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One of the features of the English language is that there are two sides to every tense: a simple one or a continuous one (also known as progressive). The question is when do you use one and not the other? We've looked at the Progressive Forms in general in the story entitled: Going, going, gone! and at the Present Simple in particular in the story called: It never gets you anywhere and now it's the turn of the Present Continuous/Progressive and this is called: What a Performance! which has a double meaning because it can describe a performance in the theatre and it can also describe a long and complicated process. I only hope when you are reading it, that you don't find it too comlicated.
"What a Performance!"I can't myself. Well, I just couldn't get up on the stage and take part in a play. Some people are always doing that. They do it for a hobby and are never happier than when they are declaiming other people's lines in front of a live audience. They are living in a realm of fantasy. They belong to that select world called amateur dramatics, a world that once a year invades the town where I live. Just when the weather is getting warmer the festival of amateur drama comes to our local theatre. For one entire week three separate groups are performing one play each every evening. In one mad moment a few years ago I agreed to buy a season ticket to see the different productions for all six nights and ever since then each year I get this very correctly written letter beginning: 'I am writing to inform you that the Summer Festival of Drama is taking place….'
Yesterday was the last night. Today I am resting. I am being perfectly serious. Although each play is around 35 minutes long, there have been 18 of them in all – tragedies, farces, melodramas, theatre of the absurd, of the ridiculous and of the 'How much longer is this going on?' The last category is my own personal classification for the really boring ones. And there was one play that could have won a prize for that category. When the curtain goes back, three people are sitting in deck chairs and eating ice creams. For about ten minutes nobody says a word. The audience is feeling a little embarrassed by this time and then suddenly one of the three starts shouting at the audience: 'Why are you all sitting there and staring at us?' This is a question I asked myself several times during the week! Of course nobody knows what to say. More questions followed, which were not answered. Then there was another pause, then more questions and then they went back to eating their ice creams and that was the end. The old lady next to me was utterly confused. 'Excuse me, she said. 'my deaf aid isn't working properly tonight and I'm hoping to buy a new one soon. Consequently I'm not hearing very well at the moment. Did I miss anything? I laughed and assured her that she hadn't.
But then I suppose I am being a little over critical. There were some really good performances as well – the ones that make you forget that you are sitting in the theatre. The one I liked best was a comedy. The play opens in a park. A couple are sitting on a bench and they are having an argument. He is trying to persuade her that he is right and she is doing her best to make him believe that he is wrong. It doesn't sound all that funny but the dialogue was so clever and the two performers are so obviously relishing their roles that the whole audience couldn't stop laughing. But then of course if you get bored with the play, you can always turn your attention to the audience. And with a season ticket you keep sitting next to the same people, which is how I got into trouble on the last night. You have to imagine it is 8 o'clock. Everyone is sitting quietly and waiting for the curtain to go up. The old lady in the next seat is adjusting her hearing aid. The fanfare is playing and then – nothing happens. Ten minutes go by. The audience is becoming distinctly uncomfortable. Comments like: 'What on earth is going on?' 'Are we seeing another play?' and 'Is anybody doing anything about it?' The fanfare is playing again. I get the impression that someone is tapping my knees but then I realise that it's the woman in front who is fidgeting. Again there is silence and then the curtains open at last to reveal a worried looking manager who is standing in the middle of the stage. 'Ladies and gentleman', he began 'I regret to tell you that the Sanderson Players are not performing tonight. There will now be a short intermission.' It was then I said to my elderly neighbour in I suppose a rather loud voice (but you must remember she is having a problem with her hearing): 'Thank goodness! That's one less to worry about.' At that the woman in front who I thought had been fidgeting and had in fact been crying, turned round and addressed me in a hysterical way: 'Do you know who you are talking to and who you are talking about?' I pleaded ignorant to both questions. 'They are my entire family – husband, son and two daughters and they are all suffering the other side of that curtain.' I was impressed with her delivery and thought what a performance she could give as a Shakespearean heroine. I made apologetic noises and decided not to probe further. The rest of the evening passed off without incident and the prizes were distributed.
So after the long week and the little bit of drama in row K I hope you can understand why I am now relaxing. I'm not attending next year's festival. I've decided. I'm doing something a little more dynamic like bungee jumping or white water rafting. Incidentally in case you are wondering what the woman in front was on about, I'll explain. The whole family in the Sanderson Players had begged mother not to come to the theatre because she always put them off. She had insisted on coming and so they had refused to perform. If you're wanting to know what the play was about, you must guess it from the title: Mother knows best.
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