An Audience of Savages (A Rant)

The show must go on, and go on it did. Buffalo Bill fought a bad cold, barely able to croak out his lines at times. Saturday his introduction of Annie Oakley on the motorcycle was handled by another character. Illness continued to spread through the cast, but we carried on and played to our final three sold-out performances. By the final Sunday matinee, even I was sick, but I took medicine and carried on, trying to time the medication’s peak to coincide with my on-stage time.

I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth it to do plays anymore. Not because of the time it takes me away from writing, but because of the waning civility of the audience. There were little incidents here and there throughout the run, but Saturday things bottomed out as far as audience courtesy went:

Someone got up and left during the Indian Dance.

During my reading of an important letter to Annie – the climax of the first act – someone’s cell phone started to ring.

Our theater has stadium-type seating with the stage at ground level. During intermission, some kids wandered onto the stage and started playing with the props that were set for the beginning of the second act.

The fifteen minute intermission ran 22 minutes because even after the lights flashed, people were slow to return to their seats.

Post-intermission, people kept talking full volume, even after the house lights were down, even through the entr’acte. And two old ladies were still having a nice chat as I delivered my opening line, and through part of the dialogue that followed.*

I don’t know what the problem or the solution is. Some people speculate that the ability to build home libraries of movies on tape (and now DVD) have broken down the reverent quietness people once had for the movies. They say it has now spread into other areas, like theater. I suspect it’s just because we’re not teaching manners the way that we used to. I remember being taught proper table manners in 3rd grade, and then we had to display those manners in the lunchroom.

There are other things at work as well. Modern communications technology is wonderful, but it should be common sense AND common courtesy to silence or turn noisemaking devices off before a performance (Sunday we had to have the stage manager make an announcement about no flash photography because someone was taking pictures of the set before the show started; we still saw flashes during the curtain call).

As for getting up before the act is over; when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, I suppose. But didn’t Mom warn us about going “now” so we wouldn’t have to “go later?” Perhaps we need a coalition for More Responsible Bladder Habits Management.

Better still, perhaps we should have a Bureau of Civil Order and Courtesy. People would have to take tests on manners and common courtesy to get a Certificate of Civility – a laminated plastic card much like a driver’s license – before being allowed into theaters, restaurants and, yes, before being allowed to apply for a driver’s license. Lapses would result in points, and enough points would result in license revocation, punishable by having to sit in as a member of the studio audience for the Jerry Springer show.

Or maybe that would give our audiences even more ideas for socially irresponsible behavior.

NP – Eels, Souljacker

*To the credit of Saturday’s audience, they did give us a standing ovation when it was over – started by, of all people, my father-in-law. I guess now I should get him a new fishing pole or a set of golf clubs for Christmas…

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