Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bad Audience, Bad!!

The way some audience members behave these days makes me want to shout. But I'll rant instead.

Over the weekend, I attended Beauty and The Beast at the local high school with my daughter and her friend. Behind us sat a woman who alternately took FLASH photos of the production and texted on her cell phone. My daughter noted that she could hear the bing bing of the phone keyboard all during the show.

I wish I could say, well, it was a high school production, most audiences don't act like that.

But I can't.

I have witnessed, as a stage manager and as an audience member, such appalling behavior that I cringe just thinking about it. It's worse when I'm stage managing because the actors accost me at intermission or after the show to complain about the sleeping or eating or texting audience member. What am I supposed to do? Go up to the patron and harass them, "Don't make me stop this show!"

But sometimes I am tempted to.

Just a few things I've witnessed:
  • At a children's production, a mother sat behind my kids and me and kept saying loudly to her child, "And what do you think is going to happen next? Do you think he is going to climb the tree?" First, don't ruin it for me. And second, while I applaud your desire to interact with your child perhaps you could do it in the privacy of your living room.
  • On Broadway, at a production of The Drowsy Chaperone, a child protested his presence in the audience by kicking and screaming throughout the show. His family ignored his Damienesque behavior, blissfully ignorant of the fuming patrons around them. Well, at least they enjoyed the show.
  • While stage managing a production of Looking Over The President's Shoulder, a woman ate her entire lunch (sandwich, chips, soda) during the show. When I asked the house manager about it, she said the patron had medical needs an had to eat. Really, during a 85 minute show with an intermission? And if she really had to eat couldn't she have picked something a bit less, well, conspicuous?

I never know what the proper way to handle these incidents. As a stage manager I inform house management whenever I can and it's up to them to determine how to handle it. But sometimes it may disrupt the performance more by confronting the patron.

As an audience member should I speak to the offending party? Sometimes I turn, glare, and say "shush," really loudly and that has worked. I hate to create more noise and distraction by getting into an argument with someone. And at times, the person is so engrossed in his activity that it doesn't matter what I do.

At Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, NY, the former Education Director, Jill Rafferty would welcome the students for each matinee. She informed them of the behavior expected of them during the performance. She went so far as to put them in a blackout during her speech so they could experience it before it occurred during the show. It gave them a chance to "oooo" and "ahh" and get out their screams and giggles.

It was a great approach and it helped quell some of the more disruptive behavior. But still that's a small segment of the population. And if the parents are the ones causing the ruckus or ignoring it...what hope do their kids have?

Oh, I could scream but thanks for letting me vent.


  1. Recently I was in a movie theater and I dutifully put my blackberry on silent. What I forgot was that it has a blinking green light that can light up a dark room. Since it was clipped to my pocket and angled behind me I didn't notice, but about 15 minutes into the movie, the person sitting behind me tapped my shoulder. She approached it perfectly! "I'm sorry to bother you, but would you mind turning off that blinking light, it's distracting for me while I'm trying to watch the movie." I suppose people won't always respond as I did - with a polite apology and immediately rectifying the problem, but it is usually best to deal with that rather than either sit and fume, or get confrontational.

    Oh and didn't you LOVE the Drowsy Chaperone? I only went because I got free tickets and it is one of my favorite afternoons on Broadway ever. I don't remember ever laughing so hard.

  2. That is the perfect approach. And yes, I loved The Drowsy Chaperone, one of my favorite parts was when the "record" skipped and the cast kept singing the same two notes over and over.

  3. The Matron is happy to meet a new friend! And I must say in the first person that I couldn't agree more. Recently, a parent narrated the entire play to her five-year old. I just wanted to whack her over the head with the program (or something harder). Then there's the food and the texting and the photographing -- I actually did tell someone in the audience that they couldn't take pictures; they were getting the camera all set up before the show opened. Wrappers crinkling are annoying too. Solidarity, sister! Retrain audiences around the nation :-)

  4. The Matron here with a hearty nod!! Add crumpling wrappers to that list. The WORST though is parent narration. it's completely intolerable. Last show I saw a mother recapped every stage moment for her five-year old, ruining the show for the child and everyone around her.