On Waiting For The Curtain To Go Up by Christopher Morley

Story type: EssayWe often wonder whether people are really as human as they appear, or is it only our imagination? Everybody, we suggest, thinks of others as being excess …

Story type: Essay

We often wonder whether people are really as human as they appear, or is it only our imagination? Everybody, we suggest, thinks of others as being excessively human, with all the frailties and crotchets appertaining to that curious condition. But each of us also (we are not dogmatic on this matter) seems to regard himself as existing on a detached plane of observation, exempt (save in moments of vivid crisis) from the strange whims of humanity en masse.

For example, consider the demeanour of people at a theatre while waiting for the curtain to go up. To note the censoriousness with which they study each other, one concludes that each deems himself (herself) singularly blessed as the repository of human correctness.

Incidentally, why is it that one gets so thirsty at the theatre? We never get thirsty at the movies, or not nearly so thirsty. The other evening we drank seven paper cups full of water in the intermissions of a four-act play.

The presence of people sitting behind one is the reason (we fancy) for a great deal of the queer antics that take place while one is waiting for the curtain to rise, particularly when it is twenty minutes late in going up as it was at a certain theatre the other evening. People behind one have a horrible advantage. One knows that they can hear everything you say, unless you whisper it in a furtive manner, which makes them suspect things far worse than any one would be likely to say in a Philadelphia theatre, except, of course, on the stage. The fact that you know they can overhear you, and intend to do so, leads one on to make the most outrageous, cynical, and scoffish remarks, particularly to denounce with fury a play that you may be enjoying quite passably well. All over the house you will hear (after the first act) men saying to their accompanying damsels, “How outrageously clumsy that act was. I can’t conceive how the director let it get by.” Now they only say this because they think it will make the people behind feel ashamed for having enjoyed such a botch. But does it? The people in the row behind immediately begin to praise the play vigorously, for the benefit of the people behind them; and in a minute you see the amusing spectacle of the theatre cheering and damning by alternate rows.

Here and there you will see a lady whispering something to her escort, and will notice how ladies always look backward over a lily shoulder while whispering. They want to see what effect this whispering will have on the people behind. There is a deep-rooted feud between every two rows in an audience. The front row, having nobody to hate (except possibly the actors), take it out in speculating why on earth anybody can want to sit in the boxes, where they can see nothing.

What the boxes think about we are not sure. We never sat in a box except at a burlicue.

And then a complete essay might be written on the ads in the theatre program–what high-spirited ads they are! How full of the savour and luxurious tang of the beau monde! How they insist on saying specialite instead of specialty!

Well, all we meant to say when we began was, the heroine was Only Fair–by which we mean to say she was beautiful and nothing else.

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