by Edward Bellamy

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Chapter XXXVI. Theater-going in the twentieth century

"I am sorry to interrupt," said Edith, "but it wants only five minutes of the time for the rising of the curtain, and Julian ought not to miss the first scene."

On this notice we at once betook ourselves to the music room, where four easy chairs had been cozily arranged for our convenience. While the doctor was adjusting the telephone and electroscope connections for our use, I expatiated to my companion upon the contrasts between the conditions of theater-going in the nineteenth and in the twentieth centuries--contrasts which the happy denizens of the present world can scarcely, by any effort of imagination, appreciate. "In my time, only the residents of the larger cities, or visitors to them, were ever able to enjoy good plays or operas, pleasures which were by necessary consequence forbidden and unknown to the mass of the people. But even those who as to locality might enjoy these recreations were obliged, in order to do so, to undergo and endure such prodigious fuss, crowding, expense, and general derangement of comfort that for the most part they preferred to stay at home. As for enjoying the great artists of other countries, one had to travel to do so or wait for the artists to travel. To-day, I need not tell you how it is: you stay at home and send your eyes and ears abroad to see and hear for you. Wherever the electric connection is carried--and there need be no human habitation however remote from social centers, be it the mid-air balloon or mid-ocean float of the weather watchman, or the ice-crusted hut of the polar observer, where it may not reach--it is possible in slippers and dressing gown for the dweller to take his choice of the public entertainments given that day in every city of the earth. And remember, too, although you can not understand it, who have never seen bad acting or heard bad singing, how this ability of one troupe to play or sing to the whole earth at once has operated to take away the occupation of mediocre artists, seeing that everybody, being able to see and hear the best, will hear them and see them only."

"There goes the bell for the curtain," said the doctor, and in another moment I had forgotten all else in the scene upon the stage. I need not sketch the action of a play so familiar as "The Knights of the Golden Rule." It is enough for this purpose to recall the fact that the costumes and setting were of the last days of the nineteenth century, little different from what they had been when I looked last on the world of that day. There were a few anachronisms and inaccuracies in the setting which the theatrical administration has since done me the honor to solicit my assistance in correcting, but the best tribute to the general correctness of the scheme was its effect to make me from the first moment oblivious of my actual surroundings. I found myself in presence of a group of living contemporaries of my former life, men and women dressed as I had seen them dressed, talking and acting, as till within a few weeks I had always seen people talk and act; persons, in short, of like passions, prejudices, and manners to my own, even to minute mannerisms ingeniously introduced by the playwright, which even more than the larger traits of resemblance affected my imagination. The only feeling that hindered my full acceptance of the idea that I was attending a nineteenth-century show was a puzzled wonder why I should seem to know so much more than the actors appeared to about the outcome of the social revolution they were alluding to as in progress.

When the curtain fell on the first scene, and I looked about and saw Edith, her mother and father, sitting about me in the music room, the realization of my actual situation came with a shock that earlier in my twentieth-century career would have set my brain swimming. But I was too firm on my new feet now for anything of that sort, and for the rest of the play the constant sense of the tremendous experience which had made me at once a contemporary of two ages so widely apart, contributed an indescribable intensity to my enjoyment of the play.

After the curtain fell, we sat talking of the drama, and everything else, till the globe of the color clock, turning from bottle-green to white, warned us of midnight, when the ladies left the doctor and myself to our own devices.

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