Sunday, July 01, 2007

From Now On, I'll Just Sit On My Hands

From Now On, I'll Just Sit On My Hands

Very illuminating story on what may be the ultimate in theatre etiquette in this morning's issue of The New York Times by Zachary Pincus-Roth. I'm guilty as charged.

To all those performers whose entrances I've been thrilled to see to the point when I applauded you, I'm sorry. I'm very, very sorry.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 01 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my favorite line from the article: One feels a giddy sense of accomplishment, he said, for having made it into the same room as Kevin Spacey. Ok, I'll admit it. That was me. Actually, I think I was feeling more awestruck than giddy. But I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment!

I can see where entrance applause could disrupt the flow of an actor's performance, especially if it comes at a really serious point in a play. It does take you out of the character for a moment.

But I think it's just an inevitable, instinctive reaction at seeing someone you recognize from the movies or tv or other shows. It's a sign of respect and excitement at seeing the person who's probably responsible for your being there in the first place. And it is only for a moment or two. I think a seasoned performer should be able to take it in stride and keep things moving along.

It is interesting, though, how it seems to be specifically an American phenomenon, along with standing ovations!

At 02 July, 2007, Blogger Jeffrey Cufaude said...

It is not a sign of respect unless it is meant to respect fame or recognizability and that is why you don't experience it in other countries.

It actually is disrespectful as it disrupts the nature of the experience, both for the audience and for the performers. I'm not there to "see" Kevin Spacey, I'm there to see the play in which Kevin Spacey is playing a part.

There is plenty of time during the curtain call for us to express our appreciate for both the performance and the performer.

At 02 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Jeffrey, Thank you for your comments. I'm quite certain if you asked most Americans whether it was respectful or disrespectful to applaud a performer upon entrance that most would believe it was a sign of respect, if not expected.

I would also venture that a large number of audience members have decided to visit Broadway because an actor or actress they've greatly admired is performing. For many, it may very well be their first foray into the theatre, and thus it does not surprise me that they would applaud the star of the show.

Over my nearly 30 years of going to see legitimate theatre, I've never heard anyone discuss the issue of entrance applause before, but maybe that's because my role with theatre has been limited to being in the audience. I'm glad to finally learn how this is perceived so I can not alter my own practices immediately, but share them with my readers.

Finally, I do agree with Esther on her observation that the standing ovation is an American phenomenon, and I believe it should be reserved only for the best of the best performances. The way it stands today (OK, pun intended), it lacks meaning.

At 02 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In all the years that I have attended performances this phenomenon of applauding when the "star" or "famous personality" came onstage was the norm. I did not know why but thought it was an acknowledgement or courtesy.

I will admit that I saw a lot of summer stock in upstate NY while young and have a couple of questions as to why, in some instances, applause would be correct.
Why wouldn't the audience seeing "Roberta" with the late Ruth Warwick burst into applause? Wasn't she the reason they were attending the show? I would ask that they be allowed to show the fondness they had for her.
I doubt cast memebrs Carol Swarbrick or Ron Gardner were the draws on that tour.

The same with the late Ann Miller in "Panama Hattie."
Was the audience to just gloss past her and the work the director put in for that "star entrance?" She probably hadn't been in Syracuse since vaudeville so give her a hand for finding the place.

I also remember seeing Nancy Dussault in "The Sisters Rosenweig" where upon entering she stood at the entry steps of the residence waiting for the applause to happen (undoubtedly as directed) but no one in Saint Paul reacted with familiarity to this performer. A few seconds later Dussault, sans entry applause, continued with the show.

However, the same scene when I saw the show a year or so earlier
in NYC, the audience acknowledged the performer in that same role at the time.

Shifting gears a bit...
I, however, am one who sits on his hands......I am the one who sits there and silently tells the performer "prove yourself first and then maybe I will applaud."
I have stood by that resolve for years......and rarely do I applaud upon the entrance of the "star."
Again, falling back to my attitude of "prove it, don't rest on your laurels."
I am curious to know if Standing O's were led to saluting mediocrity by the clever book writers of some shows that have you standing, chanting, shouting and the like under the guise of participating? How curious this rousing occurs within the last ten minutes of the show? Did these individual unwittingly bring the sanctity of the SO down to the lowest common denominator?
I thought that standing ovations were for the best of performances not merely as a thank you for a personality in a show. You said your "thank you" by purchasing a ticket. And I am saddened that mediocrity can often be saluted with such an ovation. Sure you had a great time but does that make this performance worth standing. Most audiences now stand for the most mediocre of performances. I don't know why and I have had plenty of dirty looks by those around me when I sit and don't stand.
There are also shows that get you to stand as part of the show...and this just flows right into the SO without having been warranted.
A good time is not the reason to stand......a knock-out seldom to be replicated again performance is.
How often do those performances occur?
Not as regularly as some would have you think.

We really need to think of when and why we applaud. We need to look at seeing a good performance and not the performer, though that's why you are there.
We need to look beyond the names above the title but at the title and see those performances handled masterly.

We need to look at the performances as a whole at the end and ask if the entire show deserves the SO.
While a performance may be masterful for our era we need to ask if it was so wonderful that it would have withstood the test of time the written work has.
If so then perhaps a standing ovation is in order. If not, sit applaud and be patient not to trample your neighbor on the way to the exit; let them savor the experience even if they aren't standing.

At 02 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Gene, Great points. You'll be sorry to hear that the new Broadway musical Xanadu concludes with the very same rousing type of curtain call specifically designed to get everyone up on their feet.

At 02 July, 2007, Blogger Jeffrey Cufaude said...

I would also venture that a large number of audience members have decided to visit Broadway because an actor or actress they've greatly admired is performing. For many, it may very well be their first foray into the theatre, and thus it does not surprise me that they would applaud the star of the show.

Could be but we don't really know that do we. People applaud like crazy when some runner up from American Idol three years ago has a principal part on Hairspray, too, not just the start of the show. I don't really believe that's done out of respect; it's done out of "OMG, it's a celebrity."

If Americans saved the entrance applause for select actors who have a history of fine performances across multiple productions, I'd be all for it. Instead it is used with as little discretion as is applied to the de rigeur standing O at the end of most Broadway productions.

At 02 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

As I said, "I would venture a guess." It is merely a guess that other readers can weigh-in on, or perhaps I'll ask via a new poll question.

However, I my larger point, Jeffrey, was that I certainly do not believe most patrons are trying to be disrespectful when they applaud an actor upon entrance.

Thanks for sharing your welcome point of view.

At 03 July, 2007, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

From Applause by Comden & Green:
What is it that we’re living for? Applause, applause.
Nothin’ I know brings on the glow like sweet applause.
You’re thinkin’ you’re through, that nobody cares,
Then suddenly you hear it starting.
And somehow you’re in charge again, and it’s a ball!
Trumpets all sing, life seems to swing,
and you’re the king of it all!
Cause you’ve had a taste of the sound that says love,
Applause, applause, applause!

Sorry, couldn't helt that. I've been to several operas and a production of Cabaret in Paris, and also I saw The Producers in London. The audience members were 95% European (especially at the operas) and the rythmic applause started at the curtain call then people jumped to their feet. I dare say that the standing ovation is not limited to American audiences. The applause and standing ovation is connection between the performers and the audience members - it's not only respectful but emotional release. I'm sorry, but "stars" or other performers know that there will be applause upon entrances. This is not a new phenomenon and this article only sounds whiny to me.

At 03 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Sarah - Your comments also remind me that there is that time-honored tradition of a performance that "stops the show." The reason why the show stops is because of sustained applause.

I've had the good fortune of witnessing three show-stopping standing ovations right smack dab in the middle of a show. I first saw it with Chita Rivera in Nine, then with Bernadette Peters in Gypsy, and then by Patti LuPone in Gypsy. Each of those performers looked genuinely touched by this extremely respectful outpouring of love from the audience.


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