Audiences behaving badly

April 28, 2009
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It happened again on Sunday.

During an intensely delicate -- and totally silent -- moment in the Indiana Repertory Theatre's production of "Rabbit Hole," an audience member opted to unwrap a piece of candy. Not a get-it-over-with unwrapping, this process took what seemed like a minute. And the fact that the performance was in the intimate upper stage -- without microphones -- made the moment even more awkward and distracting. Everyone in the theater, including the actors, were no doubt aware of it.

Over at the Denver Post, critic John Moore discusses the problem, noting a incident in England where "a woman's cellphone went off for a third time, Richard Griffiths (you know him as Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon) stopped the play midscene and told the woman to get out. 'The 750 people here would be fully justified in suing you for ruining their afternoon,' Griffiths said, to a standing ovation."

Similarly, many have probably heard what happened during the second-to-last performance of "Gypsy" on Broadway when Patti LuPone literally stopped the show to lash out at a bozo taking a flash photo. (If you haven't heard it, check it out here.) LuPone herself made light of the moment in her concert at Clowes Hall last Friday when she took out her own camera to snap members of the audience, and herself, while singing "The Way You Look Tonight."

One of the beauties of live arts and entertainment is the communal atmosphere. We are, literally, in it together. While minor distractions are part of the deal, there seems to be an increase in the belief that the other people around you don't matter. During the intermission of "Moving Out" I turned to the woman behind me and, I thought, very politely, told a woman that I could hear her conversation all through the first act and that I'd appreciated if she could wait until after the show to discuss it. She seemed shocked, asking the people around her if she had been loud. They, of course, said she hadn't which, for this woman, proved her case and made me somehow wrong.

And there's more. Taking a cell phone call in the theater is awful, yes, but checking your text messages or even lighting up your phone to see who just called is annoying as well. And it's something that's happening more and more often.

Not just annoying. Such moments pull one out of the experience you've come to the theater to have. They violate the very reason for being there. And they piss me off.

How about you? Care to share any particularly bad experiences you've had due to other audience members behaving badly?

What do you think the role of the presenter should be to deal with such behavior? Is it more distracting to confront violators during a show? Should the rules be different for a concert vs. a play? And is anyone else in favor of wiring seats for a little shock to violators?

Finally, were LuPone and Griffiths right in taking matters into their own hands?

Your thoughts?
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  • People are much ruder than they were 20 years ago. Will road rage make it's way into the theater soon? A bunch of my cousins got into a brawl at an indoor concert a few years ago. The woman sitting behind them was continuously kicking the back of one of their chairs. Despite being twice asked nicely to stop, she didn't. When my cousin stood up and turned around the woman punched him in the face, setting off a donnybrook. They all got arrested. I don't think the behavior of certain elements of the audience is going to improve any time soon.
  • I recently attended an event with my 7 year old son. He was exteremly figitty during the entire show and I would love to have been able to apologize to the people behind me. This is the first theatre event I have taken him too and do realize that he is just too young right now.

    Yes, their are rude people out there that need to be dealt with; however, some of us just make a mistake and won't do it again! Maybe some rude people are just new to these types of events and need a little direction? Just a thought!
  • Harry, I couldn't agree with your sentiments more. If you're not mature and respectful enough of others' experience (and time and money!), you shouldn't be out in public. Period. I'm not one to jump down the throat of the person who is hurriedly trying to pop in a cough drop or even those who make a quick comment to their seatmate, but there seems to be an epidemic of rudeness at all types of entertainment venues. 4 out of the last 5 movies I've been to have suffered from a nearby constant-talker. Similarly, I've had the experience of politely (I thought!) asking someone to keep the chatter to a minimum and having them try to turn anyone within earshot into a community lynch mob! It destroys the evening for everyone around. Beyond the admonitions at the start of shows to turn off anything that will ring, vibrate or otherwise annoy, what can we do to quiet down the audience? I always thought it was common sense...
  • Absolutely justified in saying something to someone that interupts a performance (live theater or film). Concert is open to some interputation; a loud rock show at Conseco, check your phone all you want, hell talk on it, no one can hear you anyways. A small intimate show at Clowes Hall, absolutely not. Get up and get out if you have to take the call or check the message.

    I think this gets into a larger discussion/debate on people's inflated sense of self-worth. We're all guilty of it to someone degree and at some point, we think we're more important than the person next to us. In reality we're all growing more ego-centric and forgetting that we're part of a society/culture that requires social norms and proper behavior in social settings.

    I'm done ranting...need to answer a text:)
  • Lou,

    Totally and utterly in violent agreement.

    Though, I do have to note that I have generally found theater audiences to be much more mannerly than concerts.

    I hate going to live music events (big or small) because the decorum for the artist has vanished.

    Everybody is either distracted by their device or in conversation, oblivious to the reason they went to the show in the first place (presumably to see the artist).

    Mostly, I feel bad for the musicians who lay themselves bare on stage only to be presented with an ungrateful public too busy with their own self-absorption to appreciate the experience.

    Is it really necessary to shush conversation so the musician can do his between song banter?

    This democratization brought on by the Internet is great in many regards, but the debasing of the magic of live performance isn't one of them.

    Jeff
  • Amy,

    I agree that part of it is education--which is why some companies have taken a more personal or creative approach to pushing for cell-phones off, no texting, etc. rather than a generic announcement that's easier to not pay attention to.

    Also, I applaud your efforts to expose your child to live entertainment. And often you don't know how it's going to work until you get there. One possibility is to keep an eye on possible seats in the back if things aren't working out. Relocating a child to a less populated area can sometimes do the trick.

    A few other things:

    --There's a difference between situations where parents are acting oblivious and ones where the parent is actually trying to control the kid. We all know that kids are totally predicatble or controllable and I think there's more sympathy if an attempt is being made. Still, if it's disruptive, take the child out.

    --Sometimes, parents can be over-sensitive to their kids' behavior (not often, but sometimes). If it's an appropriate show and the kid seems to be trying, he or she may not be as disruptive as the parent thinks.

    --Also, a parent shouldn't be offended if another audience member politely shushes or otherwise lets it be known that the child is taking away from the experience.

    --Finally, if you are seated near that back for an ISO concert at Conner Prairie, and the sun has not yet set, you can't expect it to be anything like your experience at the Hilbert Circle Theatre.

    Keep talkin' (here, not in the audience),

    .Lou
  • I couldn’t resist chiming in.

    My favorite story is from an updated version of the A Midsummer’s Night Dream. During the play within a play sequence, a cell phone went off. You could have heard a pin drop in that theater as everyone waited to see what the cast would do. It turns out it was part of the play (updated version, remember). It gave the cast a chance to show how they felt without lashing out at an audience member. The audience, of course, loved it.

    I think this type of behavior seems worse in the last 5 or 10 years then it was 20 years ago. I think there are two primary changes to theater goers during this period:

    First very few theater goers were carrying cell phones in the 80s. Yes people had cell phones but many people kept them in their car or if they did carry them they were not on 100% of the time. I believe there are people who actually don’t know how to turn off their phone. But they should at least have the manners to set it to silent. Maybe our behavioral norms have not kept up with our technology.

    The second change is the way we dress. Now, I am all for being comfortable and if gets more people in the seats to let them dress casually, great. But is it possible that more casual dress has lead to more casual behavior?

    How is that for opening an entirely new can of worms?
  • Bad audiences seem to be on the rise, but then so do poor manners in general.

    The most notable, recent bad experience happened in NYC at Xanadu. Mom and I had the on-stage seating. Everyone in the stage seating was briefed (lectured) ahead of time about proper behavior during the show - no photography, no talking, no eating, no nose-picking, no touching the cast, keep your body parts inside the seating area... the list goes on.

    We ended up sitting next to a mother and daughter from Brazil. They seemed nice enough before the show, but during the show, they turned out to be the worst audience members I've ever witnessed! First, they snapped a photo of the audience before curtain. Then they broke into their backpacks and started eating candy. They talked nearly constantly despite being shushed by both audience and cast.

    Finally, during the second act, they fell asleep! It was at this point that Mary Testa commented that she loved our matching Xanadu T-shirts and that we were a lot more fun than the b**ches* next to us. Testa spoke to us after the show and was just disgusted by the other women, who still wanted to get autographs, much to the annoyance of the cast.
  • I just got back from New York where I saw Blithe's Spirit with Angela Lansberry. During the performance the person two seats down kept turning on his blackberry to check his messsages. Considering that certain scenes in the play are on a dark stage this was very disruptive. No one is that important that they need to check messages during a performance. If you must then leave the theater or check your messages at intermission.
  • I have a hard time even going to movies anymore on the weekends - it seems like people go to constantly talk through the movie, and it's the worst during crowded weekend showings. It amazes me how many times I've had to ask someone to be quiet...

    Why would someone pay $10/person to see a movie and talk throughout? I've had less problems at live performances, but I did have to give several dirty looks to the woman behind me at the last Dance Kaleidoscope performance before she shut her mouth. This isn't the time to talk people!
  • Certainly there's rudeness among every generation and demographic, but I think one factor is that, starting with boomers like me, so many folks got most of their entertainment in front of screens. Actors on TV don't know if you're cracking knuckles or crunching ice.

    I was lucky enough to be brought up going to concerts and theater (and glimpsing backstage life, as well). My parents showed us the etiquette, protocol and, more important, the value--of the various traditions, venues, forms and media. (How to enjoy; how to behave.)

    Let's encourage new audiences to discover the arts. Let's be patient and understanding, but let's also model behavior that's appropriate to the occasion. When needed, ask an usher to intervene. Fisticuffs generally should be used only when called for in the script.
  • Bonnie,

    Regarding the can of worms, about casual dress possible causing casual beahvior: if that is the case, then logically the people who are more dressed up would have better manners, but we know that's not always the case. I don't think dress has a single thing to do with it, personally. I think it's lack of education and/or lack of concern/care for what is going on on stage.
  • We were at a movie based on a true story. The lead charactor, about whom the movie was based, was in a perilous situation which required him to jump from a rock ledge to a helicopter in order to be saved (don't forget that I mentioned this was based on a true story). And there was someone hanging from the helicopter who was going to catch him. (remember - true story: man misses, man dies, no need for the movie). As the man gets ready to jump, a woman in the audience cried out in all seriousness please catch him! It went from serious to totally laughable (at her) and ruined the moment in the movie.
  • I've all but stopped going to movies and partly because of the audiences behaving badly -- unless I score a free pass or if it's an arts movie or something that's been out a while where I expect maybe two other people in the audience so it won't be too distracting.

    As far as a specific live entertainment experience: while at a bar in NYC to watch a band, the singer was not shy when he called out half the people for having their backs to them and talking through a moment of silence for those who died 9/11/01 (the performance was in January 2002, so not long after). It's not as dramatic as at a play or other live performance (or for that matter, during religious services...) but it left an impression that if I need to talk and it would be obnoxious to the performers and fellow audience members, I'll wait until there's an appropriate break or leave the performance area.
  • Live performances I haven't noticed the rudeness so much but movie theaters are awful! I once had popcorn dumped on me and then got punched in the eye. A redneck family of three came in about 10 minutes after the movie started. This was a movie that had been out for several months and it was a saturday afternoon. There were plenty of seats on the sides and down front. Instead of sitting quietly in those seats they wanted me to move so they could sit in the center section. I said, as I thought it Sure, let me move for you because you couldn't get here before the movie started. The next thing I know I was called a rude b**ch! and had a popcorn bucket on my head. The rednecks then turned around to leave. When I went out to the lobby to report what happened, the redneck woman got in my face calling me all kinds of names then hauled off and punched me in the face! The theatre wouldn't call the police, I didn't have a cell phone on me to call myself and I was afraid to leave. The rednecks were lingering in the lobby. The manager offered to refund my money or I could finish the movie. I decided to stay and finish because truthfully I was scared to leave. Looking back on the incident it's quite funny, but at the time I was scared and stunned. I had to make myself go to another movie alone after that just to get over being afraid to do it. My little joke about the whole thing is: I was was A-salted and buttered. A-salt and buttery. This happened on the south side incidentily and I've never ever gone back to that theater - obviously.

    It's the height of rudeness to me to ask someone to move for you if you're late and there are plenty of available seats. I get to a theater early because I like to sit dead center. If I get there late, I take what's left. It would never cross my mind to ask someone to move for me - it just wouldn't. They weren't even polite in asking me to move it was can you move down one? No, sorry to bother you or could you please. I've gotten myself in more trouble by calling out rude people.
    I've mostly learned my lesson and try to keep my mouth shut most of the time.

    Rudeness is an epidemic. I wish there were a vaccine.
  • I totally agree that behavior has become unbelievably rude. I've even been known to speak to an audience member (after the show) and point out his rudeness (his wife thanked me and said told you so). (apparently a young child was kicking his seat, but rather than politely ask him, or his parents, to stop....this gentleman spoke (more loudly than full voice even) and said Would you stop kicking my chair? It was heard throughout the theater, I have no doubt. (I told him that one expects poor behavior from children, but that when it comes from someone his age (I'd have guessed 60s), it's appalling and even more ridiculous.)

    I do think that it's not exactly LESS disruptive to the show for the remainder of the audience when the onstage actor comes out of character and throws a hissy fit, a la Ms. Lupone, though. Satisfying though it may have been, it still ruined the show for the full audience, as opposed to those who already had their show disrupted by the camera.

    In my example above, I was at the IRT, and it was a production of Ibsen's Ghosts, with Priscilla Lindsay. The cast simply froze and waited for the gentleman's outburst to be completed....then went on with the action. I remember thinking what a class act. But, I've always thought that about Ms. Lindsay. I think it's probably the better way to handle the situation.
  • Was anyone else at the IRT production of Crime & Punishment when there was a woman who laughed hysterically throughout the entire show??? I had no idea that Dostoyevski was so amusing. The whole thing was just bizzare and changed the play for the entire audience. Afterwards, walking out of the theatre, I heard people talking about it and trying to imitate her laugh. It was like we had all just been to a comedy.

    I,like many, will rarely go to the movies any longer because I'm tired of having to tell people to be quiet. What is most irksome is that we, as audience members, have to police this ourselves. Where are the ushers? I think both movie theatres and live theatres take the responsibility (not the actors or the audience) and should make sure there are ushers in the space who have the authority to shush people
  • Adding to my earlier comment. This topic was at the front of my mind in the balcony at Chitty... last night. Directly on my left was a woman who was munching on some sort of crunchy snack food throughout the entire first act.

    Two rows in front of us, there was a woman with 2 kids who was more focused on her blackberry than her ill-mannered children who kept getting up and walking back and forth down the aisle. It was particularly annoying to see the woman completely disregard her children. I was younger than these kids when mom and I started going to the theater. The difference was my mom paid attention to me and ensured that I behaved well AND enjoyed the show and understood what was happening. Going to shows was a learning experience because my mom talked to me about the show before and and during intermission. These kids were constantly bored because they had to entertain themselves throughout the evening as their mom was oblivious to them. And that opens a whole can of worms on parenting!

    Mercifully, she put the phone with its bright screen in her purse during the actual performance, but waited to put it away until the end of the overture. She had the phone out again the instant intermission started, as did about half a dozen other people in front of us. Why can't people just disconnect for a couple of hours? Sheesh!
  • My favorite story about this topic is In the 70's during DRACULA a woman was gabbing in the house and Frank Langella stops and turns to her as Drac and says, Those in the light, speak. and drops right back into the show.
  • Most every report that I read about Patti LuPone's breaking character to yell at someone taking photographs at that performance of Gypsy agreed that the offending audience member's camera did not flash. It may have emitted a small red light, which was apparently visible to LuPone onstage but was not bothering others in the audience. This is why people were so shocked by her outburst. It was unexpected because really no one had seen anything that would have provoked it.

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.

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