Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top Ten 'Worst Audience Members' Awards

It's awards time in theater. The Outer Critics Circle Awards were announced yesterday. Drama Desk is this Sunday followed by the Tonys on June 7. In the midst of honoring the best of the best on Broadway and Off-Broadway, I thought this would be an appropriate time to mention the "worst of the worst" I have experienced dealing with audience members this season.

We seemed to have heard more stories this year than ever about actors stopping in the middle of shows until rude audience members could be ejected from the theater. It seems as manners and general courtesy decline in society, evidence of it appears in theater seats. Those announcements at the beginning of the show about turning off phones, not taking pictures and unwrapping candies — they are for you. Yes, you. You are not exempt because you want to make a comment, snap a photo of your favorite star or eat something.

Here are my Top Ten Worst audience members from the 2008-2009 with prayers for all of us to be kinder and more considerate of each other and thanks for the thousands of people with whom I attended theater this year who DO know how to behave.

Top Ten Worst Audience Members

1. The guy who squeezed and released his plastic water bottle, creating a clicking sound throughout a show.

2. The guy who arrived late, causing his row to get up during the show, (which blocks the view of those behind them), only to get up five minutes later and cause the same disruption so he could go to the rest room. Then you guessed it, he returned and we were interrupted again.

3. The guy who sat down front and spoke on his phone throughout the first act – while we heard the person with whom he was speaking on speaker phone. An irate audience member (no, not me) accosted him at intermission explaining that most of the first act had been ruined for her because of his rude behavior. He reported her to the House Manager, complaining that she was harassing him. The House Manager reprimanded the woman (we won’t go into lessons in House Management 101 here…) until another audience member backed up her story. The man and his speaker phone were ejected.

4. This one technically wasn’t in a theater, but was in a seminar where about 25 of us were seated in lecture style for a talk from a speaker. In the middle of the session, a woman’s cell phone rang. She answered it, then proceeded to continue the conversation (it was not urgent in any way) talking as though none of us was there or as though the speaker weren’t still speaking. Finally someone asked her to leave and continue her call outside. Can people really be so self centered? It boggles the mind.

5. The woman behind me at West Side Story who talked all the way through and sang with all the songs.

6. The very large man seated next to me who continually encroached on my seat space while making loud “snoring noises” because, I assume, his weight made it difficult to breathe. I ended sitting sideways to try to avoid the pressing flesh until I couldn’t stand it any more and would muster all my strength to administer a full body check at which he moved over a little, only to begin the process of encroachment again. Every so often he had even more breathing difficulty and would make some really alarming noises, at which I asked once if he needed medical assistance. He seemed surprised. I guess if you sound like that all the time, you get used to it. I finally gave up, extricated myself and stood in the aisle for the second half. (PS: This is not a statement about people of size. I have several friends who are as large or larger than this man but who always manage to sit in their own seat space because they are considerate people.)

7. The woman who snored very loudly through a really terrific play. She started about five minutes in and continued with what sounded like several elephants during allergy season for the entire first act. Annoyed glances from all of us in the area apparently failed to clue in those with her to give her a nice shove and wake her up. Someone finally had to say, “Wake her up.” The pattern was repeated multiple times. She mercifully left at intermission. Note to all attending theater with me: If you start snoring, rest assured you will be walking around with rib pain the next day, a result of my elbow firmly nudging you awake.

8. The couple who ate chips throughout the first act of a play, happily crunching and crackling their bags to the frustration of all around them (I was a section and a half away and it was aggravating – why those nearby didn’t complain is beyond me. I don’t think food and drink were allowed in the house for that show.) At intermission, they went out and purchased two more bags of chips, held them politely until the second act, then opened them and began crunching again when the curtain went up.

9. The woman next to me who text messaged during the first act of a show. I finally asked her to turn it off. “It’s not even on,” she complained. What part of text scrolling and a lighted display that kept distracting me indicates the device is off? I explained the distraction and asked her to at least cover it up if she couldn’t turn “off.” She did, and then switched seats at intermission with her companion. I assumed at first this was so she could text without further objection from me, but to her credit, she did not. I guess she just didn’t want to sit next to someone so offensive and rude as to suggest that she be considerate.

10. And last, but not least, to the kid who kicked my seat continually through Slava’s Snow Show. Despite repeated requests (and I do assure you I was polite and kind) the child, about 8 years of age, kicked with such force that there probably is a permanent dent in the back of the seat. When I asked again, explaining that it was very annoying, the child’s father told me that I shouldn’t attend a kid’s show if I didn’t want my seat kicked. Ah, and there’s the rub. It wasn’t this kid’s fault. In fact, I have attended several “kid-specific” shows this year, all with lots of squealing, giggling children delighted by the shows, all of whom were able to enjoy themselves without being rude or annoying to anyone. The difference is that they have parents who know how to be considerate and who value teaching some manners to their children, whereas "kicker boy" apparently did not have that advantage.
Copyright 2009 Lauren Yarger, all rights reserved.

1 comment:

Gordon said...

Hi, Lauren:

I just read your "Worst Audiences" piece. I'm sure others have had their experiences. Here's one of mine. Three years ago, here in Houston, I went to see a production of an adaptation of Charles Sheldon's novel In His Steps, being performed in a church. If I hadn't read the book already, I don't think I would have had a clue what was supposed to be happening on stage. The two women I was sitting between were talking to each other endlessly. Cell phones were going off; kids were running up and down the aisles; you name it. There wasn't any point in trying to move to another seat; I'd have run into the same thing.
Several people involved in the production, on and off stage, were friends of mine. Some used to be in the A.D. Players. I'm sure they must have found all this terribly distracting. I would have. What got me, though, was that it wasn't just the kids doing it. The grown-ups were just as bad!
One factor, I feel, was that many of these people had never seen a live play before, and really didn't know how to conduct themselves while they're being at one. Another factor, to borrow your own words, is that we're living in a time where "manners and general courtesy are on the decline." One writer has tagged it "The Culture of Disrespect." It's also one of the reasons I believe teaching in public schools has turned into a "job from Hell" for many. It's affecting every phase of society, even the church. It is a problem, no doubt about it.

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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

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