It was dark, cold, and empty, a lifeless emptiness that seeped into every cell in our bodies, an emptiness that forbade talking. It demanded fearful whispers that vibrated against the walls and crept back at us with eerie boding. Hesitation slowed our steps and looming shadows surrounded us, as if soldiers were incorporating us into their ranks. We discerned a slight, barely detectable odor of nonexistence around us, but continued to bravely make our way into the pit, down, further, until we were in the center of the lifeless cavity. We sat on stiff leather seats made hard by the cold. We huddled close together and pulled our collars up, hoping for protection from the damp blackness. Due to a fluke of traffic, or rather the lack of it, we arrived before life itself had entered the great hall and now we must wait in its belly.
As minutes passed, we wondered if we were in the right place at the right time, although early. “Where is everyone else?” “Maybe it’s always like this if you’re early.” Several more minutes passed. “Whoosh!” Our senses jolted. We instinctively huddled a little closer. We looked at each other, then into the blackness surrounding us. We saw nothing, but felt warm air begin to flow over us like a comforting blanket. The blackness gently gave way to soft amber lighting that jetted from strategically placed wall sconces acting as generals in command of rows of shadowy seats which had earlier marched us down the aisle. Slowly, the pulse of the lifeless cavity was beginning to beat.
One by one, unsuspecting couples and groups of friends began to join us; two down front, four on the perimeters, three behind us. Unaware that life had just begun, they munched on popcorn and showed no reverence. They felt no alarm. Our whispers gave way to quiet talk as we voiced our observations. “I wonder what the stage behind the screen looks like. Do you think they could use those side balconies? The carved wood on them is still beautiful after all these years.”
I fell into a daydream for a couple of minutes where I imagined I was sitting in what was once an impressive, magnificent home for theatrical stage plays, musicals, and vaudeville. How marvelous to sit in this very seat and watch performers like Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, or Red Skelton. I closed my eyes and watched the majestic velvet drapes pull apart; I heard the music of the ‘40s introduce the stars; I saw how the spotlight made them shine like diamonds. How the rafters must have shook from laughter and applause. What a splendid theater this was. And now, maybe 70 years later, this great house is subdued by quiet talk. Its once glorious stage is hidden by an ordinary white square of Mylar. Its spotlight is extinguished.
I opened my eyes and left the ‘40s and vaudeville behind as soft music oozed from hidden speakers providing a background of old, familiar tunes: “A Summer Place,” and “Blue Velvet.” A commercial slide show and Hollywood movie trivia became meaningless popcorn for our eyes. They flashed on the screen to lighten the dark for the old, the young, lovers, and friends. The theater was coming to life quickly. It breathed deeper and its heart beat stronger as more people arrived. Every mighty exhale permeated the air with the scent of popcorn and life smelled delicious. Anticipation of the main event pulsed through its gold velvet drapes, up through the brown, wooden rafters, around its walled ribs. Its food, its fuel for life had arrived. Its belly was full.
The amber generals dimmed to barely noticeable privates standing guard. The background music, commercials, and trivia stopped suddenly when ”COMING SOON” exploded on the screen with Dolby stereo streaming from every pore of the once lifeless cavity. Bright colors, fast action, special effects, and high-tech sound generated intense energy and excitement that instantly passed from cell to cell, molecule to molecule and became a living breath, a life force. There was no doubt that this grand old theater, its life snuffed out after the last performance of the day before, had come back to life today, as it does every day, and had grown to its prime once again, right before our eyes