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What a Stage: Remembering the Future

Did I ever tell you about the times I could see the future?

Ironically, it all came down to the power of memory.

I always had this extraordinary, nearly eidetic memory, which harkened back to a grandfather who used to count cards for the local Mafiosas to support his family in the ‘20s.

Fast-forward 70 years, and his granddaughter was a regional theater actress in the early 1990s, the type who could memorize an entire 125-page script, 12 musical numbers, and several hours’ worth of blocking in just a few days. A girl who was okay doing the same song and dance over and over because, well, it never stopped being fun. And she wanted to relive it in as many iterations as possible. In the process, she memorized every word and line and move that everyone around her made.

I didn’t just learn my lines. I knew everyone's lines—and their cues, and facial expressions, and gestures, and repeatedly forced emotional displays. I knew exactly when so-and-so was about to raise her chin and turn to her neighbor and smile, swishing her rustic skirt just so. I knew when the crew guy in the wings in the black turtleneck was about to cock his finger at his buddy in the opposite alcove to coordinate the next set change. I could remember it all. After a while, I’d see it in my sleep.

That’s the kind of focus you had to have in theater. For those two hours you were on stage, you knew every scintilla of motion and sound that was about to happen for a 100-foot radius. You knew precisely what the other 17 people within that dome were doing, even if you couldn’t see a lick of them from where you stood. You even knew when the audience was going to gasp, or laugh, or retract against their seats all at once as if something just hit them in the face—which happened the moment you belted out the big end-note and surprised the fuck out of them.

Yet it was no surprise to you.

For a couple of fleeting hours, you lived in those prescient moments, feeling their power and familiarity unfold around you like an intricate, laser-cut origami pop-up card each night. Instant after instant blossomed into a present that was exactly what you knew it would be. You had perfect intelligence into those 120 minutes, like a finely-trained, military spy.

I could see into the future, just for that brief spate.

Living in a world that was so manipulated and engrossing and synthesized was intense. It was mystical and wild. You knew it could only exist for those brief stretches, and on those very specific black floorboards under the proscenium.

It was the only time in your life when you knew—you were certain of—exactly what was coming next. Even if it was fake.

It was wondrous. I miss it. Damn.

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