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Behave Yourself

By Rick Pender · February 4th, 2009 · Curtain Call

Before just about every theater performance I attend there’s an announcement about turning off cell phones and unwrapping candy in crinkly wrappers. (The latter always seems to evoke a chuckle for some reason.) Some of those warnings include beeping watches, pagers (does anyone still have a pager?) and photography, and the most advanced alert: mentioning to everyone that texting during the performance is not permitted.

The Cincinnati Playhouse often turns these announcements into humorous moments about actors onstage with weapons or cell phones being anachronistic in historical dramas.

Despite these appeals, however, about half the time I’m at a theater a cell phone distracts me. Less often, but not infrequently, I see audience members using a camera phone at the Aronoff Center or checking the time by flashing the illuminated face on their phone and then quickly running through text messages.

Make no mistake: This is rude and thoughtless behavior. It breaks the concentration of others in the audience, and it could distract a performer. (At a recent production of Gypsy on Broadway, Patti LuPone stopped the performance and ordered ushers to eject someone who had flashed a camera during her closing number.) Occasionally people who have obeyed the pre-show warning make a call at intermission and neglect to power down or silence their phones.

But come on, folks, do we need another appeal before the second act?

A few theaters in New York City have experimented with technology that blacks out phone reception within the venue, but that’s both expensive and futile, since many people might have legitimate reasons to make calls during intermission.

Truth to tell, if I had my way, cell phones would simply not be allowed in theaters — or at least they should be powered down completely. Surely we can spend an evening in the theater without having to be connected constantly. I’m probably a Luddite about this, but it’s truly a matter of courtesy and attentiveness.

At the other end of the spectrum of silence vs. noise, let me mention another pet peeve: standing ovations. Despite our local reputation for politeness, I don’t think we’re more prone to such displays in Cincinnati, but they really don’t mean much anymore.

Every opening night I attend at the Aronoff Center gets one, regardless of the quality of the touring show. Those audiences are perhaps more star-struck than those at the Playhouse or Ensemble Theatre. But even theatergoers at those venues tend to stand up on opening nights, as if it’s rude not to do so. In fact, some people apparently think they have to jump to their feet to express their admiration.

But such demonstrations cheapen the value of a true standing O, which I’ve been part of only a few times — and I see about 100 shows annually. Of course, this is about crowd behavior: One or two people start it, then it catches on like the “wave” at the sports stadium, and soon everyone is up on their feet. My appeal is simply this: Don’t stand up unless a performance or a performer has made your heart race and truly transported you somewhere you’ve never been before.

Then it’s worth it. If it happens, you have my permission to turn on your cell phone — on your way out of the theater — to call someone and describe the extraordinary experience.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



02.08.2009 at 02:21 Reply
Rick, this is a column long in coming. I will let you have your cell phone and candy wrapper turf. You've managed them well. We will share the standing ovation turf and then I will claim running out of the theatre at curtain call as my own. I'll move right to the frustration of the now ubiquitous standing O. I thought I was the ONLY one in town with this beef; I always wondered if I was just being a curmudgeonly pain in the neck. I have noticed folks roll their eyes back in their heads when I am yet ranting again (ie Nic Muni... LOL). So, to hear your beef with standing Os came right over the transom and bonked me in the head! I don't think that I've been at any performance, anywhere, by anyone, anytime that has not gotten the standing O! I'm thinking: what the hell is going on?? is this the new applause protocol? Maybe I'm being difficult? I, myself, prefer final performances. I just like the emotion and the sadness and the aura of a production's last stand. (You might reference a recent New York Magazine---they profiled, moment-by-moment, the final day of Gypsy via Patti LuPone. it was fantastic.) Anyway, EVERY final performance gets a standing O. Every one. Sometimes, it doesn't deserve it--but the lemmings up front jump to their feet and all of the sheep in the house follow. Occasionally I resist the trend and I just sit, and boy do I get some dirty looks. Like I am a lazy troglodyte, first time in a theatre as opposed to the usual Monster Truck Race. So often, just to keep from getting beat up by the patrons around me, I rise also and then give a half hearted applause because it is so ridiculous standing there... Rick, I don't know what the answer is. But current theatre culture has all but eliminated the impact of the ovation. Now, means nothing. Every schlep production gets one. So what to do: We need another means of showing our regard to a truly exceptional performance. I propose we clasp and stand for a perormance, but when it is truly exceptional, we stand on our chairs and wave kielbasis at the stage!!! Yeah, I think this might work. When the cast sees kielbasis, then they will KNOW how awesome the production was..... I am going to try this at the next performance I see. I'm gonna wear the kielbasi around my neck like a scarf. It will then be handy to wave. Oh, and DON'T even get me started on the true rudeness of jumping out of one's seat and running for the door before or during a curtain call. Are you kidding me??? These people have spilled their very guts for us onstage and then lie on their field of battle exhausted and victorious---and some patrons' reactions is not to thank them and recognize their effort but to leap up and bolt for the door and the parking lot?????? What an incredible insult to the cast and the entire theatre community as a whole. Fair warning----I am going to start tripping them on their way out. Watch me...