Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On Theatre Etiquette

The LA Stage Blog posted a link to a fascinating little article in the London Times online edition called The 15 Golden Rules of Theatre Etiquette. It's neat, but it left me with a bit of an odd taste in my mouth, given how gung-ho I am on trying to bend our rules to incorporate new audiences into the fold.

As some of you may have read, I’ve been engaged in a pretty active conversation with some of our smaller companies about changes in theatre etiquette--and, really, changes in expectations about theatre etiquette. Of course there’s a fine line to walk, but one thing that has come up which I think deserves some merit is that, by sticking with all of these rules over time, we’re actually hurting ourselves by not adjusting to changes in audience demographics, attitudes, etc.

For example, this one from the Golden Rules:
“If the child you’re bringing is chatty, gag it. If it’s fidgety, handcuff and shackle it. And if you’re altruistic enough to bring a school party to a Shakespeare matinée, threaten potential wrongdoers with tickets to the next revival of Timon of Athens, to be followed by a ten-page essay on the ethics of Apemantus.”

Rebecca Novick wrote recently on the Chatterbox about taking her daughter to a National Dance Week performance--her first live performance ever. All the kid wanted to do was get up and dance (it was a dance performance), and Rebecca was told that she had to get the kid to calm down, quiet down, and sit still--or she had to leave. The girl, unfortunately but not surprisingly, lost interest as soon as she wasn’t able to engage the way she as a child would.

I totally get that there need to be levels of propriety. But I think we as a community really need to start thinking more outside that box, allowing for new ways to experience/interpret/participate in live theatre, or we’re going to get left in the dust….

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At July 7, 2009 at 11:20 AM , Blogger Carl Benson said...

What I find interesting about that article is a point I've made many, many times. Shakespeare's audiences back in the day were made up of common drunks who literally threw rotten vegetables at the stage when they disliked the action. Not only was this acceptable, it was the status quo.

At some point, Shakespeare and his work was high jacked by snotty theater intellectuals and now the only accepted way to watch one of his performances (or any play for that matter), is to sit still and quiet and feel great shame if you so much as sneeze during the show.

While I understand that some theater is like that (dramatic theater for example), that is not the case for all theater, nor should it be. One of my favorite moments as an actor on stage happened when an audience member, so moved by the play she was watching (and probably the beer she was drinking), climbed over the front row onto the stage and gave me a hug. It was totally weird, cute, funny, endearing and really great entertainment which ultimately got huge laughs from the audience.

The point is, theater is not film. Audiences are actually in the same room with the performers, and pretending that is not the case is a suspension of disbelief I just don't buy. Theater should be a fun experience for performers and audience alike, and telling patrons to sit down, shut up and watch reverentially ain't much fun at all.

At July 8, 2009 at 4:23 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Tell Patti LuPone that ;-)

At September 26, 2009 at 9:46 PM , Blogger Bruce said...

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! As an actor, I know one thing for certain. Without an audience, we're just a bunch of people talking. The AUDIENCE makes us performers and what we do, art. We act because that's who we are, but we become actors because of who the audience is.
Onstage, we have one job. To entertain people who took time out of their day, paid us their hard earned money and then ask us to entertain them. We do a disservice to each of the members of that audience when we ask them to do things that don't allow them to enjoy the performance.
Acting isn't about the actors, it's truly all about the audience.

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