalt, similarly slew. The most prominent figure is a large squirrel teddy with a ring on its head and a makeshift phone in its hand. It’s Prince Escalus and he’s tweeting that Romeo has been banished. The clear cutting sun partly blocks my view, but I leave with a smile on my face and a sated curiosity about my neighbours’ hobbies.
          In the evening, I can see inside some of the apartments across from my bedroom. Their dimly lit lamps create shadow puppets out of the inhabitants and often, I eagerly watch the drama of their lives unfold. Whether it’s a couple watching TV, or a man exercising on the stairs, or even that woman who paces back and forth mindlessly for hours, it’s a welcome portal into anyone else’s life. One of my favourite past-times is guessing what movie is being projected onto the wall of a top-floor apartment. It’s funny how most movies seem indistinguishable from each other when you’re squinting in the darkness trying to recognise the famous faces. However, it’s not as captivating as seeing multiple squares of people going about their day, unaware of what is happening above or below them. It doesn’t feel voyeuristic because they’re only dark shadows; faint outlines of the real story behind the pacing. The thing I’m really worried about is – how much can they see of me?
          Once this crosses my mind, I find myself ‘performing’ whenever I approach my window. Wondering who’s watching for my faint outlines, and trying to create a drama to unfold. Putting on shoes, or sorting through books suddenly feels like my fifteen minutes of fame. The window panes that bring so much light to my room, now have a secondary meaning. They are not just a portal out, but a look in. I am hyper-aware of what can be seen in the small space behind the glass. Each time I step into its spotlight, I seem to be trying to make my life something worth spying on. With my chin placed carefully on the ledge watching the sunset, I realise that I had created my own little window theatre – and that my behaviour by the window was as stiff and artificial as the Sylvanian Family hedgehogs posing as Montagues.
          After being disappointed by my self-obsession, my mind repetitively chants that not everyone is as nosy as I am. Cursing myself, I go for a walk to check on the star-crossed lovers. Today shows a detailed account of the moment Romeo finds Juliet dead, and for some strange reason, I tear up, not at the figures, but at the hands that put them there. Picturing the time spent with their children, perfecting each scene. I am overwhelmed by the gentle tracing of the words, “Thus, with a kiss, I die.” It reminds me that the pleasure I found in the movements of the apartment silhouettes came from the beauty of catching someone when they’re fully themselves. The best moments happened when the pacing stopped and someone else joined them. They had no intention of breaching my privacy, because they were surrounded by loved ones, and that seemed to be enough.
          Window Theatre made me realise that the miniature production my life has become is still as dramatic, loving, and moving as any on the big screen. I no longer peep at snippets of the lives of others, but look inwards at the four-cornered frame of my own. This frame is not a window or a stage but the four seats around my dinner table, each one representing a member of my family and a part of myself.

Éle Ní Chonbhuí
Dublin Unitarian Church