It wasn’t too long ago that I attended a drama. I had received my ticket in the mail a few weeks previously and I was looking forward to the occasion. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a ticket; it was a summons, to jury duty, and I was looking forward with great anticipation to the drama.

The County courthouse design is reminiscent of old theaters. In those old theaters, one entered from the street into a magnificent lobby — high-vaulted ceilings, draperies, gold leaf frames holding larger-than-life portraits of the muses — with faux marble curving stairways on either side leading to the loge and the balconies. The ticket booths — sometimes several windows in a row like the betting windows at the track — were indoors, usually at the right side of the lobby.

Ticket in hand, we’d move to the inner lobby for orchestra seats, or up the stairs to the loge and balconies. As we moved, we experienced a conscious diminishment of talking and gesturing, a general hush as we all became acutely aware that, having left the boisterous world of the street, we were entering the enchanted world of make-believe.

The physical dimensions of our surroundings changed, from the large, open, colorful lobby through the decreasingly smaller labyrinth of dark passageways that led us, quieted, receptive and ready for what we were about to be shown, into the immense theater where ushers with flashlights lit the way to our seats.

Although lacking the embellishment of the theater, the courthouse has the same basic structural space arrangement, and important, vivid, involving, even horrific dramas play there daily, with no repeat performances.

Entry from the street found me in the lobby, a long, narrow, high-ceilinged room with doors on either side, all but one of them closed. Midway down this room the jury mentor, a gentleman attired in what I later realized was court costume, analogous, I thought, to the old-time usher’s uniform — gray slacks with creases pressed to a knife edge, blue blazer, white shirt and red tie — was checking off on his master list the names of those summoned.

As 10 o’clock approached — the assigned time for appearance — the lobby, which had only a few folding chairs and two small benches providing seating for perhaps 11 persons, began to fill with the 90y-odd citizens answering the summons. After standing for a half-hour cramped together, rather like cattle in a corral, in the narrow lobby, each of us, holding our little yellow tickets with name and juror number, was directed to “Go upstairs.”

We proceeded up the narrow stairways on either side of the lobby that, although strongly constructed of local granite, lacked the beautiful faux marble opulence of the old theaters. After showing our tickets to the attendant at the top of the stairs, we were seated in the courtroom.

This large, brightly lit room was divided into two nearly equal sections separated by a waist-high heavy balustrade, on one side of which was the audience area where we sat, 10 in a row, on unbelievably uncomfortable, narrow, hardwood church-style pews arranged in rows on either side of a central aisle.

Here we waited in silence for 20 minutes until the ushers — court attendants — there were now two of them, dressed identically, told us that we must watch a videotape on the two monitors that faced us. For eight minutes we were instructed, by videotape, as to the workings and procedures of the court.

In this theater, awaiting first curtain, it was as if everything were in slow motion. A captive audience, we sat in silence, waiting to be told what would happen next, what to do next, concentrating on every movement made before us by our mentor. Our eyes followed him as he walked, very slowly, from one part of the room to another, disconnecting the monitors, winding up each cable, slowly trundling the monitors, one at a time, to their storage place in the far corner of the room, spreading a plastic cover over them, and taking great care that it was even and without wrinkles. He then began to arrange folders, and move chairs. We looked at each other questioningly, each with the same question, “When is this show going to start?”

The stage setting was permanent, for although the characters could change almost hourly, the plot and the action were essentially the same. Only the outcomes differed. At the far end of the room, facing us, the judge’s desk was on a riser above the floor. Behind it, a frosted glass-paneled door revealed human shadows moving back and forth.

Fronting the judge’s bench, another, lower riser held a row of desks. On either side of this raised dais were glass-paneled doors, the one on the right leading to the jurors’ room and restrooms, and on the left to the working offices of the court. The area immediately in front of the judge’s bench was unoccupied, holding only a small speaker’s stand in the center and a table and two chairs on either side.

After we had been essentially ignored for two and a half hours other than being directed to view the videos, the invitation from our mentor to use the facilities adjacent to the jury room — most of us were already fidgeting — was welcomed. Immediately, a long parade formed, out of the pews, down the central aisle, shuffling sideways between the people sitting in the first pew, so close to the balustrade that those seated there were forced to withdraw their legs to avoid being trampled, and down the aisle passing the jury box to the restroom. Soon the traffic was in both directions, with those going in one direction waiting for those going in the other to pass, and the seated people moving their legs back and forth to avoid trampled toes.

Since it offered a more direct route to the restroom and avoided discomfort for those seated in the first row, it was unclear why everyone using the restroom must squeeze between the seated folks and the balustrade instead of simply walking across the unoccupied area in front of the dais.

Some anxiously thought the same, but when a few enterprising, practical would-be jurors attempted to go the more direct and easier route through the area in front of the dais, they were stopped by the mentor and made to struggle through the obstacle course between the balustrade and the legs of those seated in the first row. One could only suspect that the open space in front of us was hallowed ground to which mere mortals and jurors, particularly jurors, were not permitted access, even when that area was not in use and the call was urgent.

This, then, was the setting of the stage where the drama would take place. With nothing else to occupy our time and motivated by our boredom, we fastened on the comings and goings from the door on the left as the stage was being dressed, a la theater in the round. One after another, court attendants came in and went out. A woman walked in and carried a box of folders out. A man came in and looked at the desk from which she had taken the folders. Then he left.

Another woman came in and removed two boxes of folders. A man in a blazer came in, walked around the area and went out. A woman deposited a box of folders on a table. Our mentor moved the two chairs at the right side table to the left. Then he moved the two chairs at the left side table to match, rearranged the microphone on the left table and did the same on the right. Each step was measured, as if he were carrying a coffin at a military funeral, a manner no doubt influenced by the gravity and tone of the drama that was about to take place in this theater.

A woman entered and placed some papers on the bench in front of the judge’s bench. Another woman entered carrying a small tripod stand to which was attached a court reporter’s machine and placed it on the lower bench. We jurors looked around at each other. Now something was going to happen. We could feel it. We had been sitting on the hard wood benches for a long time. Almost everyone had relieved themselves in the restrooms. Some had been there twice.

The parade of court workers in and out of the door never ceased. It was as if each had an important duty to perform that required them to be seen by the audience and they were, as Andy Warhol implied, acquiring their 15 minutes of fame, if only by coming in, walking around the room, and then scurrying back behind the door.

Finally, a small man came out of the door, mounted the steps to the right of the judge’s seat and said, “All rise,” at which point the door behind the judge’s bench opened and the judge entered. At the same time people came to each of the two tables in front and three women took their places in front of the judge. The processional had been extremely fast. The judge told us to be seated. Curtain up. The drama had finally begun.

The judge welcomed us and thanked us for participating in what she termed the most important element of our democratic system: we were indeed of crucial importance, the very foundation of the jurisprudence system depended on our participation. Nobody in the system was more important; without us, there was nothing. And as crucial participants in the country’s system of jurisprudence we had been summoned, by order of the court, to participate.

As the judge talked, the pew in which I had been seated for more than two and a half hours had become increasingly uncomfortable and I had spent the entire time, despite the video, in almost total ignorance of what would happen to me and how soon I should expect it.

My extremely valuable and critically needed citizen’s body, that most important unit of the American justice system, had been reduced to a number, had been herded, along with 90 other numbers, each one, according to the judge, as valuable as myself, told only to go there, and sit here. I began to wonder why such important citizens had not been given the courtesy of some explanation as to why we had been required to sit uninformed, doing nothing, for so long.

Jury duty is something each citizen must perform. Although some mitigating circumstances might excuse an individual from serving, they are exceptions. One is summoned to appear under threat of being cited for contempt of court. Yet as I listened to the judge I wondered if she truly believed that we were really so important, or that we were simply chattel of the judicial system, to be held waiting with little regard for our emotional or physical comfort until it was time for us to be used?

Had it always been thus, or was our treatment simply an example of how a more courteous and informed treatment of willing and loyal citizens had, over a period of 200 years, been increasingly taken for granted? In any event, I had been summoned, and had complied, and now the drama for which I had been summoned to participate was, at long last, about to begin. I looked forward to the part I would be assigned, but I kept thinking, after waiting so long, this play had better be good.

Norbert Nathanson lives on Saturday Cove in Northport. Throughout his career he was in close contact with the arts, spending the majority of it in public television, academia and government as a teacher, art director, writer, producer and director of entertainment, educational and instructional programming. Force of habit still drives him to look for interesting bits of his environment that might make a good story.