Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top Ten 'Worst Audience Members' Awards

By Lauren Yarger
It's awards time in theater. The Outer Critics Circle Awards were announced yesterday. Drama Desk is this Sunday followed by the Tonys on June 7. In the midst of honoring the best of the best on Broadway and Off-Broadway, I thought this would be an appropriate time to mention the "worst of the worst" I have experienced dealing with audience members this season.

We seemed to have heard more stories this year than ever about actors stopping in the middle of shows until rude audience members could be ejected from the theater. It seems as manners and general courtesy decline in society, evidence of it appears in theater seats. Those announcements at the beginning of the show about turning off phones, not taking pictures and unwrapping candies — they are for you. Yes, you. You are not exempt because you want to make a comment, snap a photo of your favorite star or eat something.

Here are my Top Ten Worst audience members from the 2008-2009 season with prayers for all of us to be kinder and more considerate of each other and thanks for the thousands of people with whom I attended theater this year who DO know how to behave.

Top Ten Worst Audience Members

1. The guy who squeezed and released his plastic water bottle, creating a clicking sound throughout a show.

2. The guy who arrived late, causing his row to get up during the show, (which blocks the view of those behind them), only to get up five minutes later and cause the same disruption so he could go to the rest room. Then you guessed it, he returned and we were interrupted again.

3. The guy who sat down front and spoke on his phone throughout the first act – while we heard the person with whom he was speaking on speaker phone. An irate audience member (no, not me) accosted him at intermission explaining that most of the first act had been ruined for her because of his rude behavior. He reported her to the House Manager, complaining that she was harassing him. The House Manager reprimanded the woman (we won’t go into lessons in House Management 101 here…) until another audience member backed up her story. The man and his speaker phone were ejected.

4. This one technically wasn’t in a theater, but was in a seminar where about 25 of us were seated in lecture style for a talk from a speaker. In the middle of the session, a woman’s cell phone rang. She answered it, then proceeded to continue the conversation (it was not urgent in any way) talking as though none of us was there or as though the speaker weren’t still speaking. Finally someone asked her to leave and continue her call outside. Can people really be so self centered? It boggles the mind.

5. The woman behind me at West Side Story who talked all the way through and sang with all the songs.

6. The very large man seated next to me who continually encroached on my seat space while making loud “snoring noises” because, I assume, his weight made it difficult to breathe. I ended sitting sideways to try to avoid the pressing flesh until I couldn’t stand it any more and would muster all my strength to administer a full body check at which he moved over a little, only to begin the process of encroachment again. Every so often he had even more breathing difficulty and would make some really alarming noises, at which I asked once if he needed medical assistance. He seemed surprised. I guess if you sound like that all the time, you get used to it. I finally gave up, extricated myself and stood in the aisle for the second half. (PS: This is not a statement about people of size. I have several friends who are as large or larger than this man but who always manage to sit in their own seat space because they are considerate people.)

7. The woman who snored very loudly through a really terrific play. She started about five minutes in and continued with what sounded like several elephants during allergy season for the entire first act. Annoyed glances from all of us in the area apparently failed to clue in those with her to give her a nice shove and wake her up. Someone finally had to say, “Wake her up.” The pattern was repeated multiple times. She mercifully left at intermission. Note to all attending theater with me: If you start snoring, rest assured you will be walking around with rib pain the next day, a result of my elbow firmly nudging you awake.

8. The couple who ate chips throughout the first act of a play, happily crunching and crackling their bags to the frustration of all around them (I was a section and a half away and it was aggravating – why those nearby didn’t complain is beyond me. I don’t think food and drink were allowed in the house for that show.) At intermission, they went out and purchased two more bags of chips, held them politely until the second act, then opened them and began crunching again when the curtain went up.

9. The woman next to me who text messaged during the first act of a show. I finally asked her to turn it off. “It’s not even on,” she complained. What part of text scrolling and a lighted display that kept distracting me indicates the device is off? I explained the distraction and asked her to at least cover it up if she couldn’t turn “off.” She did, and then switched seats at intermission with her companion. I assumed at first this was so she could text without further objection from me, but to her credit, she did not. I guess she just didn’t want to sit next to someone so offensive and rude as to suggest that she be considerate.

10. And last, but not least, to the kid who kicked my seat continually through Slava’s Snow Show. Despite repeated requests (and I do assure you I was polite and kind) the child, about 8 years of age, kicked with such force that there probably is a permanent dent in the back of the seat. When I asked again, explaining that it was very annoying, the child’s father told me that I shouldn’t attend a kid’s show if I didn’t want my seat kicked. Ah, and there’s the rub. It wasn’t this kid’s fault. In fact, I have attended several “kid-specific” shows this year, all with lots of squealing, giggling children delighted by the shows, all of whom were able to enjoy themselves without being rude or annoying to anyone. The difference is that they have parents who know how to be considerate and who value teaching some manners to their children, whereas "kicker boy" apparently did not have that advantage.
Copyright 2009 Lauren Yarger, all rights reserved.


Cristofer Gross said...

Well, the good news for modern theatergoers is that the ringing of cellphones is down. I thought that was the case here in Southern California, and the fact that only one of your ten (and that was "technically not" at a performance) involves a "ringing" phone (there's one involving a man talking on his phone) seems to confirm it. The bad news is that there is no reduction in blind rudeness. One of the pleas we probably should make to readers – given that most people (other than critics) invariably attend a play with someone – is to intervene when your play-going partner is kicking a seat, counting sheep, or producing feedback between a Sennheiser listening device and a hearing aid! Given that the charge is invasion of the personal space of numerous strangers, it seems fair to ask the friend to intrude on the offender's in the interest of the communal good. Who knows, it may even wake him or her up to similar responsibilities outside the theater.

Retta Blaney said...

The actors are bothered too. I was at the Irish Rep for a performance of "Gaslight" and a guy in the first row propped his foot up on the stage as if it were his footstool. Finally Brian Murray, who was starring, walked across the stage, motioned with his hand for the man to remove his foot and then went back into character. The man must have thought he was at home watching television, just like those potato chip eaters.

Julie said...

I think parents who refuse to teach their children the basic courtesies of life are the biggest contributor to this problem. The "me"-centered mentality of a large part of the population has nearly wiped out polite behavior in the younger generations. This can be witnessed daily by such actions as taking as long as possible to cross the street while making a line of cars wait for the pedestrian. (I'm sure this plays out a little differently in SoCal than in NYC!) Also, people are so defensive nowadays. Instead of responding apologetically when someone points out how their behavior is discourteous, they distort it into a violation of their freedom. Thanks for this blog. Hopefully, some offenders will read it and think, and it won't just be preaching to the choir!


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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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