When I was sixteen I was recruited to play the role of the young, innocent, handsome lover in our high school production of a Moliere farce. The Great Bernard Masterson, our director’s mentor and something of a Providence high school theater legend (if there is such a thing), attended one rehearsal. After our run-through, Masterson gave some notes, and this is what he said to me: “You, young man, have stage presence.”

I’d been told this once or twice before, but hearing it intoned in Masterson’s authorial baritone convinced me it was so. But what was this “presence”? After all, I had no control over it. I was glad for it, but I felt no more responsible for this presence than I did my height or shoe size. I supposed it had something to do with being comfortable on stage.

A few years later I had written a two-man show and was performing it here and there with my brother in Providence. One evening we were waiting back stage listening to the crowd filter into their seats. This was a tiny, dusty theater in a renovated mill in a grimy and burnt out section of the city—and I loved it. I loved that I could smell the dust and that I could hear the crowd’s boots on the hollow wood platform where their seats were bolted. I loved the dim light from the stage seeping under the curtain. I loved sitting beside my brother and Dale, our piano player, like three comrades in a happy foxhole.

And I loved that when I stepped out onto that stage there was no temptation to regret my past. I loved that when I stepped out onto that stage I felt no temptation to worry about my future. When I stepped out onto that stage I was granted full permission to think of nothing but that night and those lines and those lights and that audience. I loved that within the confines of that stage I felt the full presence of that moment and none other, and wondered, as we took our bows, why I could not live like this always.

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