When I saw Golden Boy
on Broadway last year as press I was so moved that I went and bought
myself a ticket to see it again before it closed. I especially wanted to see a particularly affecting moment near the end, in which the main character is in tears, slumped on the floor, his lover draped around him weeping, and he assesses how his entire life has been a failure. I waited with goosebumps on the edge of my seat for this scene as it approached, and right as it came around the woman-next-to-me's cellphone started buzzing, and she started fiddling with it to read the text message she'd just gotten. It was distracting, took me right out of the action on stage, and ruined what would be the last time I'd ever see one of my favorite things. Well, thanks, lady.
So, yeah, people with their cell phones at the theater. They're the worst. So that story about the guy who took a cell phone away from a woman during a performance of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and threw it against a wall? Well, yeah, I don't know if violence is the answer, but it sure is fun to enjoy vicariously: fantasies made real and such. (It joins other great theater cell phone stories: Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig stopping a play to wait for a cell phone to stop ringing; Alan Gilbert halting a New York Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth for the same reason.) But it's not just cell phones that are the worst at the theater. There's lots of annoying things people do. All of you, please stop doing the following.
Clapping when a Famous Person Walks On Stage
What are you clapping for? No really—stop and assess what applause really means. Are you congratulating this actor for everything he or she has ever done in his or her life up to then? If you passed this actor on the street, would you stop walking and start clapping? If you saw them eating in a restaurant? Good for you for recognizing who in the cast is famous and who's not, but I'm happy to try to figure it out on my own. If I can't, you can try to explain it to me in the lobby at intermission. "Did everyone see John Turturro? Did everyone see
him? On the stage?"
Giving Standing Ovations
- "Look, it's the sponsor from the bank!"
No really—makes your applause mean something. Every show I see ends with a standing ovation, which is silly
. Not everything on a stage is excellent. I stand sometimes for really exceptional work, but it doesn't mean anything, because everyone stands for everything. So now those particularly great actors, or playwrights or violinists or whatever, won't know that they actually did a better job than most people do in their position. They'll just think they're average. That's not fair to them now is it. [photo
Jesus Christ, this is not your living room. It's a theater! People paid a lot of money to sit here; they don't want to listen to you chew and snap your gum because you can't spend the hour between curtain and intermission without something in your mouth. If there's just no way
you can sit through something without a piece of gum, you're not ready yet to do things outside with other people. [photo
Leaning Forward in Your Seat
Some people don't go the theater a lot, and so when they get stiff or antsy they might lean forward in their seat, elbows on the knees. But if you sit this way you suddenly block a huge space of the theater the size of your head for the person behind you. I know you're uncomfortable, but you have to sit back. Sorry! [photo
Deciding This Thing is No Good So Standard Rules of Behavior No Longer Apply
Every once in a while there's an old person in a play that's... let's say "not conventional," and they'll decide at some point this isn't really a play, and start asking the person next to them what's going on, or if this is serious, or just scoffing loudly at everything, as though quality is objective and we're all on his or her side. Or maybe it's just Act IV of this five-act opera and you're tired, so you start whispering to your companion. Either way, shhhhh. Or, as one memorable audience member once put it during Don Carlo
at the Met, "would you please shut the fuck up?" [photo
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