Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why I'm Glad We Don't Live in Shakespearean England (Or Modern-Day England, For That Matter)

The Times Online has a feature out today about the decline of good manners at West End theatres. Apparently, people are urinating onstage, fondling each other in bathroom stalls, texting, calling and being generally rowdy. What is everyone blaming? Low ticket prices and alcohol in the theatre.

First of all, we've talked about alcohol in the theatre before on this blog--twice. Personally, I don't think it makes any sense to allow alcohol into a theatre. I don't see people chugging beers at the movies. I'm all for banning alcohol in auditoriums. Once upon a time it was the norm for all food and drink to be banned during performance, and to me that makes sense. You can eat at the movies, but only because the sound is cranked up to a level where chewing isn't going to bother anyone too much. In live theatre, ear-splitting sound would be distracting and take away from the show.

Low ticket prices, though? How elitist can you be? I'm sure it's not just the poor folk being disrespectful. And I'm sure there are many who can't afford high ticket prices who are sitting completely respectfully, enjoying performances in a more mature way.

Of course, the article points out that back in Shakespeare's time, the groundlings used to jeer and throw things at performers...so really, we've come a long way, say the writers. That was also the time when being an actor was no better than being a prostitute, though, so rude behavior in the theatre made just a bit more sense. Also, back in Shakespeare's time, there was little in the way of sets and props. With the considerably more expensive and advanced production design of today, a return to rowdiness and boisterousness is also a major financial liability. Today, we are a more civilized society, people want to be able to hear what they paid to watch, and actor safety actually matters now. (For a counterargument from Carl Benson of the PianoFight blog, check out this past Chatterbox post.)

Events like the ones this Times article describes are a giant step backwards in theatre. Measures like installing bouncers are alarming (and maybe a little funny) because theatre is not a bar. There shouldn't need to be a police presence in a theatre. And asking that we leave the groundlings back in Elizabethan England isn't sanctimonious, it's common courtesy. I think we'd have far fewer aspiring theatre artists if having dinner scraps hurled at you were still a legitimate concern.

But blaming lower ticket prices is missing the point. Alcohol makes more sense as a cause for this rudeness, and perhaps the theatres are just too close to the pub district on the West End (I wouldn't know). So, London, take out the liquor inside the theatre and make sure the ticket takers look out for drunk patrons. And please, America, don't follow Britain's example. Theatre--and anything people have put work into, really--deserves more respect than that.

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8 Comments:

At August 10, 2009 at 3:07 PM , Blogger Carl Benson said...

Hi Sabrina,

I've written a response to your post here:

http://piano-fight.blogspot.com/2009/08/tbas-sabrina-lazarus-wants-to-ban.html

Looking forward to your response!

-CB

 
At August 10, 2009 at 4:29 PM , Blogger Dan Wilson said...

My reply to Carl's post (and Clay's response) is available on the PianoFight blog, and I am posting it here as well.

I agree with both statements: the argument to remove alcohol from theatres is shortsighted and would not only limit the options of what a theatre could be, but would also bankrupt the vast majority of struggling theatres that are barely scraping by as it is. There's a reason Chicago has a storefront theatre on every other block: the city gives them liquor licenses.

I also agree that the acerbic and snarky nature of Carl's response doesn't increase the quality of discourse. Also, some of Ms. Lazarus' comments were taken out of context (her quip about "just the poor people" was clearly intended to point out the elitism of blaming low prices for bad behavior and by taking it out of context she was made to appear to be supporting the bias she was denouncing).

That said, if TBA does not wish for articles posted on their website, by their staff, to be taken by casual readers as the opinions of the organization, it would do well to put a disclaimer at the end of articles stating "the opinions stated are those of the poster and in no way represent the views of TBA". Without such an explicit statement, TBA *does* come across as hostile to small theatres who are already having a hard enough time competing with bands, bars, and Netflix.

Finally, as the Times article discusses, the problem is hardly confined to acts of inebriation (although those *are* the most gross examples). The problem is a much larger one of public propriety and manners, regardless of if you're drunk or not. Not allowing alcohol into a theatre doesn't do much if people are accustomed to general rudeness or (as was pointed out, again in the Times article) people *show up* to the theatre three sheets to the wind.

In fact, nowhere in the article do I see any indication that people are getting hammered at the theatre, but are already gone when they walk in the door.

And yes, that means you need bouncers in theatres. Drunks are going to cause just as much of a fuss if you don't let them in as they do once they're in their seats, and if you're going to evict them/prevent them from entering, you're going to need a bouncer. Nothing short of Prohibition will help that issue, and we all know how well *that* works.

 
At August 10, 2009 at 7:00 PM , Blogger Sabrina Lazarus said...

Again, I posted this at Piano Fight, but I am re-posting here.

Here's how I feel about all of this. I don't mean ban alcohol in all theatres, and if that's how it came across I apologize. I mean in the mainstream theatres where rowdiness doesn't make sense for the performance it shouldn't be allowed in the auditorium. It can and should be possible to buy alcohol in the lobby, but it should not find its way into the performing venue, in my personal opinion--at least not at the theatres for which that would not be apropos, and as the article shows, inebriation is in fact causing problems. While eliminating alcohol in the actual auditorium would not solve the problem, I think it might help.

The theatres that want to allow alcohol in their theatres during performance can and should. But I don't think the theatres this article referred to were those theatres.

And with reference to food -- it depends what you're eating. The sound of food being opened, food being chewed, food packaging being rustled...all of that can be extremely distracting, at least if you're in close proximity. Maybe I'm just sensitive, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I also believe you missed some of the sarcasm in my post. The use of terms like "poor folk" was meant as sarcasm. And yes, I do think it is immature to be drunk and rowdy in a place that doesn't invite that. Bars thrive on that atmosphere. Many theatres don't -- perhaps not yours, but many.

Venues can and should cater to a drunk and rowdy audience if they like. But the theatres in question here don't seem to like that, and at the types of performances spoken of in that article, it seems to me to be inappropriate. And I doubt that any theatre would appreciate someone urinating in the auditorium during a performance. That's just disgusting.

So there you have it. Feel free to disagree, but I stick by my opinion of the situation.

 
At August 10, 2009 at 7:01 PM , Blogger Sabrina Lazarus said...

Again, I posted this at Piano Fight, but I am re-posting here:

Here's how I feel about all of this. I don't mean ban alcohol in all theatres, and if that's how it came across I apologize. I mean in the mainstream theatres where rowdiness doesn't make sense for the performance it shouldn't be allowed in the auditorium. It can and should be possible to buy alcohol in the lobby, but it should not find its way into the performing venue, in my personal opinion--at least not at the theatres for which that would not be apropos, and as the article shows, inebriation is in fact causing problems. While eliminating alcohol in the actual auditorium would not solve the problem, I think it might help.

The theatres that want to allow alcohol in their theatres during performance can and should. But I don't think the theatres this article referred to were those theatres.

And with reference to food -- it depends what you're eating. The sound of food being opened, food being chewed, food packaging being rustled...all of that can be extremely distracting, at least if you're in close proximity. Maybe I'm just sensitive, but I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I also believe you missed some of the sarcasm in my post. The use of terms like "poor folk" was meant as sarcasm. And yes, I do think it is immature to be drunk and rowdy in a place that doesn't invite that. Bars thrive on that atmosphere. Many theatres don't -- perhaps not yours, but many.

Venues can and should cater to a drunk and rowdy audience if they like. But the theatres in question here don't seem to like that, and at the types of performances spoken of in that article, it seems to me to be inappropriate. And I doubt that any theatre would appreciate someone urinating in the auditorium during a performance. That's just disgusting.

So there you have it. Feel free to disagree, but I stick by my opinion of the situation.

 
At August 11, 2009 at 3:10 PM , Blogger Matthew said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At August 11, 2009 at 3:21 PM , Blogger Matthew said...

Well I’m glad that’s all settled.

Long live freedom of speech for everyone.

Here’s my question in regards to theatre and drinking in response to Clay’s comment

“But we (TBA) as a company don't have a stated stance on alcohol in theatre.”

Does that mean that TBA wouldn’t help to work with the city to make it less complicated and costly for theater venues to sell beer and wine, legally, for their particular needs?


My thought is regardless of your opinion on drinking and eating in theaters, the truth is many companies sell beer and wine without a license and run the risk of fines and worse. Not being a Non Profit doesn’t mean you can, unless you’ve been around for 20 years and get a license. We’ve gone to BYOB but that could have issues and you’re not making any money or providing for all of your patrons. There has always been a grey area with this issue and I feel it should addressed.

I’m not advocating everyone getting a beer and wine license and appreciate the variety of drinking and non drinking events. But for the handful of spaces that do offer these types of shows, it would be appropriate to have it, and legally. I realize companies like the Exit and my own Combined Artform went through the work for getting a license and other could as well. Having done it I see how certain elements could be changed to adhere to public safety concern while making it feasible for those theaters to obtain a license and meet the needs for their audience.

I do feel people especially now want to go out and have an event for the evening, not just a play, they want more. They want a drink, hang with friends, hear a band, and maybe have some food. Having beer and wine are a big part of this. Going through the process of getting a license you hear how much apart these worlds are. My hope is to have it out, legal and responsibly controlled.

If we can present as a collective the needs of the shows, venues and address the city and alcohol board we can find a plan to allow beer and wine to be sold legally, making money for all and making the audience happy. Anything is better than having the cloud hang over our heads.

Currently in Los Angeles a group of theaters are working with the city to do just this. I would love to talk to TBA and whomever else as well about making this possible in San Francisco.

 
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