Monday, April 02, 2012

A Rant About Theater Etiquette

Saturday night, we took Lexi and Brandon to see Jesus Christ: Superstar at the Byham.  It's not my favorite show in the world, but it's one of Weber's better works (I'm not a ALW fan in general). I'm not here today to review the show, though.  I'm here to rant.

What ever happened to people's sense of respect for, wonder at and general love of theater?  I'm all for trying to draw more of the general public into the theater, etc, but quite frankly, I'm sick of people treating it like a movie theater.  In fact, there were people there last night whose behavior would have been quite rude even in the movie theater and whose behavior appalled me and my family (I'm doing something right that they were also so affronted by some of the behavior). Maybe I should suck it up and start spending more for better seats.  Perhaps the quality of fellow patrons is better when you move out of the balcony.  I shouldn't have to spend more just to avoid what is plain bad manners, though. What ever happened to a sense of decorum?

I'll admit. We are partially just not taught, generally speaking, about appropriate theater behavior these days.  Another factor is that American culture, especially in the area of dress, is getting much more casual.  For those reasons, I'll try to make this less rant and more teaching. Let's remember that I say these things out of experience in the theater.  I practically grew up on stage.

Dress appropriately.  This is not a rock concert (well, technically JCS sort of is a rock concert, but it's still not a rock concert).  This is not a casual night at the movies. Show a little bit of respect for the performers, the genre and the history of the building and put on something just a little nicer than those faded jeans or your stupid jeggings.  And don't tell me "my kids just won't wear that stuff."  If they won't wear that stuff, they don't go.  End of discussion.  If I'm taking my family out for a nice dinner (well, Max & Erma's- I'm on a budget here, people) and a trip to the theater, they know better than to not look respectable. And they really did look quite respectable if I do say so myself.  I love these people. (Sorry about the crappy phone photos- I forgot the real camera.)

Noone's in tuxes or ballgowns. . . just a respectable family dressed appropriately for a night at the Byham.

Turn off your damn phone.  And I'm not just talking about answering a call here.  As obvious as that sounds, we have friends who got stuck behind someone at the symphony recently who answered her phone during the performance. Phones do "quiet" things too though, and those are just as taboo in the theater. Seriously?  You need to light up the room to check facebook during the scene change?  Come on.  That's not even OK in the movie theater. That's selfish and rude.  There are positively no excuses for that nonsense.  I'm just as addicted to my smartphone as the next person, but I'd never dream of pulling it out during a performance like that.  I HAVE pulled it out in the middle of a rock concert to send a text (much to my husband's chagrin), but that's a totally different scenario. 

Put your camera away.  It's just as illegal to take unauthorized photos and video of a live musical as it is to take them of a movie.  And it's also annoying: both to the other audience members and to the performers.  Depending on where you're sitting, flash photography can be dangerous to the performers. 

Shut up.  Shut up, shut up, shut up.  I don't care if you're "quietly" saying something "important" to the person next to you.  I can hear you.  Shut your mouth.  Talk about the show later in the car on the way home. If you forget it between the theater and the car, you need to look into some memory-enhancing herbs or something. This includes the overture. The orchestra are performers too and they have spent many many hours perfecting that overture for your enjoyment.  Stop talking and enjoy it. (This is another one that you would think would be obvious, even as movie theater etiquette, but alas, it appears to confound many a person.)

Headphones?  Really?  That's ridiculously rude to the performers and the people you've gone with (who presumably are going with you in order so have some quality time with you).  Did I mention that's it's also just stupid to spend money to see a show just to listen to your music or the game or whatever stupidity is in your headphones?

What's up with the sudden allowance and even encouragement of candy and drinks in the theater?  I'm sorry, but the rolling of Lemonheads in a box is at least as annoying as the woman who won't stop commenting on the show every four minutes. Now, I can't really fault the public for this one.  The theater is not just allowing this now, it is encouraging it by having snack counters that sell drinks (even wine) in take home plastic cups with straws.

The ushers at these events are generally sweet older women.  They are darling and kind.  As cute and wonderful as they are, they really need some bouncers.  They need to hire big, intimidating guys to stand there and say, "I'm sorry, sir.  No headphones." Or, "We have a dress code."  Perhaps, "Ma'm, you're going to have to take your irritating self right on out of here."

With the exception of my suggestion to hire bouncers, none of these expectations are at all unreasonable.  I don't have great suggestions as to how to communicate to people what "theater etiquette" includes.  Shoot, American culture is failing at teaching everyone manners and etiquette in pretty much every arena.  We talk about "American values" and wonder what has happened to propriety and "right living" while all the while we throw propriety to the wind in our every day lives. 

Please do me a favor.  The next time you go to the theater, think ahead of time about the other audience members and especially about the performers.  I promise if you make a big deal out of it, it will be way more fun.  I know that my 11 year old had much more fun last night for our making it a special night on the town than she would have if we'd allowed her to roll out in jeans and a T-shirt as if we were just going to the mall.

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