Although it’s been sort of on my mind for some time now, I was inspired to further explore this recently. I’ve even been audacious enough to act on it. The topic? Standing ovations. I was moved by Ben Brantley’s recent article for the New York Times on the matter. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says (I think I liked Newsies way more than he did), I think he makes an excellent point. Standing ovations have become an epidemic in the theater, and it’s not a good thing. The ridiculous prevalence of the standing ovation has stripped it of its merit. It hardly means anything anymore to give or receive a standing ovation. I’m trying to see if we can do something about that – starting with me.
I don’t see as many Broadway shows as I’d like (face it: I’d like to see them all), but I’d say I see significantly more on Broadway than the average American. Also, because of work I do here, I see almost every show done in the Triangle on the local and regional level, as well as all the big national tours. And I see a lot of standing ovations.
One incident which really sticks out in my mind is when I saw Clybourne Park on Broadway. I enjoyed the show, but it wasn’t my favorite. I was all set to politely applaud, give a “whoop” for the actor I really liked, and be on my way. However, I was sitting practically among a large group of high school students from southern Florida – all musical theater kids. The very second that the curtain call started, every last one of them was on their feet, even the guy who fell asleep during act 1. They gave a standing ovation like that’s what they thought they were supposed to do. Maybe that is, actually, what they thought they were supposed to do. But, really, was the kid who fell asleep for several pivotal scenes really moved that much by the production? Probably not.
Maybe that incident has a lot to do with what Ben Brantley was saying about out-of-town crowds versus New York crowds. I get what he’s saying, but I think for the purposes of the rest of America, that can probably be expanded to people who see live theater every once and a while versus those who make a regular habit of it. I don’t want it to seem like I’m looking down on the once-in-a-whilers; every theater patron is a wonderful asset to the community. But there’s a difference. Like people who go to every home baseball game of a season are, in many ways, different sorts of fans than those who go to one or two.
I had been, up until now, one of those people at the theater who remained in my seat, eventually looked around at everyone standing, and begrudgingly stood, mostly so I could see the end of the curtain call. But now, I’m taking a stand. Well, actually, I’m taking a seat. I’m the kind of girl who likes to go with the flow, so it’s been an interesting experience so far.
I went to see the national tour of West Side Story on official business. I brought a friend who hasn’t seen much live theater lately. She agreed with me that the standing ovation was silly. We sat. We were the only ones, but it actually didn’t feel awkward. I think I made my point. I applauded and even cheered, because the production was good. But, if anyone asks, I’m saving my standing ovation for the top 1%. That’s what I’ve decided.
I went to a local theater production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, also on official business. Everyone stood. I was gracious, polite, and seated. Same goes for a regional production of Boeing Boeing I saw this week to review. I loved the show. So did everyone else there. They stood. I applauded from my seat.
So far, there hasn’t been any fallout. No one has approached me to ask me why I didn’t stand or why I didn’t like the performance. I haven’t had to explain to anyone that I’m saving it for the top 1%. When the curtain call is over, we all just go on with our lives. Additionally, many of the shows I see are in a professional capacity. I receive a comp ticket to review the show (in case you’re wondering, I review those shows elsewhere – this blog is reserved for shows I see in my free time). Would it be professional for me to stand? I don’t know. I’m not quite sure where the line is.
So, for now, I’m sitting. I encourage you to join me in my sit-ins, if you will. Let’s all, as a whole, give a standing ovation back its weight so that it truly means something to receive one. Thoughts?