We’ve all experienced it…“the untrained audience”
By Brian P. Sharp
You know the ones. We go to a show, sometimes paying a premium, and then someone around us interrupts the show, or us. What has happened to civility? However, in chatting with Maestro Neil Gittleman of the Dayton Philharmonic, he cautions that, “Maybe the trained audience could be too stuffy or snobby.” Maestro Gittleman says we don’t want it to appear that there are rules and regulations for enjoying the arts. Great point! However, it’s frustrating …
Maybe I am way off base; maybe I expect too much … maybe I am the theatre snob? But, who are these people? Where do they live? Didn’t their parents train them? Is there a parent with that child? Haven’t they ever been to the theatre? Didn’t they hear the curtain speech? These are some of the questions that go through my mind as I experience the “untrained audience” at a live theatre performance, movie, opera or even a philharmonic concert. What has happened to the audience of today? Are we so concerned with being connected to our electronics that we can’t turn them off, even when we’re directed to do so? Do we think those curtain speeches apply to everyone but us? Are we really that insensitive, untrained or simply that rude?
Cell phones: Turn OFF your cell phones. We hear it in every curtain speech. Yet invariably you will hear a cell phone ring during a performance. Are you deaf? Did you not listen? Turn it off. I can think of very few reasons to need your cell phone on at all times. Even doctors that are on-call understand the need for a pager and for placing things on vibrate. I cannot imagine – unless you are waiting for an organ transplant to arrive at the airport – the need to keep your cell phone on when you have been told to silence all electronic devices. How dare your cell phone interrupt the performance?
This happened at the Victoria Theatre. Think back to the performance of Carrie Fisher in Wishful Drinking … we hear a ringing cell phone, not just once and silenced but it continues to ring until a man actually answers the phone. That’s right, right in the middle of the performance he answers the phone. Finally, he walked up the aisle, Carrie Fisher trying to cover and make humor out of the situation laughed it off saying, “Well, maybe his wife is having a baby, etc.” Who are you? Better yet, who do you think you are? Are you so important that the rest of us have to hear your phone conversation? This is beyond nerve. It’s beyond poor taste. It’s simply not done. Who is this untrained audience member? So, when this guy finished his call in the lobby, he was told by house staff that he should turn his phone off before going back into the theatre. Well, if that wasn’t enough, it happened again: another call! The same guy, a ringing phone and he answers it again. This time, as Ms. Fisher had to stop the show, she left the stage followed him up the aisle and said “What an ass.” This was total disrespect for the artist and the audience.
Then there is the subject of texting. When your phone screen lights up in a dark theatre it is like a beacon of light. Besides being distracting to those around you, it can be seen from stage. Enough already. Nothing is that important. I don’t care if your babysitter is texting about a sick kid – yes, that was told to me recently. Hey, I have a text for you: stay home with your sick kid!
I swear I live for the days when we didn’t even have voice mail or phone recorders – yes, that’s right, we used to tape our messages, for those of us that are “older.” If you called and we didn’t answer, you called back. Are we so accessible today that we have to be connected at all times? If so, why? Could it even go back to the life changing events of 9/11? I wonder what happens in our lives that make us believe in or have the need to be connected and accessible at all times?
And while I’m on the subject of cell phones: NO pictures. There are copyright laws and royalties that are at stake when someone decides they want a photograph of the memorable performance, even though in the same curtain speech where they were just told to turn off their cell phones they were told no photography of any kind. Not long ago, I was attending a performance where I watched an arts patron boldly take out their smart phone and take photographs of the performance. I don’t care if your child is in the performance, there are rules! This same patron was approached by a member of the theatre and asked if they were taking photos, all of this DURING the production. The patron lied and said “No” yet everyone around knew the truth. Then it happened again: another photo! This time the theatre manager observed the photo…they came back to our seats…asked for the camera (phone) and the patron was rude and shocked that it would be taken away. Who are you? Besides the fact that your picture taking was distracting…I had to listen to the theatre manager and staff simply trying to do their job by shutting you down. Here’s a suggestion for the future…stay home or do what you are asked to do! It’s not just photos…it’s not just texting…but in fact…it’s the ringing phone…and then if that’s not enough…answering the phone. Who are you people? Have you no social decorum?
Candy, food and drink: Growing up, I can remember going to performances, concerts, etc., sitting there enjoying the production and all of the work that went into that production. Now, not only are there coffee bars and full service bars, but people actually want to take them into the theatre. I remember when the rule was “bottled water with a lid only” – now in most theatres you can take anything into the theatre. The question is WHY? Can we not be without food or drink for 90 minutes? Are we starving or dying of thirst? I think not. Why do we need to dig into snack bags or candy wrappers during a show? So you didn’t have time to eat before the show, eat after! Unless you have some health issue – and most of those folks know how to prepare – or a cold or cough requiring a cough drop, then you shouldn’t need a lap full of snacks. Food and snacks should not be the entertainment, or the disruption for those around you.
Tardiness: I, too, have a busy schedule, but I do my best to arrive on time to a theatre or music performance. There is nothing worse than the latecomer that thinks their time is so precious that the “late seating policy” is for everyone but them. Guess what? There is a late seating policy for a reason, and that reason is not to disturb the other patrons that arrived on time! I get it. We run late, we hit traffic, something happens. Then listen to the House Management staff and let them take you to a late seating area, get you to your ticketed seat at intermission and get over it. You would be surprised how many patrons want to stand there and argue about it. You are the one that’s late; there is NO arguing about that.
Crying or screaming children: There was a performance locally where a small child – in the lap of his mother – began simply screaming out. Now, this was a young child –maybe three – old enough to be controlled. Now when I say “screaming out,” I mean loud enough that it nearly stopped the action on stage. This went on for over five solid minutes before someone from the theatre went down the aisle and asked them to leave. Really?!? Someone had to ask you to leave? Did the mother not hear the screams herself? Was she that rude to think that no one was disturbed by the actions of her child? Why should she have to be told? Why didn’t she immediately run up the aisle and take care of the needs of her child?
This is not the only child incident in recent months: Earlier this year, Maestro Gittleman had to stop a Philharmonic concert because of a crying infant. Unfortunately, what we don’t know is whether the parent was sitting in a part of the house where it was difficult to get out quickly. Were they trying to quiet the infant? The Maestro’s concern was if he could hear the crying and his orchestra could hear it. What was it doing to their concentration after working so hard and what was it doing to the enjoyment for the audience? He recognizes that what goes through the person’s mind must be, “How quickly can I undo what is going on whether that is a crying infant or a ringing phone?” At this point, Maestro Gittleman stopped the orchestra, turned to the audience and said, “I am really sorry, but can you please take out the crying child?” He went on to elaborate to the audience later that he in no way wanted to imply that kids should not be at the Philharmonic. In fact, there is a specific series just for families with kids: The Family Series, which kicks off its season with the famous Philharmonster concert. The family series is designed to help kids understand and appreciate classical music. Maestro Gittleman says, “If at those concerts kids aren’t moving or making noise, then we are doing something wrong.” He also notes that in 10 years with the DPO there have only been three times that he has had to stop a concert: twice for cell phones and once for a child. He notes, “Three times in 10 years isn’t bad!”
Appropriate exposure is the key: the parents know what their children can handle. It’s up to the parents.
Cameras: I understand that some of these trips to the theatre are memorable and picture-worthy. That’s why there is a lobby. Take pictures in the lobby, when the theatre gives you photo opportunities or at the stage door. DO NOT just whip out your camera and start taking photos. You aren’t allowed. There are rules you must obey. Yes, even you that brazenly pulls out the camera and starts taking photos while the show is going on. I have heard all of the excuses: “But I’m not using a flash” or “It’s a video not a picture.” Well, guess what? There are copyright laws that prohibit the taking of photos. Don’t be surprised when the house staff asks for your camera and demands that you delete the photos. These rules apply to everyone.
The bottom line is there are untrained audience members in our midst. It is not just noticed by me, it’s noticed by everyone. I hear from a lot of folks about their experiences at local theatres. It is simply unbelievable what people feel entitled to…
ANECDOTES ABOUT THE UNTRAINED AUDIENCES
These are some quotes from arts patrons around the area…after seeing shows in some of our local theatres…this isn’t me…this is the community.
-First, someone’s phone went off and rang the whole way through, without them attempting to silence it.
-Patrons were walking through our seats to get to the whole other end of the row. An usher should have directed them out and around. There was still plenty of time before the performance started.
-Two women next to us were singing along with the show. It was very rude and distracting. The show itself was amazing, but the other audience members’ singing almost ruined it for me and my fiancée who had never seen the show before.
-There was a HUGE issue with people taking pictures, cell phones sounding and people talking throughout the performance. I’ve been to theatres many times and have never seen anything like these constant disruptions, and I do think the theatre employees/volunteers should have been more attentive to these disruptions. At the beginning of the second act, many people were let back into the theatre as it was beginning, which I find to be problematic. The worst part about that was that they were talking and carrying on as they tried to find their seats and I could not see/hear the first 5-7 minutes of the second act. There was a group of pre-teens sitting two rows ahead of me who talked throughout the entire show.
-Fortunately it was only during the last 20 minutes of the show. The person sitting behind me started kicking my seat. I turned around after a few minutes and tried to give them a dirty look, but it was dark. This continued until the end of the show.
-Cell phone use during the performance was very distracting.
-I had to ask a woman behind me during the second act to stop making noise with the plastic wrapper from her cookie or whatever it was. There was a woman in the row in front of us who continued to use her cell phone to take photos of the event throughout the first act. After the intermission and everyone was seated again, she began to use the cell phone again. Other patrons in the area loudly told her to put it away. She did. Even though an announcement was made regarding the use of devices to take photographs, this woman did not get the message.
-I sat next to a group that had five children that talked and made an extremely annoying amount of noise during the entire performance and were not confronted by their parents, who were using their lit/bright cell phone off and on throughout the performance.
-We loved it, my only complaint was the lack of respect that attendees have for the theatre. People were dropping trash on the floor and a couple near us had their bare feet on top of the seat.
-The only drawback was that we had two small boys sitting behind us and they talked to their mothers during the louder numbers, and the mothers never told them to lower their voices/whisper/be quiet, etc., so if you could add “No talking” to your opening speech regarding “turn off cell phones and unwrap candy,” that would be appreciated.
-The people sitting around us were so rude, from talking to cell phones going off. The woman behind us unwrapped and ate three candies in the course of 10 minutes and only stopped once I gave her an evil eye. The woman in front of us, right after intermission, decided it was the perfect time to play with her water bottle and eat M&Ms out of a loud bag. You would think the public thought themselves at a common movie theater. I was appalled at the level of rudeness displayed to the actors, musicians and their fellow theater-goers. I do not know what can be done besides the announcement at the opening of the show, but it greatly distracted from the quality of the evening for us.
Maestro Gittleman also notes that much depends on what type of entertainment you are used to. If you are used to going to movies, that’s where they make their money – in concessions. Of course, you are going to be surprised that at another venue there is no food or drink allowed. Maestro Gittleman confesses that he does on occasion get to enjoy the Metropolitan Opera performances on the big screen at a movie theatre and loves being able to have a bucket of popcorn to enjoy during the performance.
I am certain there are many more stories out there. Just imagine what the theatre staff goes through. I hope you will all reach out with your thoughts on the matter.
I invite you to write to me and share your stories of “the untrained audience”- email me at firstname.lastname@example.org we cannot be alone…we must talk about it…we must train the audience of the future.
Reach DCP freelance writer Brian P. Sharp at Theatre@DaytonCityPaper.com